Winter winds of the late night have an almost demonic power unlike their daytime siblings, and tonight the sinister children slap merciless hands across my face. 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 sidewalk?”
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 alive right now wishing they weren’t? Do I know you, gum spitter? Did I hate you? Did I love you? Will I know you? Are you me?
For such small things that provide little use except 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 substances designed to be chewed and never swallowed, have lost their fundamental property, 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 lady’s stories and more interested in playing with the farms piglets, eating limoncillos and swimming in the rio with my big brothers and cousins.
When Abuelo died and she came to live in the States, it was too late, she was already 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 around the iris, 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’s the odor which 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 many ruins of my life, like the ruin of cities. The thoughtless way we treat them. We forgot that they stand on living things. We built cities with all types of man-made materials devoid of life. How can humanity thrive surrounded by what is devoid of life? It’s no wonder cities sometimes feel like the sunken places of our psyche. 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 lives 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’s all green pasture. I wish for their teeth to grow sharp and for them to gnaw through cities 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. I think, have I lost my fundamental element? Am I the statue commemorating who I once was, all that I lost. My once fundamental blind hope, the bursting kind of love, the giving kind, always adoring, always giving and “yessing” and waiting and forgetting and forgiving so as to forget myself. There’s a heavily-coated shadow lugging along its heft 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 for its own, taking my memory, taking my history. I run hard and harder but don’t hear my pounding feet or the swishing of my swinging arms. The figure, now fast approaching. I can’t see where I’m going save for the blur of buildings like a wet canvas of deep blues that someone dragged a hand over. Now I can’t see at all.
I want to scream but the wind has taken my voice and it grows louder, deafening me. When I think they must be only inches away my boot slips and I drop onto damp turf that smells of 5am dew. With hands outstretched I feel for safety and then overcome with thirst I lick at the dew which then begins to pour so willingly into my lips. The wind has gone still and night has became dawn. I’m no longer blind. Startled by the sudden brightness I turn around quickly to get back up but see no one. Just a garden, in full bloom.