Monday, July 13, 2009

On Survival

Had it rained? It was not so easy to tell. Under the street lamps, the road held a soft moist glimmer, as if someone had just sprayed a cleaning formula on the solid tar and was about to wax it to a high sheen. I stood at the window watching. I felt like a tourist must feel; uncertain and unknown, inhabiting a city that had no compassion for me. But I had loved this place. I had always loved it. I loved it in a way that made me want to return when I went away. I loved the pandemonium, loved the centrality, loved the familiarity with things I had had knowledge of from birth and the intense solitude that one sometimes feels even in the heart of all the commotion: Yes. I loved even that.

I remembered days when the season had darkened the streets prematurely and I had stepped through the pillars that upheld the Brooklyn Public Library marquee, gripping a bag of books in the cold. I was hard-pressed to find any other objects that excited me then. I had already suffered and nurtured a catalogue of injuries that had affected me in ways that are too profound to write about. It was not so easy to tell. I fantasized often about how my adult life would certainly reward me for such trials. I satiated myself with the weekly doses of religious doctrine I had relied upon then. I was naïve. Life had not turned out the way I expected it to at all.

Had it rained? The woman had wanted to know. I walked into her bedroom the way I had done every week. We embraced. She smiled at me from behind her reading glasses. I held her hand a moment longer. She said that she felt insulated, not always knowing what the weather was doing outside the walls of the house. She could not roam the streets as well as she once had. She was paying the price of age, she said. It was not so easy to tell. She sat upright. Her head was wrapped in a material similar in color to that which she wore. She closed her journal and marked the page with her pen. Over her feet was a blanket designed in the pattern tigers wear on their skin. I leaned against the wall watching.

She told me that she had just spoken to her daughter; my mother. She looked pleased. I thought to myself that there could never be enough written about this woman. She was magnificent. She adjusted a ring on one of her fingers and offered me a chocolate from her bowl. She asked about the week I had, my only living ancestor of her generation. The week was not too bad, I said. She smiled at me without looking. It was not so easy to tell. Perhaps she could tell, after ninety years of telling, that my mind was ripe with worry; that panic reached my open eyes in the dark; that I satisfied my debts with precision and despair and waited.

Had it rained? The woman asked once more. I answered again, as I always did. I wondered more about her. Someone was reading scripture on the television. She recited it from memory. She talked to me with eyes straight forward, saying things about struggle. There were truths we knew respectively that had sustained us in our own trials, bringing us yet again to each other’s company; she, with over nine decades of telling and me, with a meager one-third of the same. This life is not easy, she said. She was quietly an expert on the subject. It was not so easy to tell. But things eventually improve, she continued, after one time comes another. It is the way of The Divine. This was what we both knew; thinking our own thoughts, falling into silence, and feeling hope unfurl and flower as we sat on the bed watching.

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