My phone rings just after I post this on Facebook:
In the city, my center of gravity is pitched forward–pulled by the throbbing pulse of purpose and high rise and traffic lights. After a week at this pace, my 52-year-old root chakra is hobbled. Last year I learned to walk less. This year, slower. Today, I’m staying put. Rooted in the color red. Flannel sheets. A home built of trees. This dirt road. This earth around me. This being one’s self.
My son’s voice floods over the answering machine.
He is 20 minutes away.
His bus for the city leaves in 25 minutes.
I’m still in my pajamas.
I haven’t brushed my teeth.
“Please Mom,” he says.
I make it just in time to hand him what he’d left behind.
Should I turn back around and head home? Get back under the covers. Root back into the color red. (Pretend it never happened.)
But the spell is broken.
Or is it?
There’s something to his leaving for New York, just as I got back from the city–our paths interweaving–here, at the bus–last night, at the train when I arrived in Vermont.
I step out of the car, stand in the sun, and welcome the crisp morning air on my face. I smile and wave at the tinted windows of the Luxury Liner as it pulls out of the high school parking lot with the band members.
Instead of home, my car drives east down High Street toward the river. I step outside again. Crest the bank above the Connecticut River. Cross the arched metal bridge into New Hampshire; and then turn around, and walk back into Vermont; welcoming the embrace of my Manhattan rhythm: walking, concrete, traffic, crisp air.
I look toward the train tracks. I wonder where they might take me now. But they’re silent. Empty. Amtrak only comes through twice a day. I arrived on the 5 o’clock yesterday.
Last weekend, the guys drove me into the city so that we could spend a couple days together ahead of my time at the UN. When we pulled onto East River Drive, my son noticed that it was named after the President. We visited Hyde Park over the winter break–an impromptu detour on our drive back from visiting family at the Jersey shore. We toured FDR’s ancestral home; delved into his Presidential library; and felt the palpable connection between his voice for the people–then; and Bernie’s voice for the people–now.
As we turned off FDR Drive into the city, a mangy man teetered on the tiny island between the freeway and 53rd. My mind made quick calculations. Homeless. Mentally ill. Suicidal. But then I saw the dogs. Two of them. Leashes. Dreadlocks. Intentional.
The host couldn’t meet us until 2 so we returned to the car to grab the camera and my lip balm and set out to explore the neighborhood. We walked two blocks to the East River and gaped at the Queensboro Bridge, and at the cable car suspended overhead on its way to Roosevelt Island.
We returned to the bustle of 1st Avenue and sampled 3 different preparations of pizza: thin crust with fresh mozz, Sicilian, Greek. We ordered another thin crust. Made earnest cases for the last bites.
Once we checked into the apartment, we grabbed our passports and documentation and headed back down 1st to the United Nations–which FDR helped envision and create after World War II–and where my grandmother Lila dreamed of working–and where I’d spend some of that upcoming week as an NGO delegate at the 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)–where I’d been returning since the 56th.
My guys would join me on opening day before heading back to Vermont, but not before my husband wore his Bernie t-shirt–like a billboard–through Midtown, onto the subway, into the Upper West Side, across Central Park, onto each floor of the MET, and down 5th Avenue; insisting on a photo in front of everything that said, Trump.
Older people smirked.
Even the clerk at the Japanese market, where my son insisted on stopping, wanted to talk: “My girlfriend and I love Bernie. Her shirt is coming this week.”
On my first day in Manhattan, without my men, I moved slower. Slept past 7. Skipped the 8:30 meeting. Arrived in time for the 10:30. Then left the United Nations to walk across the street to the Church Center–for what promised to be a packed afternoon event: Who Profits from the Exploitation of Women’s Bodies, hosted by the Swedish Women’s Lobby.
I took a seat in the back of the room. Struck up a conversation with a young woman–who glanced down at my tag–asked if I worked for UN Women–her dream job. (I didn’t.) She told me that she was a senior at Rutgers. Women’s Studies. Douglass Campus.
“My grandmother went to Douglass, too,” I said. “She wanted to work at the UN, like you.” (Dropped out her senior year, pregnant, with my father, I didn’t say.)
The young woman explained how hard it was to get into the UN. How you need an internship. Unpaid. How you have to have a master’s to get it. How there is so much competition. How you have to know someone. How absurd it is that every ordinary-looking person you meet at the Commission on the Status of Women ends up being some really big deal. (Except for me.)
The room fills. Soon every seat is taken and each inch of the floor in front of us. A fair-haired woman in what could be braids takes the podium. The room quiets. Her voice is tentative. She’s probably an intern, I decide, but then she introduces herself as the Secretary-General of such and such. (The young woman and I lock eyes. Our eyebrows raise. We nod.)
The keynote speaker takes the podium. A professor from Boston. The author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hi-Jacked Our Sexuality.
The young woman and I scribble furiously as Gail Dines speaks. I run out of paper. My pen runs out of ink. The room grows soberly silent. I find it hard to fathom that a man will speak next, but he is the Director of the Coalition Against Prostitution in Paris. His accent softens the assault.
But I can’t hear anything after Dines. I will never see women or myself in the mirror the same way, but I don’t know that yet. She described our choices as: Invisible or Fuckable. She told us that a pornographer said that women today show up on the set: Porn Ready. (For the remainder of my time at United Nations, my mind will assign this label to women, age 16 to 60.) An incarcerated rapist/pedophile tells Dines that our culture groomed his young step-daughter for him.
