I was born in the water, an effortless passage of life. It was a relatively quick and uncomplicated event and Doctor Naftalin’s son waited outside in muddy boots on a typically rainy afternoon, a walk through Hampstead Heath interrupted by my atypically undramatic entrance.
When you’re in your early twenties people always look up or down at you with envy, like that’s the best it’s going to get and if you don’t relish in it enough, it might escape you. And maybe that’s true. Maybe millennials are too antsy or impatient, too eager to see what’s next to be fully present. Maybe that’s one of our generational downfalls or maybe I live in hind-and-foresight.
I am barely over the speed limit with all four windows down, shamelessly performing Doo Wop (That Thing) from behind the wheel and flicking my signal on a little too early. The PIP is packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic and my thighs are sticking to the leather. It’s unlikely that my bladder will make it so I sit on my heel and wipe the sweat from my forehead.
As a Bridge and Tunnel girl, self-proclaimed but not particularly proud, I have always admired Manhattan from arm’s length. We crossed the Atlantic and moved to the States at the tail end of the nineties so that my father could be more present. As an overseas journalist, he was regularly flying in and out of war torn cities; they had my brother just a few months before he left to cover the UN Operation in Somalia and my first birthday coincided with the Rwandan Genocide. Four years later, my mother discovered via nightly news that his hotel in Baghdad had been bombed and we sought safer waters shortly after that.
The Hudson River is dirty. It only looks deceptively blue on a cloudless day and I suppose that’s metaphorically accurate too, but nevertheless I called the Tri-State home for almost two decades before relocating again, in pursuit of something more. The boredom that strikes when you stay in one place for too long can wear the spirit thin, so I left.
One third of my father’s father lives at the bottom of Lake Chautauqua in Jamestown. The rest of him is scattered along the Hudson and Charles Rivers and buried between headstones, the first of the plot.
The Mediterranean is salty. Saltier than I expected, and lukewarm in a soupy way. I crossed the pond again to explore the other side of the Atlantic. Kisses bookend all social interactions and strangers make eye contact. Reluctantly, I came back, bound to New York by a return flight and an unfinished degree.
Retrospect is a tricky thing. Our memory is selective and we choose to rewrite history through whichever lenses we happen to be wearing at the time of remembrance. My commutes between New Jersey and New York have become this lump sum of complaints and knee-shaking and exasperated breaths. Getting lost makes the women in my family anxious and we take the same route each time, practicing in autopilot so as not to veer off track.
I have crossed many bridges. On foot, behind the wheel and sitting passenger, even shoulder-to-shoulder in the backseat, flicking ash out the window. Today the sun beats through my stained windshield and all I see is brake lights ahead. I am trying to be patient, trying to center myself and meditate on this moment because that’s an untaught skill and I have yet to learn it. My insides are moving at lightspeed but my surroundings are stagnant. I am bored and impatient and antsy so I count: the drumbeats, the unmoving cars, the mistakes I’ve made.
The Long Island Sound is calm, even with the white caps, and our new cottage is quaint. It’s manageable and small enough to prevent the accumulation of clutter, but our family of four can fit almost comfortably. My father is now an oyster farmer and my mother tends to her garden. Here, we eat what we grow, what is seasonal, ripe and ready. We take our time. We are present. We walk with purpose and read more. We leave our doors unlocked because we trust and we listen.