Winter winds late in the night have an almost demonic power unlike its daytime siblings, and tonight the cruel cold winds slap merciless hands across my cheeks. The streets are empty at this hour. I tilt my head down deeper into my hood, a shield against the cold. I think, “How do all these old wads of gum stay on the concrete?”
Brick, cobblestone, flat beige concrete, gray cement, sparkly, light catching slabs of cold. All pockmarked by gum wads of varying shades of brown or gray. Who spit that gum out? And where were they going? Did I spit my gum out here? Is the culprit alive? Are they dead? Are they right now, alive but wishing they weren’t? Do I know you, gum spitter? Did I hate you? Will I know you? Are you me?
For such small things that provide little use expect sometimes masking foul breathe and easing the masturbatory tendencies of the jittery, gum has become a part of cities. Unable to hitch a ride on bike tires or the bottoms of shoes, or in the mouths of curious dogs, these once sticky gum wads have lost their fundamental property of stickiness, so they remain. What does it mean to lose your most fundamental property, yet remain?
Abuela had Alzheimer’s and lived much longer than anyone thought she would. Like a statue commemorating her life before it was even over, her body remained completely devoid of all her Abuelaness. When she stopped speaking I so badly wanted to be able to retrieve her untold stories. Had she been able to say all she had to say? I wanted to be able to push a flash-drive into her brain and download her life. She lived far from me for too long and I never got to hear her stories. The times I visited her in the Dominican Republic, I had been too young to care about an old ladies stories and more interested in playing with the farms piglets, eating limoncillos and swimming in the rio with my big brothers.
When Abuelo died and she came to live in the States, it was too late, she was disappearing. I would sit with her and hold her hand and brush the delicate white hairs on her head. I felt a need to honor the statue in hope that in doing so, her stories would transfer to my mind. If I stared into her watery brown eyes that had become blue on the edges, I’d dream her dreams, and plant her gardens, and slaughter her chickens, and raise her nine children, and dote on her husband, and rock on her chair and tell all her stories.
Cities have a way of constantly changing. New buildings, new graffiti to cover the old graffiti. A different street side beggar taking the place of another, who one fall morning just wasn’t there. But there is permanence in the city and it has left marks all around. It has an odor and it comes steaming up from the sewers. It’s the chewing gum and the cigarette butts and the car horns. Somehow always the same no matter what urban area in the world you are in.
I want my mind to remember everything. Even what is ugly, like the ruin of cities. The thoughtless way we treat them. It is as though we forgot that they stand on living things. We built cities with all manner of man-made materials in all manner of non-human designs. It’s no wonder cities sometimes feel like sunken, urine soaked mazes beneath smog. No wonder that a quiet alley conjures murderous scenarios in ones mind.
I think, if this city could speak, it would be hissing and howling, it would be scorning and pleading. If it could move, and some do, it would peel off the heavy layers of crusted roads and pluck out the electrical wiring. If it could harm, and some do, it would make its inhabitants feel isolation even when lost in hoards of laughter, entertainment and lights. It would fill the people with a gangrenous sadness and make them long for the life they never knew.
I think about how I love seeing bunnies in the city during warmer months. I wish they multiply by the thousands and overrun everything that is lifeless until it becomes a green pasture. I wish their teeth grow sharp and they must gnaw on all the manner of man-made materials until the hideous structures become pebbles that adorn the ground in organic shapes. Bunny landscaping. Bunny gentrification. Makes me think of the “be kind, rewind” stickers on the VHS tapes we would rent at our neighborhood Record Village. Makes me think, we rented this land and never did it the kindness of rewinding.
I think again of the gum that covers the sidewalks and try to see if my route home is entirely gummified. There’s a winter-coated shadow behind me. Maybe it has been there this entire time. I speed up my pace and so does the figure. I think, I’ll take a quick turn here and lose them, so I do, but I don’t. The wind rips the breathe out of me, taking it and becoming stronger. I run hard and harder but don’t hear feet or the swishing of swinging arms. The figure is fast approaching. I cant’ see where I’m going, only poorly lit sidewalks and a blur of buildings like a wet canvas of deep blues that someone dragged a hand over. Now I can’t see at all. They are close, I can feel them.
I want to scream but the wind has taken my voice and it grows louder. When I think they must be only inches away my boot slips and I drop onto a damp and grassy ground. I put hands down to brace for the fall and realize the grass is warm. The wind has gone still and night became dawn. I’m no longer blinded. I turn around fast to get back up but see no one. Just a garden, in full bloom.