There must be a word for how it feels to remember something for the first time—not the initial rush of feeling, which stands alone, but the surge of nostalgia upon encountering its referents. I don’t mean the first time you ever experience a thing but the first sight of its long tail, which always comes back to curl around, surprising you in an ellipse of emotion.
With the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, I guess, my daylight hours are steadily shortening. The nights are deep blue, the mornings cool as silk. The leaves are crisping in the trees. Walking through Manhattan, where I lately find myself, I’m reminded of why I came here and why I stay. It surges through me, jolts my body, sudden as lust. What touches it: the precise temperature of the air lying like a blanket on my skin, the subway station I used to get off at every morning, back when I worked in an office and had long hair. The smell of the brand of cigarettes my ex-boyfriend smoked. How he’d push my window open after we fucked, then the screen, resting his elbow on the sill to tap the ash. The cool air making the hairs on his arm stand on end.
I have trouble distinguishing past from present—my therapist says it’s because we exist at all times, all the time. Lately it coats everywhere I go. The sense I’ve been here before, whatever here means—a city, a museum, a feeling.
Some New York City sidewalks sparkle, it’s because there’s mica in the pavement. I remember the first time I noticed, it wasn’t here, but now I think of the ground as a kind of patina, all my places marked by memory, like fingerprints upon glass. Like the restaurant where I went with Dmitri the first time we ever fucked. We never dated, but I always made him come out to Crown Heights where I used to live. Later that night we had sex in my cold bed, it was winter by then, and I was curled in a tight, awkward position, his hands wrapped around my ankles, my knees against my chest. The first time he entered me I cried. I don’t recognize the me who did that, it seems as though she must have been too vulnerable to survive.
This weekend I learned from my friend Tracy that the word for the contrail of scent we leave behind is sillage. I imagine the same thing happens with memory. If I let myself, I get lost in a tangle of referents, everyone I’ve ever touched. There is a list of the names of all the people I’ve slept with, on my phone, in my Notes. The first time Chris and I ever fought in public, it was on the steps of a building in Soho, he was chain-smoking Marlboros. We had gone to the Drawing Center and pointedly ignored each other. In the basement, giant blue Sennelier pastels, pastels the size of children. The sight of them made me laugh.
In Vermont, lying next to Chris on the couch in the yurt that seems much farther away than the few months it’s been, I said: “When I’m around you it feels like a light’s turned on in a room inside me again.” Again, again: I’m interested in this, its repetition, how an old feeling feels suddenly new. It seems we shouldn’t forget, and in forgetting there’s an echo of remembering.
But that’s why we do this, right? That’s why we get on our knees, that’s why we do it, my hand pinned behind my back, and you—let me use second person here, let me address all my lovers, wherever they may be—inside me, moving, so deep, with a sweetness that seems unbearable.