The asphalt buzzes with radiating heat, the endless lines of traffic crawl ever onward. The heat is stifling, the humidity palpable. You could cut the air with a knife but why would you. People flock to big, air-conditioned stores or hole themselves up in their apartments. Community pools are packed, the city beaches are teeming with the masses. People ride bikes, longboards, scooters. There is laughter and ice cream and water fights. There is release from the heat at night, when people dance in the streets and gallivant through downtown. There is much work to be done, every day, and it is done. It is no small task to support a city that never sleeps.
Among all of these things, there are also faces, hands touching hands, glances across crowded rooms. In this corner of that studio on some street, there is a kiss. Another one, here under the bridge, riverside on Roosevelt Island. There are big, warm welcomes, with hugs and kisses and exclamations about how much you’ve grown. There are handshakes and fist-bumps and high-fives exchanged everywhere, at all times. There are tears, too. There are those who are passing as we speak, or who have passed moments ago. There are people who won’t let go. There are tearful, heartfelt goodbyes. Some are for now, till later, see you soon. Some are farewells, it’ll be a while, remember me, don’t change. People are signing yearbooks, people are signing shirts. People are saying their last respects. A couple breaks up in a coffee shop. There are tears of joy. Her Grandpa is dead, but her newborn takes his name. His son has just graduated from high school, and so a new life begins.
Shoulders brush past each other in crowded, overheated subway cars. People are rude, and kind, and sad, and happy. There are fistfights in bars and sex in bathroom stalls. There are new faces and forgotten names. There is mystery in her eyes, and loneliness in his. There is anger in the flash of her teeth, and gratitude. And there are sounds. There are trains cars that clack on rails. There are footsteps, everywhere. Sirens that are always just at the edge of your earshot. There is music, endless music. There is the beat of the blood in the veins of the streets. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop their way around Central Park. Romeo seduces Juliet once more in the open-air theatres.
At that particular tree, he spreads his father’s ashes. Leaning against a ferry rail, she speaks her silent prayers. A doctor cries during his shift, the gravity of it all catching up to him. A policewoman is gunned down in action. Cars are stolen and drugs are bought. People flock to dimly-lit lounges to pontificate without end. An hourglass is turned over. There is love here, and hate. There is hope and despair, and pain, woe, misery. There is intense pleasure expressed with coy eyelashes. The city is breathing and you can hear it. Occasionally it sighs. More often, it chuckles.
The rivers move, and you will never see them again. Every day, a new river is the East River, the Hudson. The waters have recycled, the ocean isn’t far. No one ever says so, but it is true still, truer, even, for that. The tourists take photos of buildings and the natives scoff. They point and they grin and they wear matching hats that say I Love New York. But how can they? How can they presume to love this place, when all they do is gawk at it and tramp through it and ask favors of it? Can they hear the breathing, the life, no. They cock their ears, and all they hear is activity. They can’t feel the stillness. They can’t comprehend. But he, she, they all do. We do. We feel the pain of the city, the scars of its history. We share in its ebullience, and take our share of its misfortune. We are the city. He is the corner store on his block, she is the stop sign on the street. We are all Broadway and Canal. I am the 6 train, and you are the L. He was the W, but now the Q. We accept, and live, and love. We are the city as much as the city is us.