After a Breath

Things are better, now.

Everyone who murmured “baby steps” was right. And I’m taking mine, with an akimbo gait you can probably see from space. Just a colt, each shaky, awkward step skidding a micron closer to a run.

I’m starting to see the patterns; the city’s onslaught and undertow are starting to knit themselves into a balance. Take the subway: the running of the humans in this underground Pamplona is actually a dance. You lock your eyes on the middle distance and set your pace, and suddenly you’re a laser. The white beam of your trajectory crosses over and under the rainbow spectrum of your fellow travelers, and you just follow your line. The eyelash-breadth of personal space isn’t a rudeness. It’s a result of the many working as a whole. You take a stutter-step when necessary, but you keep your eyes forward, and learn to feel the graze of purses and overcoats as what they are: pieces of other people on their journeys.

Yesterday it was forty-five degrees and we wandered in the drizzle, pushing through the slippery beaded curtains of the rain. We sipped coffee and bought the fifth and sixth books of our month here, all from the same greybeard who’s starting to look happily askance at us every time we walk in. Every corporate, stuffy task in the world to accomplish but no real deadline to rein us in, we stumbled into bacon scrambles and brussel sprouts. We sat in a tea shop and figured out what it is, more or less, that I’m supposed to do with my life. We walked all over the lower part of the city, and then when it began to pelt, we retreated. Up the stairs, light a candle, bottle of wine.

One month, which is both forever and a second. I can do the subway with my eyes closed, and if I turn the wrong way on a sidestreet, I am totally at sea. I have a gym, a routine, an office, a closet, and when I turn my key in the door and walk inside, there is a secondary click of rightness in my stomach. I love small spaces. They focus you. There isn’t room for internal wandering; the force of your life pushes up against the walls so that you feel turned outward, made bigger, by necessity.

And once out: you are in everything. Isn’t it amazing, how the human mind can view the same intersection four times, five times, as a sonic boom of overwhelm, and then the sixth time you round the corner, the sick little lurch is just gone? And instead, it all looks like luck. What an incredible thing, this city. This place where any two blocks could support a perfectly serviceable little town, and yet the carpet of cookies and theaters and knishes unrolls before you so far and so long that you have to give up, charley-horsed, before you can grab its edges.

I’ve been trying to unravel this transition, to figure out how I could be so choked up and displaced and then…fine. It is time, but it’s more than time. It’s one over-the-edge experience after another, plus the smallish rituals of your life. A stranger on the street yells at you for smiling, and you walk inside and retrieve your mail. You wake up and drink coffee, and commute into a national landmark. You call your mother while looking out over the lights of Manhattan. The spikes and smooth corners of the days settle on top of each other until you look at the topography of your life and, at some second that makes no logical sense, it is familiar enough. You recognize it as your own.

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  • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight

    Favorite post yet, I think. Beautifully written Julie!

    • http://www.jbound.com/ Julie

      Thank you so much, Jenn.

  • http://www.theeightytwenty.com The Eighty Twenty

    Julie this was so YES. I started my job around the time of your move. Sounds like we’ve both been in transition ever since, and even though yours was bigger, longer, I’ve had that same pit in my stomach and I’ve also seen it vanish since. The elevator used to be so foreign and now I stand there and feel, part of the whole place – one of them. This post made me feel so happy.

  • MEJ

    Julie, this is so beautifully written, so evocative of “my Manhattan”! I see the bookseller,
    smell the coffee, sense the slippery pavement and cobblestones, and feel the familiar
    urban drizzle to rain–feels like the joyous start of your own “A Moveable Feast”!
    Thanks for the NYPL pic–such history–FYI trivia: the lions are “Fortitude” (shown) and
    “Patience”–helpful qualities in NYC :)

  • http://www.suzykrauseandtheskyscrapers.blogspot.com suzy krause

    you’re such a great writer.
    also, i hope you don’t mind that every post you write about new york is going to elicit an “OH GARSH i’M SO CRAZY JEALOUS OF YOU RIGHT NOW” response from me.

    • http://www.jbound.com/ Julie

      I don’t mind at all, as long as you’re ok with me also being insanely jealous of the cutest little guy in the world that you recently brought home. (And thank you.)

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