I have always wanted to visit New York. Ever since I was a teenager, I have been deeply fascinated by the gravity, the grace, the immensity of this city. A maze in which I wish I could get lost.
It is a cold December night. The snow has just stopped falling, and it has already started taking a dirty, greyish quality.
I cannot sleep and suddenly this room, on the 25th floor of a disputably trendy design hotel, is suffocating me. I can’t breathe.
I light a cigarette and open the long glass window, careful not to make any noise, not to wake him up. Our hotel overlooks the crossroad between West 29th and West 30th Streets on 6th Avenue.
The room as a steel quality, essentialist. It’s grey inside and greyish outside. I suddenly realise I need to get out, even if it is late, even if he’s sleeping, even if outside must be freezing.
I put my UGGs and my long peacock-blue coat over my PJs and head to the elevator, taking my I-pod with me.
The air is sharp as a knife, cutting my skin, clearing my thoughts. Breaking my heart.
As I head towards Time Square, I put my headphones on. I already know what I am looking for, as my frozen fingers scroll down my playlist. Famous blue raincoat by Leonard Cohen.
It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing to you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening…
We had dreamt about travelling the USA, while drinking wine – red for you, white for me, even if you were always teasing me, telling me that wine lovers have to try everything – and reading Fante, Bukowski, Sylvia Plath.
We were never really talking about New York – I was more a New England kind of girl, fantasising about visiting Amherst and the house of Emily Dickinson, about pretending to be a student while walking through the Harvard campus. You were always telling me I reminded you of a college student, and you were convinced you had met me before in another life, while we were both at high school. You loved when I dressed like a schoolgirl, with hoodies and old jeans or pleated miniskirt with ankle socks. You loved braids and ponytails. And I would have made anything to make you smile – that special smile that started from your cat eyes and ended up in the tiny wrinkles around your thin lips.
You were more a DC type of guy – you loved it there, because that’s where you met her for the first time. And that’s where you two used to go, in your early years.
You loved the public libraries, where you could dig into your beloved American history books. And you loved the scent of the city: crab cakes, history and power. And her.
You would have made a wonderful politician, had you believed more in yourself. Hadn’t you always felt overshadowed, almost threatened by her. Her success. Her smartness. Her skyrocketing career. Her self-esteem.
I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert
You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.
Approaching Time Square, I am again struck by all the artificial lights, the billboards, the people around, even at this time of the night. As I pass by the tourist shops and restaurants, the Yankee’s and Bubba Gumps, Leonard Cohen keeps lullabying me. Except the song is not soothing, neither comforting me. Each note, every word is a stab on my open heart. Still recovering. Still bleeding. Still tore apart.
Maybe I should grieve in my own way, not choosing instead over and over again to listen to the song you sent me in your last email, when you ended things. Without a “I am sorry”. Just like that. With this song, that is haunting me ever since I set foot in New York. Every painting at the MoMa reminded me of you. I wonder where is your little house in the desert now, if you are sheltered and lonely enough, as you claimed you needed to be. Apart from me. But with her. I wonder if you still have the painting you made for me and you never gave me. I wonder if you have ever read one of the books I gave you. At Penn Station I have bought a vintage edition of How To Kill a Mockingbird. Like the one I got you. You never told me if you liked it.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear
Did you ever go clear? With me, with her?
I keep on walking, heading towards the Winter theatre, where I have been to watch Mamma Mia! just yesterday – you would have never approved. I was always so scared of your opinions, you always seemed to me so sure of what was right or wrong, and I tried to be who you wanted me to be, I tried so hard..you didn’t like my writing, didn’t even want to read it. You just liked the fact that I wrote and I wanted to do so for a living, but you wanted me to be some Fante or Bukowski or some Japanese writer – clearly I wasn’t. You wanted me to dare to write about the unknown, to stop writing about surreal situations, about feelings and emotions, memories and regrets. And I was always afraid to show you my stories, just my poetry. But you never said anything. I never knew if you had read any of my poems.
Ah, the last time we saw you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene
I feel so ridiculous, so incongruous, here, alone in a crowd of people, with my flannel pajamas, listening to the same song again and again, tasting salty tears. I am such a mess.
Truth is, I should have never believed what you said. I have – had – this stupid habit of falling in love with words. And yours were different, exciting. I felt like you needed me. I started reading your books and listening to Johnny Cash and dreaming with you (without you?) a dream of a life together, without him, without her, touring the States, living of paintings and books and good wine and freedom and love, in pursuit of that happiness that seemed too far from us.
You never stopped loving her. You were hurting because she was growing apart, obsessed with her career, and somehow I think I reminded you of what she was when she was younger. How could I ever compete with her? So beautiful, so smart. So perfect.
And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody’s wife.
New York was a mistake. I would have loved it before knowing you. Before loving you.
Now it’s an oppressive, threatening place, with the skyscrapers trying to suffocate me. I feel cyanotic. My heart is drumming, my hand are freezing, and I feel I am going to be physically sick.
Was I just a flake for you, or rather a fluke? Why couldn’t you love me the same way you loved her?
I would have done everything for you, even the silliest, craziest thing. When we met I was already shrinking to a hollow, shallow shelf: with you it was a fever indeed, hotter than a pepper sprout, as your beloved Johnny Cash sings. That fever consumed me, and you left me shrunk, totally empty. Nobody’s lover. Nobody’s friend. Nobody’s wife.
Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane’s awake —
She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way.
If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.
After you ended things, I must have listened to this song a hundred thousand times, trying to figure out what you meant to tell me: where you the man with the raincoat? Where you taking his side, pitying him, him, who didn’t know how to love me, who didn’t understand me, but was always by my side?
And who was Jane? Myself, of her?
Were you sorry for your betrayal? Were you regretting that I happened, that we happened? At the end of the day, I wasn’t even left with a lock of your hair. Nothing, but emptiness and grief. Clearly, mourning becomes me.
Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried
I am shivering and it is indeed four in the morning. The street is empty. I hope he hasn’t woken up. How could I possibly explain this to him? How can I possibly tell him that, after all these years, I am still mourning your loss, and I miss you as I have missed you since the day of that infamous email?
As I cross the Fashion district, I stop and sit under the giant needle with the huge button to catch my breath.
You always told me that I had grown up too fast and there was a sadness in my eyes you wished to erase. You used to say you wanted to give me some lightness, to teach me how to smile again, even laugh at your stupid jokes. What you did instead was taking my willingness to smile away – for good.
I have almost reached my hotel, and no, it’s not the Chelsea hotel. This hideous night is almost over.
I don’t know if you’ll ever come back, if you’ll ever go clear, if I’ll ever forgive and forget you.
It is almost dawn and, as I pass the sliding doors and enter the hall, I bid farewell to these long painful hours – and to you – borrowing the words of another Leonard Cohen’s song:
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye….
Manuela La Gamma (alias Ophelinha Pequena)
Manuela La Gamma, daydream believer always trying to find herself and her Heimat, lives lost in her world of books, dreams and stories. She firmly believes in heteronyms and in what Tabucchi called “the confederation of souls”: that is why she chooses to write as Ophelinha Pequena, uncrowned queen of impossible and unrequited love, a romantic and démodé heteronym who has been defined, borrowing Churchill’s words, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
In her daily life, she is chronically insomniac, precarious by necessity. When she grows up she would like to be a writer. Meanwhile, she is a blogger at Impression chosen from another time.