On Loving Cities More Than People
It wasn’t you, it was the trains we rode on. It was standing under the yellow glare of the lights and watching the cross section of humanity travel with us across town. We were pushed up against each other — you in your pea coat, me in mine — sharing a pair of headphones as the train rumbled through the underground. We may not have said a word or we may have spoken novels into each other’s ears. I can’t remember. We finally exited and climbed up the grimy stairs into the cold, starless night surrounded by traffic and people and lights. And I was in love.
But it wasn’t with you, it was with the back porches we stood on while talking about science in a language no one else understood. The spring had burst in: raw, gray, and relentless, and just before dawn we crossed wet streets in search of a refuge from the rain. Were you holding my hand? I can’t remember. I do remember that the rain never stopped, so we sat under ancient crown moldings while the thunderstorm crashed in and pelted the city with a fury not seen in decades. I watched the sheets of rain, and I was in love.
But it wasn’t with you. It was with the sidewalks we tread in summer that lead to a crumbling apartment building. It was the rooftop we smoked on while we watched the lake turn purple and empty of people. Before we went inside did you kiss me to fill up the silence? I can’t remember. I do remember it wasn’t how you laughed and put on records, but how the room looked around you: the furniture clashed, the posters peeled at the corners, and the lights wouldn’t turn up past a dusky glow. I stood in that room, and I was in love.
As you might be able to guess by now, it wasn’t with you. You weren’t solid like the high-rises or reflective like the shop windows I passed on my way to work. You didn’t let me sit for hours like my favorite cafes did, and you didn’t take me across town like the trains did. Your seasons never changed, and your skies stayed the same, unlike the city’s. I walked with you under those skies — day skies, night skies, skies with colors I never knew existed, and skies with no color at all, and I was in love.
But it wasn’t with the shirt you wore, the joke you told, or the way you put your forehead on mine as we danced. It was waiting in line outside the unnamed bar with strangers all around us. It was leaning against a sticky countertop and ordering too many whiskey-and-cokes until we were jumping up and down to 90s hip-hop songs. We would get bored, change bars, order more drinks, and repeat before finally tumbling into a cab where the remainder of an urban nightscape passed gleamingly out the window. We would fall against each other in bed while the sirens and the sounds of the neighbor’s party lulled us to sleep in the infant hours.
When I woke up next to you with the sun tearing through the blinds I was already alone. My city was outside waiting for me to put my feet on its pavement and run my hands along its concrete walls so I had to leave and be with the one I love.
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”