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Angels, Ghosts, and Strangers

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T. and I escaped our Connecticut boarding school one weekend and stayed at his family’s Trump Tower penthouse. His parents rarely used the place, so a family friend — an older woman — had moved in her furniture. She visited from Europe once in a while. Turquoise light from the lap pool flickered on panoramic skyline windows. I was new to this other city. Manhattan was Atlantis to me.

T. called me into the bedroom. Check this out, he said, and stripped the white coverlet. The king-sized sheet was emblazoned with a naked geisha. A crimson octopus slid fat tentacles into each of her orifices.

Today, I’m thirty-one. I live in Brooklyn. I don’t know where T. lives. I walk a lot. I leave my third-story apartment, descending the stairs and locking the door to the street behind me. Greenpoint is Little Poland, so elderly women line up at the shop for smoked fish, snow-blonde girls gossip on the corner, and skinhead boys pump Euro-techno from their cars. I walk by the park where men playing soccer raise dust. I walk into Williamsburg, my old neighborhood. I see many people who look like people I know, but I know none of them

Down North Seventh Street, I can make out the dirty white house where I used to live. One night, V. — whom I used to love — woke after we’d been sleeping for hours. He disentangled his body, graffitied with tattoos, stole a fur coat from my closet and went to a club to meet someone else.

Walking across the Williamsburg Bridge in bone-chilling November light, I am, as always, confounded by the sight of New York City. So many buildings under one sky, so many apartments and offices in the buildings, so many rooms in the apartments and offices. I once lived at the narrow, southern tip of this island. Wall Street was jammed with workers on weekdays was and was desolate at night. Coming home late one night, I stumbled upon a man with his suit pants dropped, leaning right there against my building, a hooker giving him head so his back arched and his eyes rolled.

My doorman once showed me footage from the elevator security camera of a birthday boy whose stockbroker buddies had hired him two girls in silver fox coats and nothing else.

My roommate once had her man over. J. got up to piss in the night and returned to my bedroom by accident. I woke up spooned by a body. I didn’t know who he was.

I once had a short affair with a wannabe thug. We tussled in my bedroom, his chest bare, his jeans black, his beeper on the floor, my nightie pulled up, his mouth between my legs — and the spire of Trinity Church stood in my window, the electric lights of the Financial District casting the spike’s spiny shadow on us.

Once upon a time, I thought my life would crystallize into a story. All the events would eventually make sense. New friends would accumulate into a community. Where I lived would finally start to feel like home. The world would become less and less strange.

R. and I dated for a year. He was a trader, fifteen years my senior, and we ate at Italian restaurants: Il Giglio, Patrissy’s. We drank a lot and walked home with arms around each other, occasionally stumbling, laughing like teenagers. In bed, the silver cross that hung from his neck lay flat on my sternum while he said my name.

Once upon a time, I thought maturity would bring me the power to hold on to what I loved. But letting go turns out to be the greater necessity, and the most difficult thing to master.

When I emerged from the Sixth Avenue subway station one morning and looked where everyone else in the street was looking — at the fiery top of the tower — I saw the second plane crash into the other tower. And I knew that R. was being burned alive.

I like to walk through Chinatown — past bins of gourds and greens, tubs of live crabs, dumpling houses. In the early darkness of a fall afternoon, I walk through the East Village and check out the windows of dive bars lit with red candles, the neon-white delis, the lantern-strung sushi places. At the Strand Bookstore, I page through art books I can barely lift and can’t afford. I brush the sleeves and smell the breath of pedestrians, but never do I feel as separated and protected from other people as when I walk through the city.

I walk through Washington Square Park. The white stone arch was designed by a man who was shot and killed by my great-great uncle because they loved the same girl. This town is full of stories. On lower Broadway, my grandfather, a seersuckered young buck of sixteen, dropped the keys to his Pierce Arrow through the sidewalk grate on his way to pick up a dream date. Up on East Eightieth Street, my mom threw a house party with her college girlfriends. My dad walked in the door, introduced himself, and they both promptly left her party — and her boyfriend — to go out on the town together.

I sometimes think of moving away from New York, but I don’t have to, because New York keeps moving away from me.

For example, P.’s Franklin Street tribe. His loft was a boardinghouse for nightclub door guys, strippers, bartenders. I was enthralled by the bedlam of the place — girls in love with girls, boys with boys, two boys in love with one girl who was in love with P. The beds were strewn with sex toys, and no one ever slept. That galaxy has now imploded. So has the Murray Street crew — guys skateboarding in CK briefs and feather boas through the living room, girls scratching on the turntables. G. and B. are in jail now. I loved both of them, but I haven’t written either one a letter.

Time chases people through these streets. Everyone walks fast. R.S., where did you go, in your sequins and fake eyelashes? S.K., did you find in Miami what was missing in New York City?

Once I was sixteen. I wore a black velvet dress. I hid with some boy under a grand piano at a Christmas party on Fifth Avenue. We whispered and kissed. I had a crush on him, or he had a crush on me. I’d give anything to remember his name.

I take the L train back to Brooklyn. Walking under streetlights from Williamsburg to Greenpoint, I spot a kid I’ve been seeing around. Long blonde hair and a surfer-boy face. A white turtleneck and a green vest. Our eyes meet in strangers’ recognition. And just like that, the five boroughs fold up like a kid’s toy. This city starts over, over and over. I walk the rest of the way home in a brand-new land.

This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.