Last night I watched a woman pick up a shovel and hurl it at her door. On the other side of the door her husband stood mute. The woman’s voice was the loudest sound, and in the corner I could hear her small dog whimpering. My friend Alex urged me to call 911, call the fucking police and there was a moment between hearing my friend’s voice and me looking down at my phone and dialing three numbers. I can’t explain the moment other to say that it was a quiet ache, something old ghosted, lingered, and the whole of my building smelled feral, old. Something I desperately needed to leave behind.
Let me back up a few paces.
Let me tell you about my friend Alex. I was a partner in an agency and she was lead on a few key accounts. And while we always sat a few feet away from one another, our interactions were minimal, at best, and part of me is glad she never reported to me. We never had to endure the awkwardness that occurs when you leave a company and then start defining and re-defining your relationships. You look at people who inhabited your life for so long and wonder where they fit. Do they fit? Is there a place in your life for a person who used to go in on your Seamless orders (who’s getting Thai from that place with the good spring rolls?), a person who occupied the same space at the holiday parties you had to mime your way through to endure (you’d exchanged perfunctory pleasantries in passing and made your way to opposite sides of the room to be with your respective tribes), a person who would wait patiently for the conference room you occupied (we have this room. how long are you going to be?), and you’d deliver a look that was meant to convey apologies for a call that had gone over. Because you had become a person who would always be late. You were forever occupying rooms. You were wreckage, spillage.
Fast forward to a summer where Alex and I met for pancakes and coffee while everyone crammed themselves into subway cars. We didn’t know many freelancers so we cleaved to one another, scared, exhilarated. We were excited for what lie ahead even if we didn’t know what it was. I was no longer a partner, she no longer a lead on accounts–we were just two women eating pancakes. One morning I remember telling her that something was wrong with my cat. I’d been up all night with my Sophie, who wretched like I’d never seen. I remember telling Alex that something didn’t feel right. I think she’s really sick, I said in a voice that barely registered above a whisper.
Over the course of that summer my Sophie became sick, really sick, and Alex was no longer the woman who was the lead on accounts, she became my friend who asked the tough questions when I cried into Sophie’s whittled frame. Alex was the one who followed me home and showed me how to give Sophie her meds. Alex was the one who never judged when I relapsed and got drunk, really drunk, all the time. After Sophie died, after my puffer felt small and airless in my hands, after she was wrapped in a blanket and carted out of my home and down three flights of stairs, I text’d Alex. Words were impossible to harness and I think Alex respected that–how I couldn’t possibly talk. How the idea of a new sound that would eclipse Sophie’s final breath was unfathomable.
Alex became the friend with whom I could feel vulnerable, unafraid. I could be my most unmasked self.
Fast forward to last night. We sat on my floor, eating chips and guacamole, feasting on kale salad with pomegranates, and thick, creamy soup. We spoke of the cruel winter and I shared that these past few months have almost been more than I could bear. I wonder aloud about moving to Santa Monica instead of Santa Cruz because the former is a city I know well, could navigate, could be the bridge between the familiar and the foreign, and I was so relieved that she didn’t interrupt with what she thought I should do–like everyone who hears about my move is prone to do–and instead asked me what I wanted. While so many want to solve, make broken whole, Alex is content to breathe amongst the pieces. I don’t have to have everything figured out; I just had to be thinking, feeling.
And then I make an off-handed comment about how it’s never loud in my building. I’m responded to a thumping, a murmur of voices that ascends to a shout. Alex suggests that it’s probably the kids in my building, and then we pause because what we hear are not the voices or words of children. All we know is that my downstairs neighbor is screaming and trying to break down her door. We rush downstairs and we exchange a few words with my other neighbor who I’m sure had to tell her children to stay inside, don’t open the door, everything’s okay.
It occurs to me now that amidst the violence and the screaming, the three of us–Alex, myself and the other neighbor–are extremely calm. Alex manages the woman’s dog, who’s terrified and bounds up the stairs and flees into my apartment frightening Felix. I manage the woman who sits on my floor, obsessively apologizing (you don’t have to apologize). I tell her to breathe. I tell her I’ve called the police (this does not please her) because I don’t know what’s going on but couples don’t fight like that. She tells me, I’ll manage it, and takes her dog and leaves. She tells me I have a nice apartment, that it’s larger than hers. Beautiful, she says. And this unnerves me. Out of everything that’s transpired over the course of an hour, her comparing my apartment to hers feels…unsettling. I don’t know what to say other than to say thank you. Although now, thinking about it, those words feel misplaced too.
I think about all of this. I think about the woman and wonder if looking in on her would be a disruption. I know her mother came by. At one point the police and ambulance came and went. I know all of this information but wonder if I should do anything with it. And then I realize I’m a stranger. I also realize this: I, once the calmest of children amidst violence in Brooklyn, grew up to become a woman who calmly manages a domestic disturbance in Brooklyn, and I’m tired. I’m tired of familiar.
Bring me the foreign. All of it. I tell Alex that I’m moving to Santa Cruz because it’s time.
It’s time to wake up to my life. It’s time I let Brooklyn go.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good
2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Cup4Cup so I don’t have to deal with xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your flour already includes it)
1/2 cup raw millet
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
Big pinch fine sea salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
2/3 cup maple syrup (I used Grade B)
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped dried figs (I used dried calimyrna figs)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, millet, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and ground flaxseed. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, almond milk, and olive oil. In a small bowl, toss the chopped dried figs with a spoonful of the dry ingredients (this keep the figs from sinking down to the bottom of the muffins, and keeps the figs from sticking together). Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then fold in the figs.
Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake until browned and a toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Mine got this brown at 22 minutes, so I’d suggest you start checking at 18 minutes.