Leaving New York City

Everything is raining.  Puddles glisten with skyscrapers of orange lamplight and shatter when people walk by, splashing shards of lights into the grates beneath which subways rumble endlessly.  The concrete quivers with the impact of a thousand droplets, and light from half-illuminated windows spills onto iron fire escapes.  I am parting ways with New York.  I am stepping away from the Occupy movement.  There is a strange blend of heaviness and emptiness inside my stomach as I write this, yet this sensation is all too familiar.  I am only preparing to do the same thing I have done countless times over the last 18 months: leave.

It strikes me that there are thing I will miss way more than I should, like the steam that funnels upwards through those white and orange tubes, and the rats that scamper between the subway tracks.  The empty station, when I am in a rush, and the endless stream of trains when all I want is quiet.  The way they hiss just before pulling out.  The blinking red hands that fracture on the ground as I cross Broadway.  And there are things that I should miss that I won’t, like the rising sun surging down Wall Street.

The park is empty now.  Orange strips of ground lighting illuminate the bare trees from beneath, whereas once not long ago the trees wore the most regal orange coat of leaves, fluttering above hundreds of tents and hundreds of people who came to Zuccotti for a reason, inadvertently began to call the place home, and left only when they were literally dragged out.

After the eviction, a common spirit of brotherhood and unity led to the unanimous decision to pay utilities at a variety of churches for the heat and light they kept on all night while sheltering us.  This temporary fix became an indefinite solution.  The deterioration of community was so gradual that nobody thought to question it.  But with a decaying sense of purpose, deviant behavior became more and more common.  We lost the churches one after another.  The larger New York community and the country as a whole seemed to forget about us after a few months went by and we hadn’t saved the world.  We lost our meeting spaces.  We lost our office.  We lost our storage space.  Our marches and actions became less focused and more angry.  We began to lose our key organizers.  We lost our sense of community.  We lost our hearts.

I can tell you that mine is currently broken.  I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to give up, abandon this thing, these remaining people, just when support is needed the most.  But I have finally exhausted the reserves of energy I didn’t know I’d been storing.  I still don’t have a place to live, and I think I have just about overstayed my welcome on the couches of all those who have been gracious enough to take me in.  I have grown weary of searching for dinner in piles of garbage.  Showers are not a regular occurrence and I only have one pair of clothing because I can’t fit anything else into my bag and even if I could, I can’t handle any more weight on my back.  Early on, this sacrifice and hardship was more than outweighed by the good I felt I might be doing.  Now, I’m not so sure.

When I leave the coffee shop, a grocery store across the street is throwing out the day’s unsold produce.  I grab a few bags of fresh grapes and eat them as I walk through the Brooklyn rain.  As I pass a church, I notice a black mailbox with the words “prayer deposit” printed onto the side.  So I sit down on the steps of the church, tear a page from my notebook, and write a prayer.  Then I slip it into the box and walk away.

I take the subway to Bowling Green and head across the street to a Starbucks, where I find a trash bag full of pastries, bagels, cookies, and pound cake.  I wrap a bagel and a few slices of cake into a napkin and stuff them into my pack.

Then I walk into Battery Park and sit down beside the gas fire pit that I found with Drea during my first week in New York.  I throw some sticks into the flames and then pull out my notebook and write by firelight for a little while.  Reflecting on my time living in New York City.  I can’t decide whether this city has been good to me or not.  There have been some beautiful things.  There have been some heart wrenching things.  This is the first time I have been part of a community in a long, long time.  Yet the sense of loneliness has been more profound than ever.

I leave the park and wander slowly up Broadway.  The Wall Street Bull is still fenced in, and a cop sits in a cruiser twenty feet away, but the barricades no longer enclose the entire statue.  The bull’s head emerges.  I tap on the passenger window of the police car and the cop looks up, startled.  He rolls the window down.  “Is it ok if I go over there?”  I ask.  He eyes me suspiciously.  “What are you gonna do?”  “Put my hand on the bull.”  He shrugs.  So I walk over and stare down the bull for a while.  Then I put my hand on it.  It is cold.

On the corner across from Zuccotti, I walk up to one of the white shirts (higher ranking officers).  He’s immediately on guard—a kid with a bag walks up to him at 10 PM for no apparent reason.  But I just tell him what I need to.  That I think he’s done a good job.  That I recognize him and that I’ve seen him resolve situations peacefully.  I can’t speak for all of the police-protester interactions that I’ve seen, but as for him, I’ve seen protesters yelling at him and I’ve seen him try to be reasonable and respectful, and I thank him.  He is really fucking surprised.

And now I sit here in Zuccotti Park, at a stone table that used to be inside the information tent, right beside the patch of earth where I used to sleep.  Making my peace with this place.  I remember what it was like here a few months ago.  I bore witness to the things that happened here.  I dreamed of returning to this place one day when the barricades were down and it was empty except for me.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

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One Response to Leaving New York City

  1. Kathi says:

    So heartfelt and beautifully written ~ as only you can do. I can only sense how difficult this must be for you but also feel a strange sense of relief creeping into your soul. As always, we wish you only the best as you begin the next adventure. Just remember…..a warm bed and meals await your return WEST! Safe travels and hugs, B & K

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