Usually I know exactly how to start a story. I have the right words. All I need to do is plaster them on the electronic page.
But not this time. Not quite sure where to start this one. Because it’s about love. And love is hard to write about. Almost as hard as sex. Sex is ridiculously hard to write.
There’s a reason London’s Literary Review has the Bad Sex Awards and the contenders are peopled with folks with otherwise respectable literary careers. Sex can fell the most experienced writer.
This is a love story. I speak of an implicit, tacit love. Most people who feel the way that I do don’t often say the words out loud. We walk it; we don’t talk it.
I did hear the talk tonight. I was indulging one of my favorite occupations: eavesdropping in public houses.
I was having a gin and tonic and celebrating my full return to the human race. I have taken the advice of the Colombian and stopped behaving as if my ex husband has not only absented himself from my life, but also stolen everything I love.
I was celebrating the fact that I do not wake every morning at four with a pounding heart and a panicked version of my future, which features me sleeping in something small and not nearly as solid as wood or bricks.
Or, as my dearest friend, who has asked me not to write about him, so I’m not going to, says; “fake it till you make it.”
So I got up and tidied the house. Made the bed, did the laundry. Went to the gym. Worked hard at the gym. Cooked chicken soup. Made the broth from scratch. Set foot in my community garden for the first time in weeks and turned the compost.
Compost makes me happy. There’s a reason Charles Darwin devoted the last years of his life to the study of earthworms.
I took back the things I enjoy; things I have let my ex steal from me for too long.
I finished the day off with a little light accounting; paid some bills, checked out my finances. (Not good, but not bad.) Things could be worse, most definitely.
I faced stuff.
Then I made yoghurt. What? People do.
Then I went out and had a drink.
I brought with me a book, because one of the other things I haven’t done much of since my ex left was read. I love the English language and the very, very many women and men who have expressed their ideas through it. My book is The Count of Monte Cristo, because I realized to my shame quite recently that I thought I’d read it because I’ve seen the movie so many times.
Not the same thing at all.
I haven’t read it. Nevertheless, I do count Alexander Dumas as one of the close friends of the family. Talk about adversity, his family had it in spades. You’re going to have to Google him, because I’m too lazy to summarize the Dumas family career. But it’s a zinger, trust me.
So I’m trying to concentrate on The Count of Monte Cristo, which, full disclosure, lags a bit in places. Dumas, like Charles Dickens, wrote as a serialist, so he had time on his hands. And didn’t quite have Dickens’s gift for narrative.
And then I heard two women who didn’t know each other strike up a conversation, it was the work of a moment to abandon my old family friend and earwig shamelessly.
One was very young. In her late twenties. Strikingly, strongly beautiful. The other was a little older, 42, she said. She was British. The younger woman had very recently moved back to New York. Her boyfriend, whom she’d moved away for, had dumped her. So she’d come back. Just days ago. It was all new. She didn’t even have a job. Strikingly beautiful, she was, yet convinced that she would never meet anybody ever again.
Because that’s what we think. In that place. Even the young and the beautiful.
The new friend offered some advice. “Date ev-er-y-body,” she said, stringing the syllables out. “That’s what I do.” When this happens.
The younger woman, stunned, just nodded.
The British woman kept saying, “Are you alright?” Over and over. Like she’d drawn up the map of Unhappistan and knew it well.
The young woman said she was fine. “I love New York,” she said. As if that helped.
I was struck. She’d come running home, into the open arms of the city that understands. Even though she didn’t have a job or indeed anything to hold onto.
She did the only thing she could think of.
This is the love I’m talking about.
People who don’t know this city have the exact wrong idea about it. They think New Yorkers are abrupt and rude and don’t have time for friendships.
This is simply not the case.
I’ve lived all over the world. Some places allegedly friendly and some not. (London, you know I’m talking about you.)
I’ve seen how New Yorkers behave when things are bad. I was here for 9/11. I watched the second tower fall from a roof in midtown. I went to a gigantic anti-war protest days later where hoards of families of the people who’d been killed in the World Trade Center carried banners that read “not in our name.”
I tried to volunteer to accompany Muslim women who were being threatened in Sunset Park only to find that the organization had been so utterly swamped with offers that my services were not needed.
I was here for the blackout. During the blackout our neighborhood drug dealers directed traffic, because they stand on one of the corners where the lights went out.
I’ve done hurricanes, blizzards and tornadoes. I’ve seen the city pick itself up. I’ve seen New Yorkers be kind to each other, over and over and over again. When times are bad, and good.
That’s what we do.
Big picture, it’s the armies of volunteers who put their shoulder to the plough in the wake of disaster.
Small picture, a young, heartbroken woman can sit down in a bar and have a complete stranger talk her through her pain.
This is what New York is about.
I love New York.
Because I don’t believe that in this city we are ever truly alone.