When the panel ends, I go in search of a snack–and wine; still reeling from Dines’ closing line: “Not on our fucking watch are you going to steal childhood.”
I question whether Happy Hour will be a comfortable place for a middle-aged, married woman. And then I see it. Inside the windows of UNICEF. Bottles, ready & waiting.
I tentatively step inside. A large security guard looks down at my tag. Surprisingly waives me on. The presentation is just about to begin. Standing room only. I realize that there is no wine being poured any time soon. I decide to stay. A new initiative. Childhood marriage. “Sanctioned pedophilia.”
Others arrive later than me. Three older women in particular, crowd in, distract others with their talking. My mind judges: Jewish. Wealthy. Entitled. I check their tags, not T’s (Temporary), or D’s (obviously not official Delegates), but N’s (NGO reps), like me.
Later, I cringe as they rush to the front of the room to snap photos of Ashley Judd–who reminds me of my new neighbor in Vermont–who moved up from the city last winter–who has the same snarky sweetness–and sensual lips–and nice cheekbones. Erin doesn’t see the resemblance, but thanks me for the compliment. Donates toward my participation at CSW.
I skip dinner. Walk home, alone, before dark. The following night, I stay into the evening for the presentation: Women as First Responders; but as the light begins to fade behind the panel of presenters, I grow more and more anxious. I have a mile walk back to the apartment. I leave the event early, but the sky is already growing dark by the time I exit through security and begin walking down 1st Street. One man after another passes me. I grow tense. But then a woman goes by, running. And then another, a few blocks later.
“Take back the night,” I say to myself with an exhale. “This is our world too, Fuckers.”
On my third and final day at the Commission on the Status of Women, I leave the apartment early. I approach the corner of 58th and 1st at a clip, cross the street as soon as the signal changes, notice a man waiting on the other side, staring down at his phone. He looks up as I approach, smiles goofily at his own distraction, tugs on the leash in his other hand.
My mind notes: Asian. Unshaven. Thirty-something. Tiny dog.
Once at the United Nations, I’m restless. I wander the halls. Drift into high-level meetings. Stop to listen to the video in the lounge for tourists. Watch interviews about the original charter which took place in San Francisco. Find myself brought to tears.
“I did the Spanish translations,”an elderly woman says to the interviewer. “I was 16.”
I startle as I recognize her face.
One of the three women who I dismissed as “N’s” like me.
(Could it be?)
When it’s time for me to leave, I stall. I always have trouble leaving the UN on my last day even though I’m certain that a UN career is, unfortunately, not for me. But this year the separation is excruciating. It creates a vacuum inside. It could be that I’m without the distraction of a colleague, but even as I exit through security, and begin my walk up 1st Avenue, the empty feeling grows and threatens to consume me.
It has a voice.
I let it rip.
“You’re a loser,” it says. “You have no purpose. You don’t know what you want. You are nothing. You don’t matter…”
I let the voice fade out as I soften into the familiar rhythm of walking. I consider that it may be time to stop placing myself beside others living such big dharmas.
I stop at a cafe. I take a seat on the patio in the afternoon sun. I let the voice continue onto pieces of scrap paper.
Two New Yorkers sit at a table across from me in the shade. They’re steeped in a sophisticated conversation. They take turns making points.
Across the street, beside a luxury bus, a band rehearses for tomorrow’s parade.
“There is so much going on in New York,” I write. “But nothing is going on for me.”
The New Yorkers get menus. Order food. The man leans back, reclined in his chair, one hand at his pocket, the shoulder of the same arm dropped back and down. He holds his chin up as he listens. Barely adjusts his posture when he talks.
Newspaper people?, I wonder. Colleagues of some sort? Old friends maybe? Probably a decade older than me.
20 minutes pass and still no waitress acknowledges me.
The woman across from the man moves in all directions–forward, back, sideways. The conversation halts as they both check their messages. She relays the personal drama of a friend. He seems remotely interested. They order coffee.
I’ve been dreaming of a latte in New York all afternoon.
Their conversation continues, volleys back and forth, while I scribble on paper, and then suddenly I hear her say something about someone named Kasich. I can’t remember if he’s a Democrat or Republican. Apparently, she knows him.
And there is a pause in their conversation, so pregnant, that I stop and listen too. The man leans forward, if not perceptibly, then energetically, to say:
“Now, if Bernie was the nominee, he’d have my vote.”
The woman, equally silenced, taps the table, leans forward and says: “Well, there you go.”
I head inside the cafe to get my own menu. Order a pot of Earl Grey. A pistachio tart. The sun is dropping behind the buildings now. The band is loading back onto the bus. It’s too late for coffee.
I consider that no matter who you are you or what you accomplish in life, you might feel unsatisfied. Even a President, even a Secretary-General, even a published author. There are some goals that are never achievable, not fully–like world peace or equality–and there are some feelings that always live on inside no matter what achievements happen on the outside.
I get my check. I walk three more blocks to 58th. Wait at the light. Notice an unshaven, thirty-something Asian man beside me. Look down to see a tiny dog.
(Note: I hit publish on this post just as my son arrived home from the city.)