From the New 4th of JulyPosted: July 4, 2014
A lot has been happening. Last night I was at dinner in Williamsburg with my bff, who is in the middle of filing for divorce. She and I became friends because we sat next to each other in chemistry class in 1994-1995, passing notes back and forth about all the cute boys and how over all the rest of it we were. Our school had white dry erase boards, and our teacher–bald and charismatic–never used an eraser, he used his fingers. Wiping out chemical equations, moving atoms from one side to another, and then rubbing his face and head. At the end of the day he’d be covered in blobby smudges of blue and green. I never understood why we had to learn those things, oxygen and hydrogen and sodium and how each attracts or doesn’t attract the other. At the time I remember thinking ‘I will never need this in my life, ever.’ Because by that age you are basically already who you are, and you know what you will and won’t ever need. I realize why they teach those things–because you cast the widest net in order to catch the most students. So, I am eating the za’atar blackened chicken and we are talking about how horrible her ex-husband has been acting and we are drinking room temperature martinis because the restaurant is so very hot. A summer storm begins, and it is pouring down the awning outside and at the edge of the fabric it looks like tiny silver beads, and I am thinking: I do not know how I would have made it through chemistry class, and the last 16 years, without her.
After, I walk to the G Train at Metropolitan, and on the platform is a busker playing banjo, using his empty suitcase as both a stool and base drum. Across, on the opposite platform, is a guy playing the fiddle, and in fact, the two of them are playing together. I’m not drunk (what’s two drinks?) but I’m a little buzzy, and it was one of those nights, when New York feels magic, the night before today, the 4th of July, when everyone’s weekend starts at the same time, and it feels like everyone is having lukewarm martinis and is happy to ride the subway at least for the air conditioning. They sound pretty incredible, these two, playing together, filling the whole station. It works. The uptown-going and the downtown-going are given the opportunity to watch each other, to make sense of the music coming from both directions. Everyone is suddenly engaged in a new way.
A guy, tall and black and wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, sits down next to me on the bench, we are both moving to the music, just enough to feel it. “Where is that sound from?” he asks me, not waiting for an answer. “Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana? Creole or Cajun or Bluegrass some kinda shit like that, right?” “Yes,” I tell him, “but by way of Brooklyn and Steve Reich or…something.” It sounds like they’re playing bluegrass from space, but, well, less terrible than that. The guy nods his head, “Yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter where anything comes from, does it?” The train arrives and we say goodbye and have a good night.
This is a good thing for me to hear right now. In April, my parents put their house, the one I grew up in, on the market. Last week they moved into their new house in Florida, where they are closer to my brother, and his two sons, their grandchildren. My folks lived on Murray Hills Drive for 31 years. I spent 14 years in that house before moving to New York. I write those numbers, thinking how can there be such a difference? A few years from now, I will have lived in New York longer than I ever lived in Tennessee. It is a line that I am still not ready to cross.
Everyone has been asking me about their move, about how I feel about it. Particularly they are asking about the 4th of July. My parents, for each of those 31 years, hosted a 4th of July potluck brunch for the entire neighborhood, somewhere between 100 and 200 people. The mayor might speak, the fire department sends a shiny red truck for the kids to climb on. ( In the early years there were 20 boxes of a dozen Krispy Kremes, perfectly warmed by the Tennessee morning.) My mother gives prizes for the best patriotic costumes. This year there won’t be a party. But there I am, writing about the 4th and what happens, still in the present tense. And now it is the 4th of July morning, and I am not gathering picnic tables from all the nearest neighbors backyards, or running to the Bi-Lo for four gallons of each red, yellow and orange punch, or trying to oversleep while the brass band goes through the briefest of rehearsals. I am, instead, in Brooklyn, at my desk with my 16 year-old cat leaning against the laptop, writing this post. The party was small-town, it was original, with a touch of weird–unique, maybe, is a better word. And what I loved most about it was sharing it with my friends from New York. If I am missing one thing the most, it is that.
I’m visiting the whole family in Florida the first week of August. Part of me feels like it is too far away, like I cannot wait the whole month to see the spaces and the neighborhood that my parents are now a part of. I am not sure how long it will take me to understand Florida the way I understood Tennessee–at the cellular level, inside the smallest most elemental part of me. The sharpness of the plants there. The low, flat light. My guess is: never.
Maybe it doesn’t matter where something comes from. I write this, even though I know it isn’t true.