Kate Reuther is a former student of mine, a lovely writer. Between packets we used to exchange childcare horror stories, taking comfort in being wry and witty about stress and everyday domestic catastrophe. All our children seemed to have survived, so it can’t have been that bad. Now I just remember the camaraderie of those emails. This is an atypical “What it’s like living here” piece. It’s what Kate calls (apparently this is a new word, perhaps not an entirely new form) a charticle. Apparently, she tells me, there are also listicles, although I haven’t seen one yet. Kate is one of those rare creatures who enjoys teaching middle school. She is a graduate of Yale and the Vermont College MFA in Fiction program. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Madison Review, Brain Child, Salamander, and The Ledge. A life-long New Yorker, she lives in Washington Heights with her husband and two boys.
|REASONS TO GO
|REASONS TO STAY
|To live here is to constantly question my own sanity and I have lived here my entire life.
|It’s not possible to leave anymore. I am permanently warped. I am ruined for anywhere else.
|The subway — the pee-soaked man sharing my bench, the garbage heat, the windy grit in my eyes, the milky plaster leaks, the rat tunnels, the crush of sticky skin, the “Fuck you looking at?”
|The subway — ancient engine of democracy and speed, dog-eared paperbacks, roving Mariachis, warm stranger’s shoulder, rocking me home after three gin and tonics.
|I worry about the children, what this soot and hurry and perpetual tightness are doing to their brains. When they want to run, they run in a circle through the kitchen, past the table, past the television, and back into the kitchen. “Light feet!” I yell. They do not know what it’s like to run under an emerald canopy, or through a field, wheat without end, opening and opening and opening….
|There are no children running through fields in the countryside. There are children playing Halo in finished basements. There are children drinking Malibu rum in the backseats of Dodge Durangos. There are children smoking Marlboro Lights in Chick-fil-A parking lots. There are children texting each other: MEET U @ MANIC PANIC. My boys are better off.
|Green — When I unexpectedly find myself before a windowpane of trees or an undulating mountain range or even just a square of lawn, the clamp inside my chest eases open. Right now the only green I see are desiccated Christmas trees planted in dirty snow banks.
|I get my green in concentrated doses, Central Park doses, friend’s sister’s East Hampton’s house for the weekend doses. And I appreciate green more this way, sighing like a character from a musical when the wind plays with with the winking leaves in the afternoon sun. If I lived with trees all the time, they would look like work, like a mess to dig out of gutters, all wet and black and rotten.
|The possibility, no probability, of a washer and dryer inside my own home.
|My parents failed to get out. When my mom got pregnant, they bought a house at the end of a dirt road inside a primordial pine forest in Warren, N.J. Every morning, my mother would waddle along my father’s crunchy tire tracks, sighing tearily in the shards of sunlight. No neighbors. She would have liked to make her excursion into a loop-walk rather than an out-and-back but the intersecting pavement was miles away and the woods were featureless, like black crosshatches. No elves. My mother walked until she reached the splintery remains of an orange plastic cone, abandoned in the run-off ditch, then she turned around, walked back to the house, and got back into bed.
|The endless schlep – sweating inside of a matted, down coat, lugging a stroller up a metal staircase, bags banging my shins, bags bruising my hips, bags inside of bags in case I buy something and I need another bag. Sometimes I turn the bags upside down in the front hall of our apartment and litter the carpet with my burden: one mitten, a travel size bottle of Purell, a Ziploc bag of baby-wipes, a half-knitted scarf, an uncapped Cherry Chapstick, an aluminum water bottle (the earth!), a Ziploc bag of Pirate Booty, a Lawrence Block mystery, two chewed pieces of gum, a Lego alligator, a Ziploc bag of apple slices (brown), a plastic water bottle (the earth!), a wooden J train. If I lived elsewhere, I would leave it all in my car.
|Where is “elsewhere” anyway? Not Westchester or Long Island or Connecticut – I’d be bored out of my mind. Not DC – bunch of wonks. Not LA – traffic. Yes, there is a middle, a big ocean-less middle, I’d get lost driving from the placeless place to placeless place to my women’s book club at Panera Bread. I need my feet on a grid, landmarks in the sky. And fuck Boston.
|Scott – He is always so bruised, hunched, angry, disappointed, TIRED. If he can’t make it here, there is something wrong with this place.
|Scott – He likes his supergeek job, his Muay Thai muscles, his Banh Mi bread, his collaborators from the land of jazz and gin. Scott is digging into the city wearing purple Air Force Ones.
|People are jealous because I pay only $317 a month to park my car in a garage.
|“New York City. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers and everything.”
|Adventure!! A new color to the sky, new minerals in the tap water, new slang for soda pop and sandwiches, new tax codes, new friendly debates about the best route home.
|I’d still be the same anxious, angry person, only disoriented, lonely, and hungry.
|It will happen again.
|It happens everywhere.
|My sons running naked on a beach.
|When I find a local like me, I want to run my tongue up under his jaw line, taste the brack of blacktop and cloudy hot dog water. “Do you remember ‘The G-Spot Deli’ on 86th and Amsterdam?” “Yeah, what were they thinking?”
|My mother said, “Never hang your purse from the hook on the back of the toilet stall door; robbers will reach over and snatch it while you have your pants down.”
|My mother said, “If you feel scared, go where there are people.”
|There’s no nobility in pointless suffering. Arrogance is a lousy reward.
|When I look at the sun through my closed eyelids, I see a ridge of red skyline. I think it’s the West Side, as viewed from the reservoir, my fingers gripping the old chain link, my thighs pink and goose-bumped in the February cold.
|A porch, preferably a wraparound porch, with a pink jasmine bush, a string hammock and a weathered red stool we use as a table for iced tea. Glass pitcher. Plenty of ice.
|How much space do human animals really need? Isn’t this better? Isn’t this enough?
|I could spend my whole life debating this and never leave.
|I could never leave.