Friday, July 10, 2020

Red, White and Blue

On July 4th I took an uncrowded 4 train to Brooklyn to hang with my son.  Solitude and quarantine have muffled the sounds of freedom ringing; just a few short weeks ago the pre-sunset curfew was downright penetentiarial.  I craved the sight of bridges and water and the Jersey shoreline-- the sense of distance, of space that is not measured out in six-foot lengths.  I thought the trip might help stir up some holiday spirit.

Walking to the subway was like an audio land-mine... firecrackers and street-caps exploding everywhere... Roman candles and sparklers whizzing by, blasts and M-80s and rockets threatening my old damaged ears.  I was jumpy; the station, even with the heat, was like a quiet refuge.  On the train, pretty much everyone wore a mask-- except the guy by the rear door who was smoking a joint and pointed out to me several times that I was the only white person in the car.  Certainly I was the only person without earbuds-- a captive audience to his rants and raps and disgruntlements.  When he pressed me for a response, I confessed I didn't feel very white, thinking about my unbleached laundry still drying off in the permanent humidity of my bathroom.   It seemed to satisfy him-- he offered me a toke and I turned it down, touching the mask.  In the relative calm of train noise, I felt safe.

In Brooklyn my son treated me to tacos on the roof of a cool Mexican place-- seemed appropriately a-patriotic for American Independence Day.  I had my first drink of alcohol since that last horrid glass of red at Parkside -- when Alan I toasted the proverbial end of the world as the downtown music scene hit the fan.  It burned a little-- like I was somehow disloyal for drinking without him.   A few couples socially distanced at tables seemed subdued... as though they were waiting for something; a young family with a cranky toddler reminded me of how exhausting the relentless claustrophobia of family can be-- how my first quarantine was like a numerical sentence-- me, a baby, an absent husband and the thick walls of early winter dusk that closed tightly around a mother who was accustomed to barhopping and rock and roll nights.  Sometimes I tire my son-the-man with memories and reminiscence... mostly I reduce it down to a general apology for my learning-on-the-job parenting style.

I insisted we check out the view from the Brooklyn promenade-- magical on any night, but the 4th held some promise of pyrotechnics and sky-entertainment, although nothing like the dazzling light-show of 2019-- the crowds, the buzz, the noise. The Statue of Liberty seemed to have shrunk... like someone picked her off and replaced her with a facsimile-- Liberty-Barbie with the green robe and the crown... and what reason had she to stand tall anyway... sham that she became in this administration with her baited false message of welcome to immigrants, the racially charged symbol of white freedom-- in a harbor with few boats, in a city where residents must mask their face and fear their neighbors?  She, too, seemed subdued and ironic...

Where is my freedom, I wondered?  Is it here... on a promenade by a river I've known most of my life, looking at an altered landscape across a bridge I used to watch from my childhood pram-- the one that haunted my dreams for years-- even still?  On my birth certificate which identifies me as female and white-- a citizen of New York City where I find myself tethered-- despite my youthful wanderings and yearnings... ?  What has become of my city-- a scene of emotional wreckage and the slow attrition of all that I loved most?

The post-4th evenings are quiet although I read in my audio manual that the city ambient sounds have a significant decibel presence.   My dusk runs are still punctuated by heart-stopping random firework explosions.  I have become more intimate with Central Park than I ever expected...  I recognize the routine joggers and walkers-- the babies growing and the Boxers getting their mojo back... My egret has disappeared; surely she is somewhere in the city.  The ducks and geese seem to have a certain purpose... recently a few of them line up on the tiny rock island in the center of the reservoir; they have an order-- they do not seem to compete.

In the distance of dark there are few sirens now; the traffic is subdued and tame.  There is an occasional quiet roar from a pack of demonstrators but even these have become less frequent.  Fewer airlines pass above... fewer traffic helicopters.  My windows are always open; I live without air conditioning and maybe hallucinate from the heat. When I was small I believed in a country (my country) called Tizovthee-- sweet land of liberty.  I squinted horizon-clouds into purple-hazed mountains and transported myself there, land of the pilgrim's pride.  Of 'Thee' I sang-- its nickname...  halfway between heaven and Oz.   The mountains paint themselves nostalgically into the sky behind the towers of the El Dorado.  They stay with me as I type into the morning hours, as I waste time and dawdle with books and memories, go from guitar to text.

But there is another component of these nights-- it is a sort of cloud that hovers-- blankets and beckons like a scent... a few of my friends have been captivated and succumbed... I read their names
in the obituaries, on Facebook pages and Twitter posts.  It is there as the sun sets in its fiery death throes of pinks and golds, as the morning sky threatens to replace the black with its electric blue magic... deceives, taunts me into a new day-- or to the edge of sleep.  It sings to me--  of the bloodless cool of breathlessness, of the enchanting nightmare of fever, of a slipping away--a letting go-- of the girl who is lost in a lake tonight or adrift in an untraceable boat-- in a plane with a cut engine, a receding surf and a wind.  For some of us there is another kind of freedom that beckons-- that makes us safe, but offers solace when there is none.  I am learning to forgive those who cannot resist... I understand... there are bells... and as I misheard the song when I was young, without lyric sheets, perhaps the sound of freedom laughing.

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Blogger Bo Reilly said...

I don't think a shanachie can tire anyone with memories and reminiscence.

Inspire, maybe, but this is me.

July 12, 2020 at 5:31 AM  

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