Thursday, November 24, 2005

East Coast Thanksgiving

I rode a New Jersey Transit train today from Long Branch, New Jersey to Penn Station, New York City.

The train was vibrating and I had a seat to myself and my eyelids got heavy and half-closed. We passed Hazlet and Little Silver and Red Bank and then the gently swaying maples and backyard bicycles of the Jersey shore became the gritty red brick buildings of the North Jersey cities. I was nearly asleep.

The train stopped short at Rahway when I started, eyes fully open, at the shorn New York skyline. It didn't look like New York. It was like forgetting that your best friend who has always had long curly tresses has just gotten a crew cut, and even though you've seen the crew cut already, you remember her wistfully with the long curly hair.

So many times I have ridden this train, in the eighties to go to the Village and buy neon socks and blue leopard pants so I could look cool in my suburban high school, in the nineties to catch an Imogen Cunningham exhibit at the ICP, or to find red leather mary janes from Italy, or to meet a friend for moussaka. One time I got my hair cut by Ted at the salon at Bergdorf's, and it cost $150, and it was totally worth it. Ted cut every single hair on my head with precision and artistry, and then sent me over to Carter, the eyebrow guy, who tweezed and tweezed until my eyebrows were good enough for my hair. The last time I was in New York I visited the Museum of Natural History to see the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the lobby that I remembered from childhood.

In the nineties I was back in Jersey for Thanksgiving one year, and Pasek and I went to the Macy's Day Parade, to watch huge balloons float down Broadway. He wore a deep purple jacket and his brown face was flushed with cold. He was enthralled by the floats but he missed Bali, I could tell. He wanted to go to the top of the Twin Towers and I had been there before, so I was reluctant, but he seemed really to be missing home and I wanted him to have a happy time in New York, so I said okay, let's go.

There was a long line in the lobby and I felt like walking out, but remembered the sad sad look on Pasek's face earlier that day, his drawn lips, how on our way here he'd rested on a fence, his limbs heavy. The New York Harbor slowly lapped grey behind him, while the green Statue of Liberty held up her torch so proudly.

Pasek didn't look like he was yearning to breathe free here, that he was leaving his past behind him. He looked like he was thinking of his grandmother who kept her betel nuts in a little box, the banana trees and cockfights and softly exploded flower offerings and social obligations and grace of Bali, he looked like he remembered his father's mynah bird who called his name as he walked through the bamboo gate of the kubu.

I wanted to make him happy, so I stayed with him and we waited in that long, snaking line. Finally we stepped into that tall elevator together and went up and up and up and up. We were on the top of New York City, and he twirled around with a huge grin on his face, as if he no longer were homesick.

I had been up there before, but this time was different. The sky was blue and cold and we skipped wrapped and flapping around the observation deck, and the steelglassed-thincrusted-yellowtaxied-overcoated-fastmoving city spun around us and we could see clear to New Jersey.

Years later, I was on the other side of the world, in Ghana, when those towers fell.

I was sitting on our porch in Osu playing Scrabble with Jahsway, and the towers had fallen earlier that day. I pretended I was composed, and my hands plunked random letters down to form words. But in my mind Pasek and I were still standing on the observation deck, and the world under our feet was falling, falling, falling, people and fire and steel and wings of airplanes swirled around in a great roar, but then finally gravity took it all in one swoop, and the illusion that there was something stable under our feet was gone.