by SUMEJA TULIC
Užásno! she said as she passed. Her crisp blue eyes pacified by the fullness of her blonde hair and the wind that swept through the darkness of the street, like being tickled by someone you are going to punch in the nose.
The train mended the space between two buildings as if to say that nothing can be broken or perhaps nothing could be mended forever. Brighton Beach after dusk is the closest I am to home in New York. I am there because of the sea and for the long train ride back. I’m there for the restaurants that stretch along the shore and their female Slavic names – Tatiana, Alina, Vera. Probably named after owner’s and everybody’s first love, mother, daughter. Probably, but all I could think of while pressing my nose against their windows is how there must have been a Tatiana, Alina and Vera, teenage soldiers who many decades ago were freezing in the woods. I’m there for the old people in proper coats, sitting on benches, in streetlight-interrupted darkness.
These old people may have been vampires. They were still, but impossible to photograph. They didn’t attack anyone or at least it was not reported by the Post the day after.
Back on the Brooklyn Bridge I am merely one of a hundred total strangers standing there and thinking of love and suicide. In their extreme intensities, love and suicide may be the same, the egg and chicken paradox of self-destruction; a circular reference to a minimalistic obituary reprinted every time I wish for the one that pains me most.
This is not quite true when one is at Brooklyn Bridge or, for that matter, at any given bridge. The water is simply darker and colder than betrayal or cruelty can ever amount to. You can jump into its coldness. Darkness after you have jumped quickly blends into fear and regret. Later, once you are soaking wet: that feeling turns into life after death. That is eternal and in most optimistic accounts, a boring blank space. No love and pain are ever boring, blank. So don’t jump.
It starts to rain and everybody with and without an umbrella is disappointed. The arches of the bridge become too crowded and the romance of taking photographs against the glowing lights of uninterrupted greatness of the Financial District doesn’t do it anymore. To see a city while it rains is to see it in its pajamas. The sincerest moments of one’s life happen before a shower and coffee, in your underwear. Only a handful of people appreciate it.
One morning when I was ten or eleven I woke up and I ran out of the house to a tree completely covered by butterflies. It wasn’t a tree in our garden, but the one across from it, some yards away. The butterflies kept flying to it and flying from it. I stood in front of my house, not sure what to do. I wasn’t afraid but also I couldn’t go closer to the tree. Nobody really took notice of what was going on, as if butterflies attack tall trees planted on the brink of the desert every day. I didn’t know back then that this is something to be photographed. Also, my family didn’t own a camera.
Instead, twenty years later I remember it still. I remember it and measure my wonder and affection according to it. I don’t believe in love at first sight but sure do believe in not being able to move and divert you eyes from someone or something because they are the kind of loveliness that doesn’t elapse, like a kind tree on the brink of a desert. They are so wonderful that you want to tell them every little thing that happened to you up till the moment you met them. Instead of that, you release all your many, silent butterflies at them, at once.
I want to release all myself on him, like a rain that came as blessing and ended up as a natural disaster. But we never even shook hands, not even when we said goodbye. Once, we took an elevator together so that I could practice not looking at him in confined spaces. If I had looked his way he could tell I made my peace with some crazy, uncalled for waiting.
I’ll wait until I’m 44 and he is 45, when we are away from New York, comfortably seated on the porch of our house, broke and tired. I’ll drift away, probably into the nothingness of a flowerless garden, and he’ll start calling my name. At first, he’ll say it the right way, and then, suspicious or annoyed, he’ll start saying it the wrong way, which sounds like something God would shout at his people from the top of a mountain. If I could only forget to think and think and think. I’ve taken up smoking so that I have something else to do while alone. But that is only worsening the problem. Every day, there are fewer places to smoke in. As I type this, one bus station has just been designated as a non-smoking area. So I take my not thinking to my room.
Some folks may loose the blues in their heart, but that is not me. I never will lose the account of all the sadness that is bestowed after one reaches a self-assigned point of maturity.
Life becomes clear for what it is – blocks of houses, cafés and pastries, shops and cinemas and Luna Parks. All that is equally predictable and mind numbing after a while, unless if you can remind yourself what this life would have looked like without it – an honest to God wife, which you wouldn’t want to fuck. From Midtown and up there are a few boutiques which sell suits, purses and scarfs for somebody really old but alive. These boutiques are never open when I’m around. They are filled with yellow and purple or pudding-like pink light that drips onto the street if the doors of the shop are open. Bastard shops adopted by the avenues. Growing among them, learning to eat with cutlery, debutantes that will never be married.
Aaron told me that it’s a lie what they say in the movies. New York sleeps. It’s only people with jetlag that roam the city. Yes, everything goes to sleep. Even the fish in cheesy aquariums in the bars between Little Italy and Chinatown sleep. Only angels, trains and delis are lingering. It’s not a good idea to have coffee that late while your shoes are soaking wet and no filter can make your selfie look better. Not to mention the cigarette in your hand and the cheap bouquet you bought because (1) you are never so broke you don’t have money for flowers, and (2) no flower should be left behind. Simply, Užásno!
Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her website here.
Photographs by the author.
“Human Contact” – Catey Shaw (mp3)
“Brooklyn Girls” – Catey Shaw (mp3)