I leave a party early. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke cigarettes out on a balcony hanging over Canal Street. Music played but I didn’t dance. Nobody danced. The best conversation I had all night involved an iPhone slideshow of Berlin. Shots of cups filled with milky coffee. A building with the question, “Black Is Still Beautiful?” written on the top. Trees and neighborhoods in decay. “I want to go there,” I said.
After an hour of wandering the room aimlessly, intermittently eating grapes and slices of salty bresola, I decided to leave. It was a Friday night and I was content with going home early, going home alone, going home sober.
I’m 27 going on 42.
I’m a fucking weirdo.
A boring needle in a haystack of people more readily willing to forget themselves for hours at a time.
These days I get more pleasure in solitude or genuine conversation had over a meal or sitting on a park bench. I don’t want to dance or fuck or dress up to do either of the former. I don’t want to slam down cans of energy drinks and stalk crushes in clubs playing Rhianna’s latest single.
When I was 22, I went out nearly every night with a girlfriend who would say to me, “Let’s be those girls,” meaning the life of the party. And we would go and we would be. Two pretty girls with a searing wit and a drink in hand. For a while, that was enough.
Those days are long over.
But what next?
I say goodbye to my friends and walk down five flights of stairs to West Broadway. My bike is anchored to a pole outside of the SoHo Grand, its brick façade encasing a bunch of memories I’d rather forget. Patrons of the hotel, untethered to the responsibilities their real lives entail, stand drunkenly while someone else hails cabs for them. The ones here on business are off to do some more drinking on the corporate credit card.
Some good-looking douche bag asks me where I’m headed. “Meat Packing District?” he conjectures. I try to not make a face, saying, “Yeah, noooo. I don’t go there,” as opposed to “When hell freezes over” or something to that effect.
I ride back on Grand Street, following signs pointing towards the Williamsburg Bridge, green squares of metal with white bicycles facing north. I avoid potholes and think of what my mouth would look like if I were to fall and knock out all of my teeth. A hideous beast. An unemployable model.
Without my music, I hear everything: the squeaking of cab brakes, the tinkling laughter of silly girls, the catcalls and sexual asides. I fly through the New York City I am not currently participating in, instead merely choosing to watch from the sidelines.
My freshman year of college, we used to go to this basement bar called Josie’s in the Village. They had a dartboard and sports playing somewhere. It was the only time I ever drank beer, not because I liked it but because they served pitchers of the stuff for $8.
Often enough, there was a man who would sit in the corner with a sketchbook, drawing the contents of the place: young girls, older nondescript men, bartenders getting bad tips. It didn’t matter what time of night it was; he would be there, sketching away. I couldn’t understand why someone would go to a bar, alone, not drinking, just to draw.
I’m older. I get it now.
I make my way over the bridge, a slow and labored journey. Wind pushes my bike sideways with a heavy hand, emphasizing my diminutive size and insignificance in relation to the world. Just a fallen leaf on a breeze. My muscles are tired and my ass hurts from my bicycle seat. The J Train passes to my right, packed to the brim with young kids under harsh blue lights. Arms hold onto silver bars. Mouths move on white faces. On the road, hidden somewhere beneath me, salsa music blares out of window. Motorcycles pass.
Brooklyn is busy with a night of its own. The air is filled with the smell of corndogs. “What Is Love?” plays in an empty bar and travels through open windows. A gang of boys ride skateboards down the middle of the street like a formidable flock of birds. I ride my bike through buildings of abandoned industry, alone under the amber gaze of streetlights. Manhattan grows larger as I ride towards the East River until it disappears behind Greenpoint. This is usually the best part of my night, alone in the middle of nothing.
It’s too warm to go inside and so I sit on the stoop of my apartment, stairs painted gray. I cover up the sound of the wind through trees with music that is mine, all mine. I don’t have to share it with anyone. Music that is shared is generally tainted in some way. Even the good memories have the grave potential to be laced with sorrow, abused like your favorite pair of black jeans, now gray from too much time in the washing machine, bagging at the knees from excess use.
Sometimes I wish I had someone to share my solitude with, someone who understood the significance of this place, that knew that the magic of New York City isn’t in the fancy dinners and flashing lights, the sweaty dance parties and cocaine snorted in bathroom stalls. It is in the way the water pools on old slate sidewalks. It’s how you learn that the quality of air markedly changes from winter to spring, that there is a noticeable difference in how it passes through the trees. It’s about radiators that clang and hiss in the middle of the night, and how for six months out of the year you want to kill yourself until magically, you don’t.
Then again, I recognize that all of these small things would likely go unnoticed had I someone to come home to. I did that before: relied on the company of a boy to distract me from life. We laughed and watched movies on our couch. We cooked dinner and took road trips on empty highways. But largely, I slept through that time, like the forced complacency after a heavy meal. Emotional tryptophan. My life inevitably became about that other person, and not the dripping, thriving, combusting world around me.
Now, alone, here on my sidewalk in an apartment I live in by myself, I disappear into the minutia of this place. Happy enough to live in this tiny world with my tiny thoughts, until I maybe have the opportunity to lose myself in someone else again.
For more from Jenny, click some of the fun buttons below…