I met Sal at a friend’s rockin’ New Year’s Eve party. We got in the habit of showing up at places together, exchanging glances at parties, and making breaks for it, breaks to train stations, to dives for cheap drinks, to cafeterias for coffee and pie with chocolate ice cream. I went along with it because I knew he wouldn’t go for the trendy places I liked. I enjoyed his company, so I went where he went.
Then one Saturday night things went a little differently. Some smashed NYU jerks crashed a rent party Sal and I were at and we made our usual run for it before things got really bad. We flew down the stairwell of that building so fast we piled up at the door to the street, laughing. He busted out first and started to run. He got so far ahead I could barely keep him in sight. He ducked in somewhere and I just focused on the door of the place and getting there, thudding against the door, pushing in and catching my breath.
I looked around. I was in an agitated sea of fake plants, fancy woodwork, etched glass, and brass rails. I stood there like a lost idiot searching, craning, uptight, looking for him. Finally I saw him, waving at me from a set-up far removed form the ripped-cushioned seats and tiny, tottering bar tables that we usually ended up at. I walked warily to his table, one big question mark. He stood up. I started to speak. He put a finger on my lips and signaled the waitress. He ordered a bottle of d’Arenberg Shiraz.
We drank the whole bottle without a word. It was uncomfortable. He just stared at me. I couldn’t take it so I watched all the people and tuned into one superficial conversation after the next. Finally, his eyes burned such a blazing hole in me that I gave in and let my eyes meet his, and he locked them there. I couldn’t look away. He opened his mouth and said that I was like three people, not of one accord. I recognized the truth in that, but I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and thought about it until he let my eyes go.
I wanted to get out of there, to go to our cafeteria for pie and coffee and then I didn’t want the night to end. I wanted to cling to this phase of life. But I knew I couldn’t, I knew it would end, was ending, and dread crept around the back of my mind. I didn’t want to be somewhere other than where Sal was, and thoughts of events coming up, places I’d have to go, they all bore down hard and pressed me, panicked almost, into a corner. I squirmed. He waited.
He waited for the thoughts he’d triggered to do their work. He waited while I realized why him, why I went where he went, to the dives, the cheap dives and diners with their drunks and bums and tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It’s because I felt a stronger and truer pulse there than on the surface of life where I existed before him. I felt this pulse was the pulse, of humanness, of all of humanity, of the universe, of the creator of everything, and I felt this pulse in me.
And I knew if I could stay in that place, that was no place but more a way of being, that I could speak the language of the soul, the language that grabbed at the innards, at the very core of every human and spoke to the center of their tears and dying and dancing and working. And I wanted so much to do that, to be that, to be real and true, one being of one accord.
But in the next moment I felt myself curling up, wilting with Sal’s pulling away. I felt the stupid, ironic fear moving in, the fear that the other parts of me, the old images I had of myself, couldn’t sustain the great pulse. Hilarious as that was, in that moment I couldn’t see not needing him to show me, to keep showing me how to live in the very truth of existence. In that moment, I stared at my hands, my knees, my shoes. He waited.
He waited for me to work it all out. But I’d lost touch. The pulse had slowed and I’d grown cold. I gave in to the old way and looked up at him and asked the stupid question, how? How can the smallness of me do this or any big thing? He smiled and took my face in his hands. And his answer was just this: open yourself to it and the rest will happen, like it’s been happening. I told him not to go. He told me I’d be alright. Then he kissed me and left me there with the tab.
New York City’s lady of the lake found at the Bridge and Tunnel Club at http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/brooklyn/gowanus/smith-9th/index.htm and “greenified” by me. The photos at the B&T Club site are spectacular.