If I learned anything about this city in my time here, it was that it tests people. It tests people to see whether they will be able to find themselves. It tests people to see whether they know who they are and whether they are becoming who they want to be. It tests people’s patience and people’s compassion.
Similar tests happen in other cities, but this is the kind of place that many people are trained to hate. What to do when all that you know is that there is something grossly inhumane, that all you hear are recriminations about decadence and immorality and materialism?
This place tests whether you can hold onto yourself, find yourself, find something to hold onto here.
Many people came and went. Many people did not find anything to hold onto. There is nothing to fault them with. They were just not right for this place. This place was not right for them. Sometimes, there is just a lack of fitting. Sometimes, people just do not like, do not want to be in a place.
On the surface, this place can seem so painfully inhumane. The way people live– it seems so spread apart, so isolated, so isolating. It is painful to think about and painful to witness. And then there comes the moment of recognition of more.
Eve saw it. Eve had a way of seeing that filtered the world into beauty. It was easy to love her because it was so easy for her to love. She was able to be who she was, to love so freely, she did not have to think so hard about what her truth was. She felt something and went. She was never irrational. Whimsical, yes. Idealistic, yes. Naive, perhaps. But never did I question her sanity. She was the sanest person I knew.
I agonized. I worried about whether I was feeling the right things. I was so terribly self-conscious. Self-consciousness and self-awareness are worlds apart from each other, and I was the former.
I stood on the sidewalk and considered what I might look like, who I might look like to passers-by. I put on my apron and wondered with the customers would think of me. I was always questioning, always wondering, always trying to figure out how I was seen.
It made me blind to myself. It took a long time for me to finally see. My worries and fears would not change the course of history, would not change the future.
We were there, and there was nowhere else to be. That is another thing about this city– people are always ready to go somewhere. Anywhere else but this place.
Eve slipped into an easy happiness here. Here, where there was always another layer to lift to find something more, she felt at home. She could have all of her layers unabashedly. She did not have to worry about what people might think of her or of whether she would be seen well or whether she had to hide. People here accepted the different parts of others with a pleasant surprise, generally. Those who didn’t regarded it with a sort of skepticism. The skepticism of people who have been fooled, been disappointed, been hurt before.
Perhaps that is the way that I walked into this new world. Afraid of being hurt, disappointed, fooled. Afraid that I may have come all this way to possibly be betrayed in love.
After finding work with Mel, we went on a search for a more permanent place to stay. There were many options in the area, but most of them were not for us; expensive luxury apartments in buildings that were old and had long since stopped housing what they once did. Hotels where stars used to stay and dine. Where there once were restaurants that were the place to be seen, the place to go before the playland across town was built up.
The signs proclaiming their names were large and proud. There was something regal about them. That is the artifice; that is how people are shown what to think about a place. They were no longer what they once were by the time we arrived.
They had been abandoned, that much was obvious. People began to trickle out, to move away. To leave for places where they could have a yard and fences and privacy. Where they did not have to worry about bothering the person living above or below them.
There is certainly something to be said for that. Something to be said for having our own space to live and grow in, to do with as we will. And yet there is something undeniably inhumane about it. I understood the need for privacy, but isolation is another thing altogether. People were so easily isolated here. People were taught to seek isolation. In their homes with their yards and in their cars with their radios turned all the way up, not hearing much. It was difficult to understand.
Eve and I had our ten or twelve blocks to roam, and the buses and trains to take us farther, and that was enough. For a time, that was enough. There was so much to learn.
We found an old converted hotel with tiny apartments for us. It was not much improvement from our small first dwelling, but it was ours. It was a tiny room in a larger building, with windows facing the street. The walls and floor were all painted black. We felt like we were in a sort of theater. There was something cold about the room when we first began there. But we were meant to warm it up.
And we could. And we would.
Making a home was a way of discovering each other. I tried to be minimal because I knew that we would likely be leaving once again. I did not think of this place as a permanent home and did not try to make it so.
It showed how different Eve and I were. She settled easily into it, wanting to tape up post cards and newsclippings and photos, to buy odd bric-a-brac to decorate the old bookshelf we found on the street. To buy books. Though we could not have predicted how long we would stay in that small place, she would allow herself to dwell in it. To make it truly hers.
I, on the other hand, wanted to be prepared for the leaving. Wanted to make it so that the leaving would be easier.
Always waiting. Always worried. Always prepared for something to happen. Always bracing for unpleasant change.