Notes from Downtown Seattle

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It was almost the end of the cold yet snowless winter that I lived in Seattle. I spent most of my time at work, and came back every night to sleep alone in a queen-sized bed in powder blue Egyptian cotton sheets. When I was alone, I watched movies and drank coffee with a lot of cream and sugar out of small yellow cups that my mom had given me before I moved away. My scheduled days off were during the weekdays when everyone I knew was at work or in class, so I would go get my hair done, or get a pedicure, or get a bubble tea and go shopping. One day in December, I went down by the Space Needle to drop off film at a place called Panda Photo and ended up walking the whole day, even though it was cold. The sadness of the empty streets moved me, and I didn’t want to get back on the bus.

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Notes from Rockaway Beach Pt. 2

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The sunlight on the waves looked like diamonds. Curvy peaks, unsettled by the tide. A banner flew in the sky advertising alcoholic seltzer and my hands felt weightless. My legs look so pale underneath the water. On the beach, the radio blasted “Saturday in the park / I think it was the Fourth of July.” Salt water puckered on my tongue but your mouth felt so clean and soft.

On the way home, our train car was empty. The sunset made squares of light on the orange seats. I watched a plane flying out of the airport.

A Day With A Stranger: Bakersfield

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The summer after my freshman year of college, I spent six weeks in Bakersfield, California living with my cousin in my grandma’s house.

Every day I would walk downtown to the coffee shop, drink an iced coffee, eat a chicken salad sandwich, and write at a table by the window. One day, I needed some contact solution at the drugstore and thought I should pick it up before I walked back home. I knew the drugstore was somewhere by the train station, but when I got there, I couldn’t find it. I saw a young black man in a red teeshirt standing outside and asked him if he knew where CVS was.

“Yeah,” he started to explain but then cut himself off – “Oh you know, I’m not doing anything – I’ll just walk you there.” No, I said, that’s fine – but he insisted. All summer, I had been followed by men in broad daylight until they gave up or I found some place to duck into like an antique store. But I wanted to be nice to him because he was being nice to me, so I let him walk me to CVS where I bought contact solution, a little annoyed. Continue reading “A Day With A Stranger: Bakersfield”

Notes from Elizabeth Street Garden

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There was some kind of cosmic organization in the world that I couldn’t understand, or maybe it was all ornate disarray and I was just dazed from the heat and the elaborate shop windows. I first wandered upon Elizabeth Street Garden by accident. I had spent a day walking in Soho alone – looking at samples at Sephora and using up an old gift card. I bought a box of loose blood orange tea for the guy I just started seeing (he mentioned liking it once), as well as some cookies at Dean & Deluca for someone’s birthday.

I brought in my pumpernickel bagel and an iced latte, and sat on a rusty white bench. In front of me were stone lions roaring, adjacent to one another. The daffodils clusters looked like fat, yellow human hearts. They were half in bloom, half only bare green stalks standing at an angle, waiting to bloom later this week or next. On one side of the garden was a large tree with pale white buds. It looked like a delicate illustration against a background of dark opal pillars. It became windier as soon as I sat down, and I pulled my hair from my face, squinting against an unclouded sun.

It was about a year later that I set out, with intention, to visit Elizabeth Street Garden again. I was celebrating getting some retail job that didn’t end up working out anyway, and bought myself a smoked trout bagel to celebrate.  It was absurdly expensive, but I hadn’t felt so happy and light in such a long time. It was a cloudy day and looked like it was going to storm. I said hello to the stone lions and the European details, then was so distracted on the subway home that I got off on the wrong stop for the first time and walked the long way home in the rain. Everything was so green.

