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New Yangst

This week, New Yorkers seem more bitter than usual. (It’s like the difference between a tidal wave and a typhoon, but what’s a good lunarial shove between friends, eh?) Might be the summer winding down or just the fact that we’re between seasons of Real Housewives.  I know I’ve been feeling unsettled.

I’m planning to spend the month of September working from my home in the mountains of Appalachia. This is a source of great joy and great stress. It’s also causing me to look too far forward; I find myself buying one orange, thinking I won’t eat more than that before I have to leave. I should say that I’m the kind of girl who can eat an orange per hour, so this is quite a cutback, since I have a full three weeks before departing.

Along with my trip home, I’ve been feeling the urge to travel abroad.

Last year I visited a friend living in the Netherlands. I came away with an appreciation for canals, a slight fear of Belgium and knowing the Dutch word for garlic. (Knoflook.) What I remember most, though, was my first night there. I arrived about 6 a.m. in Den Haag, having been up about 24 hours. She deposited me at her house and toddled off to work, and I promptly fell asleep. When she got home, we went out into a beautiful early fall sunset and walked round her lovely city. I, like any good tourist, nearly collided with a bicycle every chance I got. I also dropped the little plastic fork I was meant to eat my pommes frites with and had to ask for another. My most bourgeois moments.

That night, my hostess went to bed, but I was wide awake. I stood in her living room and looked down her beautifully narrow European street into an open square. I saw the fountain being turned off.  I watched the moon hang over nearby apartments. I took this photo.

Den Haag

I flipped through her foreign channels and found reruns of an old Australian show called The Secret Lives of Us. It was one of those elusive television moments when you stumble upon something that will become so much a part of your psyche that you can no longer remember if it was you or the protagonist who developed an opinion or preference or catchphrase. Forget instant play, this show and I were instant friends.  I sat on a creaky Dutch couch and ate stroopwafel with thick strawberry yogurt and chunks of real, rich European chocolate. Everything was dark and still and quiet, and I couldn’t have been happier.

This is what I envision when I think of living abroad, the sense of newness and satisfaction that comes with traveling outside your comfort. It’s so much easier to imagine a different version of oneself with a drastic scenery change. I’m reminded of stage managers calling for a bath of blue lights, then red, as people dressed in black scuttle around, pushing fiberboard cutouts around.

My mind knows this is not the reality of moving out of the United States. I can convince my brain of the obvious problems and setbacks. But, right now, my angsty New York feet are aching to be somewhere else, though I know I’m home.

A Warm Summer Night

Slowly, I rock.




I feel the base of my back against the deck’s wood. I feel my right-hand fingers scrubbing slowly up and down on my pocket’s zipper. I feel the salt drying between my toes. It is a buttery night, and this boat and I are gliding through the waters off Rhode Island.

There are seven of us lying on the deck, all looking up, all silent. We’re tired in that beachy way and thirsty and tender from new sunburns. Swirling just below the ocean breeze is the milky ghost of my teenage dreams, of kissing on ferris wheels and late-night visits to someone else’s couch. I know without asking that all of us feel it. Swift and searing New Yorkers, just this once we allow ourselves to revert back. To relapse to humanity. My god. How we are romanced by our surroundings. I think of Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy.”

"The Sleeping Gypsy" by Rousseau

Next to me, Andrew rolls himself over. He is short and a little doughy (though English, which makes it make sense, I tell myself). His blond hair is soft and clings to my hand, like I think a baby’s would. I wish it were fuller, but then I notice how serious his eyes are, and I laugh to cover my anxiety. Andrew is new to this group, a favorite ex-boyfriend of my friend’s and ought not to be touched. I try to think of the most un-comely thing to say.

“I wish I were a mermaid.”
“What color would your shells be?” he asks.
“Not shells. Hollowed out sea urchins, so certain young mermen don’t get fresh.” A smirk. Damn. I decide to try to frighten him with honesty.
“I think I would be the happiest I could be if I was swimming alone through some beds of kelp.”
“Don’t divers get snagged in those and die?”
“Yep,” I say and watch a constellation finally pass out of sight as the boat flows on. “An element of violence is necessary to every important action. Surely you know that. And just think how quiet it would be.” Andrew leans and lets the rocking carry his weight back until he settles flat again.

Later, when everyone has paired off or gone inside to do the dishes and have a few more beers, I am standing at the railing, feeling the ocean slip by. I don’t really think of Andrew. I am too interested in myself at this moment, of what I’ll think and how I’ll feel. It is one of the times when I am all I need, though I am not perturbed when he stands next to me. Just surprised.

“Hallo, mermy.”
“I cannot believe you just interrupted mon reverie with that.”

Soon he puts his hand on my elbow. It is a strange feeling, his warm skin cupping my cold and neglected joint. We are like this for miles and miles. Later, once everyone’s cigarettes are crumpled and the yellow cabin light extinguished, I tell him the story of Oscar Wilde’s grave.

“It’s in a cemetery in Paris, and there’s a big gray statue on top of it. It’s a winged figure that’s arching up to take flight. One of the first statues that gave me any real sense of movement. Anyway, it’s beautiful and a little simple, but the best part is that women from around the world come to his grave and kiss it, so all over the monument there are red lip marks. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“I thought he was gay.”
“He is. And that’s sooooo romantic.” I am tired now. I take a big breath and lean forward on the boat’s railing. His hand falls from my arm and as I turn, I hear Andrew quote from Wilde’s “Wasted Days”:

“The boy still dreams: nor knows that night is nigh:
And in the night-time no man gathers fruit.”