I am sitting on an outbound bus with the sun going down. The moon arrived early for its shift today and across the Hudson, which is between me and the City, I can see the spires of tall New York City buildings, pushing their needles into the palms of the sunset.
I am older now but the romance has not left me. Not at all. I still feel the same way and to me, she is just as beautiful—or better yet, she is more beautiful now and beautiful as ever.
My feelings towards her are still as impactful as when I was young and wild. This place has seen me through decades of changes. She is always there for me, regardless of my faults or past misgivings. Besides, she knows my truths, which I suppose was something that used to frighten me.
I have seen her from the Eastside and the Westside and from the Downtown side on cobblestone streets, which still exist. I’ve been with her from the SoHo side, to the Uptown side, from the parks, and to the Avenues with alphabets. She is still very real to me; my City.
I remember cab rides and one night stands and the pretend conversations to proceed with the formalities of intimacy. I would say this. She would say that. And we would have to say something to organize the contract between us. Of course it couldn’t just be the need to feel or touch or indulge in the ideas of our bodies intertwined is not enough — no, there had to be some kind of formality. Pretending to act as if we’ve never done this before but in fact; almost all one night stands were built from the words, “I never do things like this.” But yet, we did. I assume we all did in some way, shape or form. Maybe not typically or specifically, but we’ve all done something before that was wild or out of character. Or better yet, we have all met someone who touched upon the instinct that made us lose our better judgement. And just like that, we threw caution to the wind.
I suppose that my ideas of love and romance were altered by the misunderstandings of my perception. I never knew what love was, per se, but I knew that I wanted to feel. I knew what I imagined love should be. I wanted the rush and the excitement. I wanted something to last longer than the novelty of a new or intimate touch. I wanted this and more; and yet, I was afraid. I was unsure of myself, my worth and my value. I was unsure that I was in fact, lovable, deserving, and that me as I am was a perfect fit for an opposing shape, which was equally misshaped and waiting specifically for me.
How dare I become hopeless — or worse, how dare I become a hopeless romantic because there is the toughness? Where is the manhood in this? Where is the protection from vulnerability? Or, what about rejection? What about the courtship and the discomforts of miscommunication. What kind of man would I be if I admitted to all of this.
I suppose this would only make me honest.
But the truth hurts and honesty can be frightening.
I get that now.
I wondered about this thing they called fate. Was fate real? Is there such a thing? Or, is this only something for the hopeful romantics? Plus, would I lose my masculine card if I were to step away from the safety nets and be truthful about what I like?
What if I like something that differs from the norm or from the typical commercial beauties.
There were nights when I grew tired of the push-pull games and the back and forth lines that went between people who exchanged pieces of slavery to one another. We were all slaves in one way or another. There were slaves and hostages, images and egos, and none of which were real.
This was all an act. This was no different than the times when I was down to my last dollar and yet, there I was with my best James Dean approach. I was acting like the rebel without a cause; but more, I was the rebel without a purpose, which is why I’d slip away and leave the crowd and hope to find my way.
Who am I?
I never dared to share any of this with anyone.
I was never specifically brave but more, I was tired of the scene. That’s why I left. I was tired of the games and tired of the unfitting ideas and feelings that came along with them. My look is specific to me, which is not to say that I always saw myself as ugly. However, it was a challenge to see myself as desirable or beautiful. It was a challenge to feel the certain competition with people or deal with the personal complexities of “Am I enough?”
What is this thing?
I know there are so many versions of this. For example, her and my love for her: The City. She always seemed to understand. And there were always hints and suggestions that warmed me with the sensible ideas of “It’s out there.”
Whether it was the feeling that I had when I passed the theaters where the show Rent played, or better, where I saw Hedwig and The Angry Inch downtown —or what about the play that was titled, I Love You, You’re Perfect. Now Change, which I think is brilliant because the title is fitting in so many ways—either way, there was something always hinting to me. It’s out there. Just keep going.
I think about the first time I saw a full moon shine down on the Hudson River. I was downtown near the Meatpacking District. The date that I had finished was not disastrous. If anything, the date was more draining than successful. Once more, this was all pretend. I was near 14th Street and felt the need to walk and think and let my mind process the life I had in front of me. I can remember the lights that reflected on the river, which was moving like a black sheet of liquid glass. The year was 1998. I was a young man in my 20’s. I was afraid. I was working in a new job with a different collar. I went from the white collar to the blue collar. My previous girlfriend left me because A) She didn’t believe I could ever take care of her and B) There were too many disputes to be resolved and lastly C) She told me that she didn’t want to be with someone who has to get his hands dirty for a living.
Now, in fairness, this could have been something to say in response to anger or to any of the long list of unsettled disputes. But again, was there love? Is love real?
Or was this just another game of pretend?
I can remember the times I met someone who was interesting enough to speak to more than once.
I remember thinking, “Is this it?”
Is this going to be the one?
I think I over-thought this so much that in the times when the stars aligned and the moments were perfect, I missed the catch because I was chasing an idea that was based on safety. I was focused on a commercialized blueprint. And there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all.
Ah the mind, it questions everything. It dissects and inspects and in the end, we miss the point of what it feels like to live for the moment, to live on a whim, to let down your hair, to feel the romance of a moment and let this be the only juice you squeeze.
Some of my best moments in the City were moments like this—walking away from something that didn’t fit. These were moments of awareness. I grew to appreciate them. Like the time I walked away from my friends, just to walk and there I was to see a portly transvestite, riding on an old-world bicycle and singing opera in the streets near the restaurants in the Village.
I remember a walk up to Pennsylvania Station, all the way from downtown. I was tired from the previous night out. I was still in my outfit. I was walking towards the train during a Sunday afternoon at the end of a summer.
I saw people who looked different and dressed differently. They lived differently, each in their own unique way, which to me was the City. This was her telling me to find my own way. Make my own groove. Love the way I choose to and hold out, don’t settle. Don’t forfeit love, just to fit in a mold that only feeds the option of safety.
And yeah, I was afraid. I was afraid, no differently from anyone else in the world. I was petrified; yet, I never told anyone until now (until you).
We seem to judge our importance in the hearts of others but I know this: no one can judge the wealth of my heart or the breath in my lungs. I knew there is love in this world for me. I just had to open my eyes. I had to step away from the common comforts. But I was afraid. I know fear quite well, actually. Fear and I are on a first name basis. We have coffee together sometimes.
Be advised that the intention here is to deliver a message. This is about a lesson that took me decades to learn, which is that love is the bravest emotion that is known to us all. There is no proof of its return. There are times when love is reciprocal and times when the cycle does not make the complete turn. There are times when love is fleeting and the emotion seems to fizzle like the bursts of fireworks in the sky. But rest assured, your love is perfect to me — even if we are imperfect, even if I am not at my best, I know there is love for me. It took me some time to realize that validation needed to come from within. And I suppose these are the things I thought about during my strolls in NYC.
I am outbound and heading away from the City. The view I see is spectacular. And the regard I feel is grateful that regardless of whoever knows me, at least she knows me. My City. My romance. My walks downtown and the feeling I have when I see her skyline –
As in beautiful as ever.