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05/15/2004

I ♥ NY

Six feet away, Paul sleeps while I type.

We'd agreed that he'd stay at home until the trigger shot.  I'd said I didn't need him to be here for the injection itself, that I'd find a friend to do it if necessary.  But by Thursday night, I finally admitted I simply wanted him here.

Though we spend most of our time together, I travel frequently without him.  When I'm away from home for pleasure, I miss him, but in a comfortable way, where occasional phone calls and e-mail keep me sufficiently close to him.  This week I've found that when I'm away under such demanding circumstances, I miss him more acutely.  It is more accurate, in fact, to say that I pine.

I haven't been bored, and I haven't been lonely.  But I've missed Paul terribly.  Much of that has to do with the conditions of our separation: I'm preparing for a significant undertaking on my own, without the immediate encouragement and extravagant patting that I'm not sure I regarded as essential.

A lot of it, however, has to do with New York.

When I met Paul I was living in another city.  He'd lived here for almost 15 years; although I'd been to New York before as a visitor, he was really my introduction to the day-to-day city.  The weekend we met, we got out of bed long enough only for a trip to Chinatown, where we shared dim sum, a first for me. 

All these years later, he admits it was a test.  Would I appreciate the same things he cared about?  Would I feel at home in the city?  Would I keep up among the crowds without needing him to look after me?  Would I try new things?  Would I like new things?  Would I be at ease sitting at a large round table with six Chinese people eating feet?

I ate that meal with my right hand gamely manipulating slippery rice noodles with slippery plastic chopsticks and my left hand on his knee.  I fell in love over siu mai and pork buns.

For the record, I ate no feet, as far as I am aware.

...

I am going to say something quintessentially New York: I immediately loved Paul for his apartment.

Wait.  Before you judge, I will explain.

When I met him, Paul was living in a loft in Tribeca, on its southern border against the Financial District, a couple of blocks east from the Hudson.  The loft was a fifth-floor walkup in a building that used to house a soap factory.  The exterior, the vestibule, and the stairwell did not bode well, I thought, foreshadowing a certain level of dilapidation and grime, but when he showed me in I realized I couldn't have been more mistaken.  After years of extensive renovation, his apartment had become a showplace.

The apartment took up the entire floor, with pristine golden oak underfoot and large windows at the front and back.  There were no interior walls, so the entire expanse was open and airy.  It was also dazzlingly bright, thanks to the high pitched roof composed entirely of glass.  And it had in its center a mezzanine, a full-height second floor reached by an open staircase, where he slept directly under the skylight, looking up at clouds, stars, and the twin towers a few blocks downtown.

Nice place.

But I don't mean that I loved the space and coveted it for my own.  I mean I loved the space and coveted its creator for my own.  When Paul first saw the apartment, it was, like any other unconverted loft space, a long, narrow rectangle, an undistinguished box with only its size and high ceilings to recommend it.  This unit in particular had a flat roof, a strange interior room in the middle, several layers of battleship linoleum on the floor, and a giant industrial hoist in the front corner that had been used to move the soap that was produced in the building.

Somehow, even with its initial limitations, Paul saw potential.  He imagined what the place could become and made it magnificent.  What I loved was his imagination, his vision, his courage and determination to see such a monumental project through (no small achievement given the dangerously booby-trapped world of New York construction and permitting) — and the fact that he kept the hoist exactly where it stood, an object of simultaneous beauty and usefuless.

I loved what he'd done with the place, and what he just might do with our lives, and with me.

...

From our bed, I could see the Woolworth Building. Around 11:45 each night, the exterior lights went out; we liked to imagine that the switch was thrown by a human hand, since they were never turned off at exactly the same time.  But the lights on the World Trade Center never went out.  When I lay on my side, I could see the twin towers.  In fact, it was impossible not to — they loomed over our glass ceiling the way they loomed over all of Manhattan, only more so, closer and omnipresent.  When I woke up in the morning, if it was foggy, the towers would vanish into the sky less than halfway up.  Some gray days they were almost invisible.  "They must be at the cleaners," we'd tell each other to explain their apparent absence.

Many people — most? — in Manhattan hated the World Trade Center.  It unbalanced the island, making the skyline bottom-heavy.  My attachment was never aesthetic but sentimental.  Our second weekend together, Paul took me to the mall in the basement there to get what he called "girl soap," because the harsh deodorant soap he preferred stripped the patina off my skin so violently that the anguished moan of the Keno twins still echoes down the canyons of Wall Street.  There were nicer places in Manhattan to shop for toiletries, of course, but none so close to bed.

We walked all the time down the path along the river, always pausing at the marina outside 2 World Fi to stare at the yachts berthed there.  One day we watched Tibetan monks build a giant mandala in the atrium, grain by single grain of colored sand.  Another day there were mosaicists assembling a magnificent tile tableau, chunks of which still adorn the walls of the Chambers Street A/C/E station.  On our last day in Manhattan, while movers loaded our belongings onto a truck, Paul and I walked to the towers and sat in the giant glass greenhouse that was the Palm Court, stealing a scant few minutes of peace.

I have dozens of memories like that, entirely quotidian, mostly meaningless in themselves but still illustrations of a life we no longer have.  It would be fatuous to claim that our lives were affected by the destruction of the towers; we were long gone by then, and in the light of what so many other people lost I feel foolish even mentioning my attachment.  We are fortunate: our lives were untouched.  But my memories aren't.

...

One of the reasons we moved out of New York is that we felt it would be difficult to raise a family in the city.  I didn't even like carrying groceries up to our fifth-floor apartment, and couldn't imagine negotiating the stairs with a stroller or a toddler.  Our apartment was unsuitable for children.  We wanted grass and trees and perhaps even a swingset.

Had we stayed here as we tried to conceive, not only would I have gone straight to a top clinic, my insurance would have covered treatment.  The thought makes me a little bit dizzy and a little bit sick.

...

It's the everyday New York I miss, the long walks, the "guess who I ran into today," the cone of pommes frites eaten while strolling, the serendipitous discoveries.  I miss those early days of knowing Paul, days which were so tied up with my first real experience of Manhattan that I can't separate them even now.  This week I wanted him here with me, not solely because I need the reassurance of his presence during a time I'm finding scary, but also because it felt so wrong to be in the city without him.

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