Why You Move to New York, v. mid-80s
Because you saw Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver and The Panic in Needle Park, and connected to the disturbing beauty beneath the horror, the dangers, something you needed to see and taste, something hard enough to wake you from the slumber of the small town you’d grown up in, and then Austin, where you’d moved afterward; a place that had frightened you at first. Which makes you laugh later. At how easily you spook.
Because you spook easy and you don’t want to let that stop you. So maybe that’s how you address it, face it and let it ratchet up to ten, tremble and quake, see what comes of it.
Because you’re more afraid of sleeping through your life than you are afraid of New York. Even being poor there. Even getting your ass kicked.
Because Times Square. And it’ll take you a month to work up the guts to walk down 42nd Street by yourself on a Saturday night, and you’ll be shocked how the sidewalks are filled with couples strolling past the porn theaters, the karate theaters, having a simple night out. It’ll be day-for-night, filled with light, bodies, swarmed with racket. Cops will stand on every corner, and yes there’ll be drug dealers and pimps and whores out there exposed and part of the show, the scene, and so what? Everyone will let it ride until there’s trouble.
Because there’s a girl in the city you’re going to meet, you hope, you dream. You wouldn’t dream she’d wear green lipstick, but she will. It won’t even look good on her. It won’t work with her red lips but it’ll match her green stockings. And you’ll wake the next morning in that tiny room she rented so narrow the fold-out couch she slept on nearly touched the other side. You’ll watch her sleep for a moment, notice how the green on her lips has, through the night, become splotchy. You’ll fall for her, maybe because of that one detail. Or maybe because of the night before, that moment when your taxi stopped on 95th Street and she got out and took off her shoes and ran through the rain all the way across to the other side of the avenue, ruining her green stockings. You followed her. You followed her to her room with the half-refrigerator and hot plate, the fold-out couch, the communal bathroom down the hall.
Because of her. Yes, you will move to New York because of her.
And because of the Beats, because of jazz, because of CBGBs, because of the way the city looks in the movies.
Oh yes, and because of the newspaper article, the front page of the New York Times Science Section someone left on the table in the break room where you worked in Austin before you got the guts to move up. The newspaper article where they officially announced climate change was well on its way, global warming, what will swamp this world, that city, even New York City. Especially New York City and its deep dark magnet that apparently corresponds to a magnet in you. Or simply to the metal in you. What’s in your bones.
You go so you’ll get your ass kicked, and your heart broken, and your bank account emptied, and your health wrecked. You go so you’ll have to go back to Austin and recover. You go so you’ll have to return.
You’ll return again and again. Physically. Emotionally. Psychically. In your dreams. In your longings. You’ll never get over it.
And that’s what you wanted. Isn’t it? Something to wrap around you, change you, wreck you. To kiss your lips even with green splotchy lips. And leave a mark. Which you would make permanent, that mark upon your mouth, if you could.
You’ll go in order for it to break you, so afterward you can put yourself back together stronger, and then come back to be broken again. To that woman. Or to another woman who has put upon the city’s mantle and is waiting for you.
You go so you’ll never get over it.
And you’ll never get over it. It’s a done deal. It’s hopeless.
You don’t want to get over it. Or what you became because of it. Or how it scarred you. Or what you left behind there.
You wear your scars. You expect others to see them, but they don’t always. They don’t often.
And all you can think of is finding a way to go back.
Steve Adams’s creative nonfiction was included in the 2014 Pushcart Prize XXXVIII anthology and has been published in Willow Springs, The Pinch, and elsewhere. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, anthologized, and published in Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review, Chicago Review, Georgetown Review, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He’s won Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and The Bronx Writers’ Center “Chapter One” Contest, been a guest artist at The University of Texas and a scholar at the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony, and his plays have been produced in New York City and across the country. He was recently awarded a Jentel Artist Residency, and he is a writing coach in Austin at http://www.steveadamswriting.com.