Have you ever lived in a moment where you are fully aware of its frailty, where even your breath feels light and transient, and you know that one day, you'll never have reason to set foot in this place again, that the memories and both the person in front of you and the person you are right then will evaporate in the course of human decision?
I miss things when they are gone, but, sometimes, I miss things when they are still here.
We came home, and the sky fell down over the Bronx, the streetlamps turning the glassy roads into opaque sheets of orange. We got back to the apartment and circled the block for parking a million times until, by some seizure of luck, something opened up a few yards from the building. Wrought iron fences, small lawns no bigger than a twin bed, frozen ornamental Marys-on-the-half-shell huddled under the falling snow, all knowing there was very little to be done about New York in January.
“I am soooo hungry.” Alex parked the car and I drew in the condensation of the window. In the dust that floated from the elevated 6 Train and coated everything like concealer from the powderpuff of some demented, omnicient prom queen, someone had written “FAG” in cursive, which wouldn't disappear no matter how many times it rained or birds shit on the already defeated Geo Prism.
“Let's bring everything in the house first,” Alex said, turning off the engine and popping the trunk. The thing about turning off the car was that it seemed like it would never start again, so shutting off the ignition was like kissing a sick grandmother on a visit and crossing yourself on the way out.
I had two suitcases and a plastic shopping bag full of souvenirs and polaroids of Graceland, the mountains of Georgia, and the outdoor fleamarket in Florida.
We let ourselves into the building, and Alex fumbled with his keys at the door of the apartment, holding a backpack with two fingers and a suitcase with two more, digging around in his coat pocket.
We threw our stuff down in the hallway and collapsed on the ripped brown leather couch in the livingroom.
“Chinese?” I said, hopeful.
“If it's open,” he said, sinking further into the couch and closing his eyes.
“It's always open.”
The Chinese place glowed yellow at the end of the street, just across East Tremont Avenue. There was a diner, too, which was always open, but it was usually full of couples in varying degrees of unhappiness, young people drunk and bickering, saying things like, “What the FUCK is that supposed to mean?”; sullen, middle-aged couples not talking but moving around the eggs on their plates in a weird gesture of silent punishment; old men sitting by themselves at all hours of the night, reading the Post from cover to cover, over and over like the news might change. We didn't go there often. At that diner, all relationships felt on the verge of a divorce by default of energetic vortex.
We put on our wet Converse and went back into the snow. The sidewalk hadn't been shoveled, so we made fresh tracks from the apartment across the deserted street to the open restaurant. It was a rare moment, everything quiet and windless. If Dickens had written the Bronx into a novel, ghosts would rattle their chains at the door to the apartment, asking for packets of soy sauce and offering a glimpse into our past. Instead, we jaywalked through the empty street and I pointed out the icicles hanging dangerously from the rolling gate over the door of the restaurant.
The Peking Inn was lit with a medicinal fluorescence that hurt your eyes, but we went there with such blinding regularity that they gave us free spring rolls and crab rangoons, which I ate even though I was a vegetarian, because the crab was imitation and therefore, could really be anything.
“Do you know what you're getting?” Alex said, stomping the snow from his sneakers.
“Of course.” I had been dreaming of what I would get since Delaware, driving up I-95 in the brutal snow, thinking of tires and hubcaps battered and fried.
A little girl colored menus in the corner. It was after midnight, but she looked wide awake. It reminded me of myself at four or five, ready for the world when everybody else was in bed. Sometimes I would go with my mom to her night job at the IRS. They would set me up at a desk with dot matrix paper and a bruise palette of blue, green, and black markers, the kind that produced toxic fumes and squeaked like a broken hinge, eeeeeking-out self-portraits and trees until I ran out of paper.
Alex gave them our order, then he took his place across from me at the booth, starving and tired and talked-out from so many hours of driving. We had driven straight through since South of the Border, taking pictures on the concrete statues, hugging the gorilla, spanking the giant weinerdog. We got gas a few times, and stopped once at the discount emporium that was advertised on billboards for miles. I found a collection of puppets named after biblical characters and Alex looked at cowboy boots. The storm was getting worse, so people were leaving in a steady stream. I put down the Judas I had been walking around with and found Alex so we could leave, too.
Outside of the store, to the left of the entrance, there was a strong, but tiny meowing. We turned at the same time to see a black kitten behind a Pepsi vending machine. Its face was crusty and one of its legs looked like it had been broken and healed poorly. It saw us and hastily climbed into a hole in the back of the machine.
Alex looked at me. His eyes were wet. “Do you think we could lure it out with food?”
I ran to the car and found a bag of pretzels. I walked back to where Alex was standing guard and offered them, shrugging. He made a trail of pretzels from the back of the machine. We waited. The wind whipped and freezing rain started to come down. We could see the cat was moving around inside.
“Maybe we're too close?” I suggested. We moved nearer to the entrance. The cat stayed in the machine. We waited and waited. The weather got worse.
I breathed into my hands. Alex looked at me. Without saying another word, we walked back to the car.
Our order was up. The little girl was using crayons, which didn't make much noise at all. Alex got our tray. The wind picked up and blew snow against the glass.
“Do you think he'll make it?” I never had answers, at least not for the important stuff.
“Well, I dunno.” I looked outside to where our footprints were already gone, filled in by more snow. “Things have a way of working themselves out if they were meant to.”
The apartment was cold when we got back. There was a spoon stuck to the counter and no one had taken out the garbage since before we left. Streetlights filtered through the yellow curtains. We put on an album, brushed our teeth, and waited for the sheets to get warm.