The calm, cool surge of midnight under congested skies, the one night of pure humidity.
The next morning it will be a dream when sizzles of light scorch from adobe rooftops.
Sheets, ancient and faded purple, make the only tangible sound in the dusty dark.
Droplet. Dripping down from a squeegee of cotton in the brown water of the garden pot.
My eyelids move quickly to keep up with beat.
Woosh, tap, rustle, snap.
A line of rope awaits, ripe with eucalyptus oils.
Spreading the cloth, the patterns reveal themselves.
Sleep well, they say. Don’t worry. The morning is bright.
For one month after September 11th, 2001, I walked around my Greenwich Village Streets with the tinge of metal smoke in my ears and eyes. Pedestrians around me wore cloths on their faces, and others sported clunky gasmasks. I felt comparably unconcerned. I was juggling with my age: thirteen.
The tragedy occurred on the second day of my eighth grade academic year. Sitting in Spanish class, we fidgeted and buzzed in the ending wisps of summer and admired each other’s graceful sun kissed limbs. Eighth grade: a year of self-absorption.
The news did not strike me as a drastic issue for the first five hours. Nobody knew what had really happened. People gossiped and theorized, but no certain conclusions surfaced for twenty-four hours.
My mother had been home that morning. When she heard the boom from our open living room window, she took out her sharp-lens camera and documented what her eyes did not believe.
She did not show me her photographs until 2006—the year I graduated high school.
My friends that lived below Canal Street had to evacuate their homes. I wondered where they would go, but asking them never felt appropriate.
One Saturday morning, a week and eleven days after the disaster, I left my house for a slice of pizza. The humidity locked a concentrated amount of toxic fumes in the atmospheric layer coating Manhattan’s sidewalks. My nose felt invaded and the city streets looked different. My neighborhood, at one time a source of comfort and familiarity, struck me as unsafe and foreign.
Three out of four pizza places on my street were closed for the day. So I entered the fourth. A quiet handful of people sat on cushioned red stools, each one eating alone. A delivery boy wiped his sweaty brow and devoured two slices of sausage pizza. I looked at a woman, reading a newspaper, who trembled at the wrists as she rose her folded cheese slice to her tongue. I felt nauseous, teary from smoke, and stung with weakness.
I left and returned home, and began to process the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.
The smell of ignored space follows me as I wind my way through the twists of the Johnson art building. Every floor, a maze of cryptic architecture, has accumulated dust in the angular corners—in each hallway and annex. Paint and glue fumes waft from the cracks under each studio art door. Students shuffle quietly between strips of deteriorating carpet and linoleum shimmer.
No matter how well the college cleaning staff attacks the dark building, Johnson will always feel brittle, eroding, and embedded with moist mold. Its imperfections breed loyalty.
Johnson’s illogical staircases, worn and shredded, remind me of nothing other than the first-semester haze of unpredictability. Gobs of oil paint on my canvas overalls, hands dry and irritated, I prepare to use my brain creatively as I walk up the first detour: the stairs. And then I walk down to get to the second floor. I am still processing the last sequence of activities as the next events unfold.
Attractive Middlebury students, comfortable, focused, older, are painting. More experience, more ease. To them, Johnson is not a maze. They know which way to turn around the next brown wall. They know the cracks and loopholes of this place—of this school. Time teaches familiarity and ease.
It looked disgusting. Yellowed and rotting with sweat, drool, and tears. The remains of a fitted stocking ripping off the strange foam core. “It’s for you. You love this pillow.”
I was overjoyed. I loved him.
His entire bed was “Tempurpedic.” When we lay next to each other we each melted into perfect molds of ourselves, resting in our own body heat and window cool. On a small mattress we managed to sleep in peaceful shrimp curls, knees against calves, nose to spine, pillow shared. The mysterious ticking in his ceiling persisted. A pipe? A mouse?
Locks flowing and growing into a mane of silk of sheep fur of nest of bark of tree of mess and tangle.
Learning to care for the strands that fought with the comb in the lady’s hands, that resisted the the curious fingers, that refused to lie tame or flat in mist—my first personal responsibility.
Carefree and weightless before adolescence, I could swing from my knees and cut angles through the tide with my sharp cartwheels. And then I had to attack the dread lock.
I envied the glistening smooth heads of girls, smelling like laundry soap, with easy hair.
We each had to take one vial. Inside, a green liquid jiggled and an eerie light shone through.
“Do not drink until you are told,” a voice announced in a monotone.
Around us, four corners revealed four musicians, frozen and ready.
“You may drink now,” the same voice said.
I hesitated and looked at Kyle to see if he would drink neon green out of a test tube. We each tilted back the contents. A sweet, spicy, and intoxicating jolt of sour filled my head. I looked at the audience, doe-eyed, blinking. We peered over the banister. The show began.
With every pop I imagine a blister exploding white and pink. Thin skin unable to maintain the pressure—the built-up pressure; the final end to an ephemeral tenderness. No, I am not talking about pimples. I am referring to the large bubble wrap that my mother receives along with her photography equipment. That thick roll of plastic held apart by air, easy to destroy with sweaty feet. My brother and I are restless and ready for unwarranted revenge. We switchblade our knees and let gravity pull our femurs vertical, ending the powerful movement with the aggression of our heels. Pop!