the other day, while strolling in the east village, i had a bit of an epiphany. it was one of those sunny, late winter afternoons that give a nod to the promises of spring. the lilies were back in their rightful spot at the flower shop on the corner. the sunshine dappled the leafless trees, while couples sipped on iced coffees as a light breeze tousled their hair. as i stepped out from starbucks and turned right onto 13th street, i was suddenly struck with a strange sense of deja vu. and why not? i spent my first year in new york city at 346 east 13th street, a small, pre-war walkup building across from popular restaurant the redhead. i had turned this corner so many times – multiple times a day, in my first year in the city. and yet, here i stood, almost four years later, such a different person. the girl that had walked down those streets in 2008 wasn’t the girl i am now. for starters, there was no starbucks on the block when i moved in, nor when i moved out. that came later, along with the decidedly modern condo building that sat atop it. the bodega, which used to smell like a mix of stale coffee and spicy body odor, has gotten a total makeover, complete with a real name and a brightly lit sign to go with it. much has changed on 13th street in the past few years. but so have i.
it’s odd, isn’t it? how the streets of this city hold so many memories, tell so many stories. sometimes i feel like every step i take here permeates my senses, reminding me of where i’ve stepped before. it’s like walking in freshly fallen snow. your boots leave a footprint, but as the storm continues, they’re soon covered up. you can’t find them again. you can’t possibly tred the exact same path you’ve made in the past. here in new york, you can walk the same exact streets dozens, hundreds of times – but you can’t ever go back to where you’ve been. and yet, every time you walk outside, every time you hustle down the steps to the subway, you can magically be transported back into a moment, a memory, a story of self.
being back on 13th street gave me such an odd feeling – a mix of progression and stasis. the laundromat to which i used to drag my laundry every saturday is still open. the polish woman whose scent of detergent and cigarette smoke permeated my clothes even when clean is still there, sweeping her storefront with a broken broom. her hair is still platinum blonde, dark brown at the roots. the dumpsters into which i dumped vodka bottles and kitty litter haven’t moved, nor has the office to which i delivered my rent check each month. and yet, the street has grown up. hell, there’s a starbucks on the corner – right next to the eco-conscious city bakery, mind you!
i suppose new york city stops for no one, and nothing. just as i have moved on from 13th street, 13th street has moved on from me. it doesn’t remember that one night i went home with a 35 year old who lived two buildings down from mine, drunkenly stripping down in his railroad apartment, kissing him on tangled sheets spread onto a mattress haphazardly placed on original hardwoods from the early 1900s. it doesn’t recall his tiny oven, his grey longhaired cat sitting in the hallway watching us with eery blue eyes. 13th street doesn’t remember the pigeons that clustered outside my window each morning, chirping their hellos in a tone that was decidedly off-pitch. it doesn’t remember my moments of insomnia, the nights i spent lying in bed staring at the ceiling, wishing to god i could shut of my brain and the reminders of failure. it doesn’t remember how often i cried myself to sleep in that tiny closet of a room, with no sunlight nor moonlight, no stars or clouds to be seen.
no, 13th street doesn’t remember me at all – and if it does, it merely remembers yet another college graduate arriving to the streets hoping to add their layer of memories onto the caked concrete. but me? i remember it all.