I left work at 2pm. I took the A down to West 4th and got a seat at a crappy Fringe Festival show. I sat by myself, took sparse notes, and emerged around 3:30 into the West Village with the sun beaming down on the empty curling side streets.
Then I turned off my cell phone and put my iPod in my bag. I started.
I draped a light sweater over my shoulder and I walked, following Bleeker east, cutting north up MacDougal past the myriad NYU students eating falafel, circling around the dogs at the top of Washington Square. I took a picture for a crowd of Italian tourtists outside the park before heading up Broadway. Language fluttered all around me, stripping the city of its New York edge.
I came to a halt outside the church of Grace on 11th, and went inside after a janitor beckoned to me. I thought that I hadn’t been inside a church in at least ten years. A handful of worshipers knelt down in the pews, so I did too. I stayed far in the back and kept my face up, absorbing the cathedral, the stained glass, the quiet. When a stream of sirens broke through the silence, I exited quietly, leaving behind a folded dollar in the donation box.
I fingered the spines of $1 books outside the Strand and picked up a picture that fell out of an old copy of Granta: two faces in heavy cake makeup, half-smiling. The picture looked at least ten years old, and I imagine it was taken the sort of yellow disposable camera no one really uses anymore. I went inside the store to find my new book club book, was distracted, purchased a book by Haruki Murakami. I left the worn Granta in the back on a shelf in the V’s. I wish I had taken that photograph with me, thought I don’t know what I would have done with it. Maybe it would have made a fine bookmark.
I walked across 13th until I hit Avenue B, decided I was hungry, looped down around Tompkins Square Park, and back up Avenue A. It was nearly 5 o’clock, and the waitress looked sympathetic when I asked for a table for one. She sat me at the table that was half-outside, and asked if I was waiting for anyone. No, I said matter-of-factly, it was just me, and decided to leave my book in my bag to emphasize my singularity. I ordered grilled chicken and vegetables and pretended to listen to the table of Israeli teenagers next to me, only recognizing three words at the very most. When the food arrived I ate patiently, enjoying the buttered ginger on the snap peas and squeezing extra lemon over the chicken. I sipped water and thought very little. Outside, a truck was unloading beer at the bar I had had my 24th birthday party. Couples walked by with dogs cooped up all day. Men paced down the avenue, their ties loosened and the jaws slackened.
I don’t know if I have ever felt so much alone. No — that is not true. In the heavy beating city, that conclusion smacks of sophomoric disarray. And anyway, it would be more accurate to state that I don’t know if I have ever felt so happily and peacefully alone. Or maybe not happy, rather easy. I had finally eased into the calm.
Deciding to forgo dessert, I walked back to First Avenue and bought a sack of cherries. I finally entered Stuyvesant Town, my feet somewhat bruised, my hands cradling the cherries. The fountain was surging and the old people huddled in groups, their walkers clanking against the stones. I ate cherries and squinted. I decided to spit the pits in the soil behind my bench. I didn’t care who saw, though perhaps the geriatrics took offense.
When I walked into my apartment I crashed onto my bed. The sun took its time drifting downwards. The sky glowed amber, then violet, and when the sun finally sunk beneith the city silhouettes on the west side, my window beemed a deep and gloriously bruised blue.