There are these moments
that seem to slip by you, gone before you realize how important they were, how fundamental they were in shaping who you are, and who you might become. Sometimes it's all we can do to just try and keep them; to somehow lock them in our heads, preserve them
My dog isn't the best-trained, nor the best listener. and it seems he's only gotten grumpier and more stubborn with age. So when he decides he has to go out, he frustrates the hell out of me until he gets his way.
Fine, I say. It's 11:30 on a school night; I need 10 hours of sleep to feel truly alive, and will most likely get 5; I've just spent hours doing homework and am a nervous wreck from the hardest single week of my high school life. My iPod is being repaired, so I have no music. It's getting hot and a tiny bit sticky in New York; a hint of the long, awful summer soon to come. Fine. Let's go make a quick stop down to the corner, maybe around the block, and be done with it. Then I can crash.
We get outside and wander around a bit; my sleep-deprived eyes barely focus, blurring the lights into a whirling halo around me. My normal path down these familiar streets gets interrupted, and I stop dead, struck by something. Why am I walking along the same track I always do? Why do we do the same thing every night; visit the same places, see the same things?
Because it's fast, and easy, and it's what I always do when I walk the dog, I tell myself. But a burst of wind hits me from the river, and before I know it, I'm walking towards it, drawn to it like some invisible thread is pulling me there. I'll just circle that block instead, I tell myself. I'll just go a little bit that way. It's late, and I'm not going to be out here long.
For a second, I look up. Amidst the familiar and mundane world of construction sites, traffic lights, steampipes and delis, I see the black mass of the World Financial Center looming above me, ghostly in the night. Endless rows of windows peer out, casting light into darkness, welcoming. And as I comprehend its uniqueness, its strange purity among all these short, stubby buildings around me, I feel myself getting lost in it, like I'm flying towards it.
The World Trade Center used to do that for me; I would look up at those two silver highways and be part of them, be suffused, as if they were carrying me to some new, better place where I was supposed to have been all this time. Since they've been gone there's always been a lingering feeling that nothing will ever really be the same. Living a hundred feet from them, and having your home nearly destroyed and completely inhabitable for 18 months, probably had something to do with that. It had been my first day of high school... but I never once really, truly cried. Never once. And that fact still bothers me, still makes me feel like I wasn't part of the same tragedy everyone else was; that somehow I don't belong here.
But this is my home; this is my life. The realization was so obvious, so crystalline, but so striking at the same time that I could do little more than stop and stare at the Financial Center again. I realized that I had lost my identity, and that now, on this night, I seemed to be gaining a new one.
The quietness of the night had subdued me, and I fell into its rhythm. The air seemed to be lightening with each step I took towards the river, and as I walked through Battery Park City I heard the analytical voice in my head complain with each step. Why am I still going? Where is this leading? Why am I out here when I should be asleep?
When I turned the corner and felt that strange, completely indescribable sensation of being near water, it was as if everything had changed. As I walked towards the Hudson it was as though my normal life was shrinking away, and what was left behind was essence, pure substance.
The always-stubborn and obstinate dog pulled hard on the leash and scratched at the shrubs, and I pulled him away each time the same way I always do; probably a bit too roughly, and probably more angrily than I should. I turned towards the river, with the glowing lights of Jersey office buildings shimmering across its surface... and as I stood there, the wind coursing across me, I realized that despite everything that's happened to me, and everything that will happen to me, the river is still always there, unchanging.
How unfortunate that so little else can last forever, I remember thinking. And I thought about Indigo, my beloved dog, and how he, like all things, would not last forever. I realized that this is his life, too; this stubborn insistence on dragging me around is what he lives for. Pulling on the leash, sniffing every single goddamn pole in the city, eating every goddamn piece of garbage on the street. This is his only joy in life; the only memorable moments were the times between when he went outside and when he came back in.
Who was I to cruelly deny him that?
I swore I would never yank him around unless I had a very good reason to; let the poor thing have his fun. I guess I had never really felt bad about how sad his life must be; now I was on the verge of tears.
A woman came by, a fragile Bichon trailing behind her. I smiled briefly at them, avoiding eye contact in the typical New York fashion, and gazed back at the river. A few other dogs came by and played frenetically as her slow-moving elderly dog stared patiently at them. I smiled again, a blank feeling of happiness flooding me. For some reason, watching those dogs seemed to me to be the most important thing in the world. I had a moment without thought, like a deep meditation; there was nothing else to assign or contemplate about the scene. All I had to do was watch.
"Do you know if the Queen Mary's coming down the river tonight?" she asked me as the dogs moved on. She looked somewhat pretty, though it was hard to tell. She could have been 15, she could have been 30.
"I don't actually know her schedule," I said. "It'd be nice, though... such nice weather for it."
"It is," she said quietly, after a pause. "Things are so much more beautiful when you stop to see them." She began slowly moving away. "Have a nice night."
It was simple, it was quiet, and it was so human; such a moment of contact. It seemed so frivolous and meaningless, yet somehow beneath the sky, on that strange barrier between city and sea, at that magical midnight hour, it was as if we had shared our entire lives, the whole of our common experience. I felt like we were in on some grand secret, some incredible knowledge that no one else knew.
I realized then something that will change my life; that that 10-second conversation was more important to me than the sum total of the last month. 200 hours could be boiled down to 10 seconds that meant so much more than anything else. And I realized that life is solely about those moments, like the dog and going outside... that all the "in-between" time is just a canyon between those 10-second mountains.
What had I done with my life?
I had built up for years waiting to become a teenager, but at 13 I felt no different. The next milestone was being 15. At 15, I had thought, I would know everything there is to know.
Then it was 17. At 17 I could drive, I could get in to R movies, I could do everything I wanted.
I thought about this, my 17th year, and wondered what it was I had really done with it. What do I have to say for this year, supposedly the time I thought would be the "best year of my life"? So far these six months have resulted in so little... and I realized that staying stuck like this, in my room rather than experiencing the world, has left me with nothing.
I will not waste my time ever again. I will experience life.
On the way home, I glanced back at the Financial Center one more time. She taught me something, though she may not ever realize it. This is for her, wherever she is. Because now, for the first time, I'm remembering to live.
This writeup is unfinished; I wrote it last night and I had to go to sleep, so... hopefully soon I can softlink and do all the "Everything Work" that goes into one of these. /msg me about anything and everything, as always...