There was school up on Broadway and 116th St., a place of classrooms, lecture halls, papers due. There was Broadway itself between 116th St. and my room on 107th. I ate in the coffee shops, cheap falafel places.
It is dark. I am by myself, hungry, not wanting to spend money. There is a boy in one of my classes, very handsome, dark curls, not football-popular handsome. His face is sweet but there is also an air of the outsider about him, something uncertain and quirky that makes me imagine he might be for me, I for him.
I don’t talk to him or anyone in the classroom. I don’t know the teacher. I have been a student here for over a year, but don’t know anybody really. School and anything to do with so-called “campus life” seems embarrassingly infantile. I never go to anything I don’t have to go to, always ignore the pink flyer on the noticeboard about a “mixer” in such-and-such hall, always leave the campus as quickly as I can to merge into the city.
But then it gets very quiet. Alone walking down Broadway, hungry, eating something where it's cheap, going to the tiny dark room in the railroad apartment where three or four other people live. I thought moving in with a bunch of people would give me something adult and exciting to be part of, but it’s an apartment where residents rarely see each other.
I know if I go down to Jeffrey’s place there will be bright lights on in the living room, the color TV will be on and the twin towers will be lit up on the other side of the living room window. Jeffrey will be on the couch, using a wide flat book as a counter on his lap, skinning chicken with a pair of scissors in his left hand, holding the long blue ceramic pipe in his right, inhaling the smoke deep, holding it in long, laughing at the jokes on Mork and Mindy. The lights will be on in the bedroom too where a record will be turning on the turntable by the unmade double bed, the big puffy headphones thrown down among the sheets, a tape silently turning and recording the song.
All that is there but it’s one of those nights I’m not going down. We’ve had a fight. Something. There have been a lot of fights lately. I am staying up here in this part of town, my part of town. It feels a thousand miles away. I pretend I don’t feel empty. I pretend I like it up here.
If I could just spend the night with the boy in that class, have some kind of falling in love with him, it would help a lot. Jeffrey has a lot of people. He even has Harriet now. He stays with her one night a week. I haven’t met her, but I know she’s a writer. She writes actual paperbacks. And she’s old, in her thirties, with a kid.
Thinking about her makes me feel like I’m standing on the edge of a bottomless crater. I want to jump in and die.
After class I say something to the boy, something so that we are walking down Broadway together. We go to the falafel place. I look like a girl with a friend.
As we are eating I ask him if he would like to come to my place and spend the night. I don't tell him there isn’t room for two in the tiny room, but there’s the living room.
He says yes. We walk up the stairs. I unlock the front door. We step into the narrow corridor. “No,” the boy is saying. He is looking down the hallway. We have hardly stepped inside. “I can’t stay after all. I’m sorry. I have to go.” And he is gone.
If I tell the story to Jeffrey, I will be casual, say something about how this guy almost stayed over, but had to leave. It won’t matter to me.
I will be left with the grittiness that I don’t know what it is that covers everything I touch and don’t touch, that at best I can ignore here and there when for a moment it seems to blow away, but usually – especially alone – it accumulates in mazes of huge dark piles I can't find my way out of.