It had been a shitty summer. I left a miserable job for another, better one that paid me a lot less. To save money I moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio across the hall. The dead bolt on my new door was tricky, and so it slammed on my hand one day, leaving me with a broken middle finger.
“You were lucky,” the surgeon had said before shooting Novocaine into my palm. “A few stitches and you’ll have your nail back by the spring.”
My other bad break—the one in my chest, just left of center—wasn’t as easy to mend, although the leftover Vicodin proved helpful. He was never mine and never would be. To make up for this fact, I spent an exorbitant amount of money on massages and pedicures and perfume and high-thread-count sheets—anything, I resolved, to slough and soften the sharp edges of my pain. Yes, I felt sorry for myself, even sorrier for my friends. They listened, and consoled, and made me promise that I wouldn’t see him, or sleep with him, again; of course they knew I would, and did, anyway.
That summer, like most New Yorkers, I read The Lovely Bones and dreaded the anniversary of the 11th. And then it was over: the 2,801 names had been named, the 1/9 train would stop at South Ferry, and he would ask for her hand in marriage. She would accept it, and I would accept that too. There was nothing left to cry about. It was time to heal, to move the fuck on. I threw away my dirty flip-flops and forged full-speed ahead towards fall.
I celebrated the change in season by buying a new alarm clock, a Sony Psyc. With its bright blue exterior and huge neon numbers it was just what I needed to psyche me out of bed each morning, early, and put me back on a writing schedule. I bought it on Monday, September 23rd, the first official day of the equinox. On Tuesday morning I woke up to music—late, since it was classical. Wednesday was better, a symphony of beeps, but I never made it to the computer. Thursday, ditto, as it was dark and rainy and I was still bleary-eyed from the Civil War series on PBS. And then Friday I was awakened by something altogether different: a skull-shattering shriek from a woman outside.
The time was 5:30 a.m., fifteen minutes before I was set to get up. The sobs came out in successive spurts, like sneezes. Outside, I could see an ambulance at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Third Street, a few dog-walkers huddled beneath their umbrellas. Two police cars angled the end of my block. A siren roared—a fire engine had arrived—and then my real alarm sounded. I turned it off, turned the dial to now-more-than-ever 1010 WINS, and listened for the radio report of this incident. But I didn’t hear a thing. Guiltily, I closed my eyes and tried for one last hour of sleep.
But thoughts of Third Street wouldn’t let me rest. Who was this woman? What did she lose? I pulled up the window shade and watched as, one by one, each emergency vehicle left the scene. But for the rain, the streets were silent. I stared at the empty block, blindly, until I caught my own reflection in the window. Suddenly it dawned on me: I had lost something on Third Street, too.
It was our first night together. We parked his car there, right across the street from my building, both of us full knowing that he would come inside. Everything seemed so easy back then: He was a journalist on the road, his girlfriend lived in another city, and he was set to leave town the very next day. We didn’t need to make any promises, or confessions. What was there to say, really? With him there, with me, in my bed in my one-bedroom apartment, time stood generously still. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his car, which got towed right outside my window, right before our eyes. Reality is hard to bear in broad daylight, so we caved back into bed. We laughed, we wept, and then he was gone.
And then, well, it was September 27th. I had a new job, a new alarm clock, and a new perspective, even if the only thing I could see when I walked outside that morning was that fateful parking space—which, on a dark winter night the year before, looked miles away from being a bus-stop. Instead of heading straight to the subway, I crossed over to Third Street to pay my respects to a woman whose identity was locked behind brownstone doors. Which one was hers? Would she be there now? There was no evidence of a crime—no yellow police-tape, no chalk-drawings, no WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE.
I had come to associate a New York tragedy with candles and cards and flowers on the pavement, none of which I could find. All I knew was that another woman’s heart had been broken, no doubt worse than my own had been, and there was not a thing I could do. I pointed my feet in the direction of the F-train and fell into the familiar, jagged rhythm of the new day ahead.