I like waking up in Brooklyn. Sun streams through the two tall windows at the end of the bedroom, and the green shapes of leaves dance outside filmy white curtains. I can hear the birds. Their rowdy morning caucus is a welcome change from the endless honking and screeching that surrounded my Manhattan apartment. We sleep with the window open the way I always did in Bellingham, the fresh air cooling my face. I tried that in Manhattan, but the soot from the kitchens in the Amish market below my window settled black and gritty over my computer, my nightstand, and my curtains. I pictured that soot in my lungs, and decided to use the air conditioner to cool my room after that.
Kris and I have been working in our yard a lot. I’m surprised at how much satisfaction I get from shoveling and planting, raking and pruning. Every week, the yard looks a little greener and I feel a little more settled. In the evenings we leave the back door open, and Sophie lies in the young grass watching the fireflies. Nature’s dot game. Afternoons I like to water the flower baskets and watch the squirrels race up and down the power lines and leaping from tree to tree like a private circus show.
It’s the mornings that sometimes get me.
Every morning I rise at seven and dress in shorts. I put my hair into a bun, wash my face, and take Miss Sophie for her walk. Our route takes us past the refurbished Grand Avenue apartments- one of the rare blocks that has a grass strip between the road and the sidewalk, and a tidy bed of azaleas and pansies in front of the building. The mornings are warm- warmer than most afternoons back home. At the corner of Grand and Lexington, I turn right and walk into the breeze, squinting into the sun. I toss the Frisbee down the wide sidewalk and Sophie snatches it out of the air and leaps ahead, bucking with frisky abandon. She stops at her favorite tree well to nibble on the tall grass while I watch the pigeons and dream of home.
The better the weather gets, the more my homesickness hurts. In the Pacific Northwest, a sunny day is a rare treat, and everyone races outside. Here in New York, it’s one sunny day after another, but I can’t shake that lifetime of training. When I see the sun, I want to jump on my bike and climb Galbraith Mountain, or go for a run around Lake Padden and then jump in the cool, green water. Emphasis on the jump in part. One of my favorite rituals is to swim out into the middle of the lake and then paddle around on my back, taking in the reflection of blue sky and green mountains while surrendering myself to the stillness. It gives me a sense of peace.
Back home those swimming days were rare, but the lakes were plentiful. Here, of course, it’s just the opposite. It seems like every day is hotter than the last, but there’s simply no place to swim. There is water, of course…it’s just that it can’t be trusted. It’s polluted, or off-limits.
The first time I saw the little lake in Prospect Park I was overjoyed. It was a hot day, and of course I wanted to jump in. Kris thought that might be a bad idea, since the park was crowded with people, and no one had so much as a big toe in the water. With a sinking feeling I thought to myself, “Either something terribly wrong with that water, or there’s something wrong with all those people.” Glumly, I turned my back on the inviting looking lake.
“Dangerous Heat” was the headline on the weather channel last week. We don’t have air conditioning in this apartment, so I slept with two fans going and a collection of wet washcloths placed over my body. If you could call it sleeping. Every night I woke up late with a feeling of suffocating panic. I’d get up and race into the bathroom to cool myself with fresh water then go back to bed feeling helpless, and trying not to cry. Thank goodness for the AC at the office. I think the only thing that kept me going those mornings was the promise of 8 solid hours of air conditioning ahead of me.
I tried hard to remind myself that it’s only temporary, and to think good thoughts, but I found myself more than once telling Kris, “I don’t want to live here anymore.”
Many times when I’m unhappy in New York I think about home and remind myself that I can go back there someday. Sometimes it comforts me, knowing it’s still there. Sometimes it’s painful, like seeing the old boyfriend on the street with his new girl.
But part of me knows it’s not as simple as I’d like it to be. I love Bellingham. I love the whole West Coast. But when I lived there, I longed for adventure. I remember how I used to look at magazine pictures of movie stars smiling from exotic locations and feel this ache in my stomach like I was missing something important. Like my life was passing me by.
Now, of course, I feel a different ache.
I joke with my NY friends that I’m ruined now. I can’t go swimming in New York, and I can’t buy blue suede shoes at Bellis Fair mall.
After a long week of heat panic, I called my friend Melissa and begged for relief. Mel drove Sarah, Steve, Kris and I to Sandy Hook beach in New Jersey, where we parked her cooler, and her assorted beach chairs, some blankets, towels and umbrellas and all three of Mel’s beach hats in the searing hot sand and ran for the water.
We spent an entire day basting in sunscreen, playing in the waves, and horning in on someone else’s volleyball game. The sea is warm over here, and Kris, Mel and I spent large blocks of time shoving and chasing each other around in the water, and purposely letting the waves bowl us over into the sand. I got into a contest with myself to see who could make the most comical collapse when the waves struck, and am happy to say that I won, laughing so hard at my own nonsense that I had to quit for fear that I’d snort up salt water and drown from laughter.
On the way home, we looked at the ferries that carry commuters from this beachy town to the blocky Manhattan skyline, visible across the sea on that sunny day. We speculated on what it would be like to live in Jersey. New Jersey has strip malls with parking lots and normal houses with garages and expansive lawns. It has beaches and parks, and I imagine it even has lakes a body could safely swim in. Perhaps in Jersey, I could have the small town life I crave, but remain within striking distance of trendy SoHo clothing stores such as Yellow Rat Bastard.
That night, Kris and I went out into our yard to play the hose game and to water our plants. We had fallen into the habit of playing the hose game with each other as well as with Sophie in order to cool ourselves during the worst of the heat wave- taking turns spraying ourselves and each other with our little garden hose. Once all three of us were wet and, for the moment, cool, I wandered barefoot into my little lawn to pluck out some weeds while Kris hooked up the sprinkler. As I worked, I felt a sense of tenderness toward my little garden, and thought, “I couldn’t possibly leave this garden to move to New Jersey.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever strike the right balance of city and country. Of adventure and gardening. Perhaps that really isn’t the point.
Maybe the perfect life for me is like a ride on the teeter-totter. There is time to enjoy the big push, and the thrilling skyward leap. There is another time to savor the solid earth underfoot. And the balance is in knowing when to push off and when to come to ground.