On Sunday mornings I walked down Broadway from where I lived on 119th St. to Coliseum Books on 57th, an almost-straight line. A long line, that I walked swiftly and purposefully.
Walking is something you can do by yourself so well. It makes you feel like you have a place to go. And if you walk down Broadway on a Sunday morning it feels like anything can happen, and will happen, any second now. You are as far away from aloneness as is it possible to be.
The worst part about my alone life was that I was not supposed to be alone. My aloneness was a huge embarrassment. It had been for years. Ever since I’d come back from England, 14 years old, sure that this move back to the jazzy hip United States would snap me back to where I should be, snap me back into circles and circles of friends.
Three years of high school and deep embarrassing isolation I could not explain. How did everyone else make friends? Not that I wanted their friends. But still. I watched them. How did they talk so easily? Not that I wanted to say anything they were saying. Everyone's chit-chat seemed so stupid. Something had happened to me. I remembered being at the center of things, it being so easy I didn’t even notice it.
But now I am 14 and I have lost my touch. Only the outcasts notice me and I am repelled by them. I don’t want Sally – round with thick braces – or Rachel – tall, big-boned, dressed in polyester – to come talk to me in the library at lunchtime where I am eating the liverwurst sandwiches my mother put in a brown paper bag in the same wooden booth, off to the side, in the corner, an area few people frequent. I don’t want Rachel and Sally to seek me out and pull up a chair and tell me about the Girl Scout camping trip, but I listen and talk, I am polite, I must be, and really, they are okay – I even get interested – we laugh, and sometimes being even with them feels better than the utter silence of talking to no one.
Maybe it even looks better to be laughing with misfits than to be sitting alone.
But Sally and Rachel are not my people I know they aren’t. I will never ever be a Girl Scout. I listen to Leonard Cohen. The women he sleeps with are not Girl Scouts.
I walk down to Coliseum Books and I go in and I look through the riches there, the treasures, the fresh new paperbacks. I thumb through. I open here and there. I look at the brand new hardbacks too, but never buy one of those. Too expensive and too stiff. I wait for the soft paperbacks you can bend and soften.
Maybe I buy something.
And then it is time to go back. I don’t want to go back, not the way I leapt out of my room this morning, bright with the joy of a destination.
On the walk down it has been easy to feel the surge of confidence that I am hopeful will this time turn into words on paper the moment I sit at a typewriter. If only I had a typewriter with me right now, I am sure this super-charged excitement could spill out and become something as rich as what I see at Coliseum.
Instead, though, it is time to return, to leave this bookstore – so worn and warm – this place where writers end up, their words – how do they do it? – neatly packaged, glowing.
I can’t walk back up Broadway as fiercely as I came down.
I make my way. Back to the small room in the linoleum suite – not a real apartment -- I haven’t figured that out yet – this narrow room with the small vinyl-topped desk at one end, and the typewriter I inherited from my mother. I cannot look at it without seeing her, without seeing my whole family, the whole story of where I came from that must be erased – how can I write anything like what I see in all those piles of beautiful paperbacks when I am who I am?
Here in the room it is impossible to be free of it all the way I was just now on the street. Here I am the person I have always been. Out there, I was a stranger, someone who maybe had a chance of being a writer.