Bluebeard’s Castle

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Are you the right man for me? Are you safe? Are you my friend? – Cocteau Twins, “Bluebeard”

I went to the opera with my friend and her mother on a bitter February night a few years ago. I had never been before. I had just moved to New York City three weeks before, leaving behind a whirlwind drunken mess of a reunion with an ex-boyfriend – so much romance and so little clarity. It took me three days to find another pursuit upon moving, but it was easier this time and I wasn’t thinking too much about it.  I didn’t have time to go shower after spending the night at his apartment before coming to the Metropolitan Opera Center, so I threw a collared shirt on with my wool slacks, put on some earrings and looked decent, if not a little tired. Continue reading “Bluebeard’s Castle”

Pine Trees In My Headlights

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My family moved from Texas to the Berkshires when I was twelve years old. I went to middle school, high school, and eventually college there. It’s become where I’m from, where my life began, so it’s hard to remember when those windy country roads were new to me. Driving home at night, I knew all of them by instinct. I’d be the only one on the road, and the pine trees in my headlights would be lonely and empty.

I spent most drives home my senior year of college lovesick, listening to music and smoking cigarettes out of the window of my emerald green 1993 Honda Accord that used to belong to my my grandma. I’d be driving home from my boyfriend’s dorm – I wanted to stay longer every time, but I had to sleep at home and shower before class in the morning. At first it would be serene, listening to the stereo, smiling because I was young and in love and remembering all of the things we said to each other, but as I got closer to my parents’ house, there was that familiar alienation, the island that was living in this town, that was being from here.

I was one of the only local people at my college; everyone else was from somewhere totally different like California or China, and they were all living in this bubble, a temporary world, spinning fast. (I was too, most of the time.) They were away from their parents and their hometown friends and could start over here. The last week of college, my friends and I all cried thinking about what the last four years had meant to us and how nothing would be the same outside of this special place. I thought of my last ten years in the Berkshires. I thought of the eternity that was my adolescence. People would go into the woods and never come back. Cars hit black ice and slide off the road: your friends disappear here. Heroin flew through the parking lots like clearwater streams. There’s another one, I’d think when I ran into some people I had known a long time ago. Continue reading “Pine Trees In My Headlights”

Lost In Paris

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I turned eighteen the week before I flew to Paris. My plane almost got cancelled because of Hurricane Irene, and as my father drove me to the Newark Airport, the roads flooded and trees were strewn along the highway. My first few hours in Europe were in the Charles de Gaulle airport, where in my exhaustion, I proceeded to get lost for hours trying to find the head of the study abroad program who was supposed to take me to my host mother’s apartment. At one point, I gave up and sat on a bench, crying and watching people pass by. When I did find her, we took the train into the city. I was trying hard to be nice and cordial, but I was embarrassed and hungry and tired. She seemed disappointed. She told me my host mother’s grandchildren were visiting so I couldn’t leave my room tonight. In my room, I had a mini fridge with a bowl of clementines and a jar of instant coffee on top, and a white desk by the window. In the middle of the night, I woke up to rain hitting the window and panicked for a moment, then remembered I was across the world and that wasn’t a hurricane, just light rain cooling the air. I opened the window and saw the yellow, glittering reflection of the Eiffel Tower in the glass.

I woke up at 6 AM the next day. I had slept all I could. Everyone else in the apartment was asleep. I decided to walk up and down my street because I hadn’t even left the building yet. Outside of my room, Paris was a scary, dangerous battlefield; my parents and the study abroad packet had convinced me to keep my purse close and my money in a money belt on my body under my clothes. I would have to ignore people who’d pretend to spill things and attempt to rob me.

But I walked out in the bright, sunny morning and all of a sudden realized how young I was. I was in Europe for the first time. None of the stores were open and the only people on the street were businessmen and businesswomen heading to work, and some of them smiled at me when I passed them, and some didn’t, and some were smoking cigarettes, and some weren’t. It became apparent that I was very far away from home. The black circular streetlights and the white buildings with black terraces and flowers. The neatly groomed trees and the little blue and green street signs in thin white font. Paris wasn’t some imaginary place and no one was going to rob me. It had felt so hypothetical before.
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