We rattle through Brooklyn under the elevated M train, that brown and unlovely line. Anonymous in a rented van, we are moving Rocky's portfolios, her chair and bed and etceteras, her bags of things, to her Manhattan FIT dorm. They took the subway in after we loaded up, so Deb is driving the two of us. We'll meet at the re-purposed bindery building, fifteen stories of loft rooms near the old Hudson Yards on the west side, that is her new home.
Her terrifying and fantastic six-month experiment with apartment living in the wilds of Bushwick is over.
"If today were not
a crooked highway
if tonight were not
a crooked trail
if tomorrow wasn't such
a long time
then lonesome would mean
nothing to you at all"
Brooklyn endures, under the sooty slats overhead. We careen around wayward cars and walkers, through shafts of cool January light. Thousands are out for Saturday business; I mean: thousands every few blocks, thousands entering and leaving through the slanting side streets.
It's hurryhurry to the next light, and there are hundreds of lights. The soundtrack in the van is Chimes of Freedom, scores of covers of old Dylan songs. The noise is pure Brooklyn, honk and holler and sweet guffaw, throbbing bass low-riders and squeaking strollers, eighty languages all at once, shattered by the regular rhumba and clack of the train in the sky.
This is the long ride, on Brooklyn's own and original Broadway, the chaotic diagonal through the ancient heart of the borough. Small shops and more small shops, bordered by a few shrugging duplexes and brownstones. Everything is fine-grained and tasty, like home-made seasoned salt. Everyone lives here.
It's also endless cut n' paste typography, a century of typositer specimen catalogs, jumbled up. Signs and wonders on every building, a living mash-up of Yellow Pages and timeless agora. I am in love with and dumbfounded by human invention.
"Excellent Cocktail Chinese Food," one line, in co-equal block letters.
"La Mina Meat Market" - I stutter it over and over to myself.
"Colon Cabs & Cigars" - well, alright.
"Almacenes & Botanica" sounds sublime.
I squirm at the very idea of "Asian Yummy House."
"Vim Sneakers and Jeans" competes with "Spicy Action Shoes".
"Amazing Savings" is in a great white boat of a building, without windows or any other words.
The winner is "Pupa and Zehlam's Kosher Matzoh Factory" – I picture a kleine pupala, a miniature Pupa, paired with a zaftig vildechaya, a giant bear of a Zehlam, as a vaudeville Chassidic partnership, toiling inside.
"We'll climb that hill
after we're gone
after we're well past it"
My Parkinson's and my high-functioning but extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the episodic, humming frenzy of busy Brooklyn, combine in and fix me. My grimacing and jerking head suits perfectly the cadence of this teeming street. Thomas Wolfe's florid ghost is alive in me, and with every glance whole lives are vivid and completely self-described. Tom and I know the King's county, through and through.
I was miserable all the way into the city, earlier. I don't bear up on road trips now. I am grateful that the first half is over, and all that lifting.
Nonetheless and even so: moving her is a euphoric rite. Rocky has rung in herself a great glass bell, and it will never be un-rung. Now she will always seek that sound, centered in her.
See, she chose last year to try a far-flung independence, a necessary and bold thing. She weathered the turbulence with ungovernable shipmates, and now chooses safety and security, in order to do Good Work. This choice, inside-out and all hers, means she is not diverted by a phantom of go-it-alone, or any false vanity.
In doing so she is free. She owns her self, wherever she is.
What miracle of life is greater than this birth? It is re-birth, self-discovery, to make of one's self a new one, in a new world.
or you'll sink
like a stone "
We come to a five-way intersection. There's no painted line! Where do we stop? Here? Ai yi yi. The crossing crowd separates and merges again, around us. A few scowls sent our way, sticking out as we do here, half-way into the intersection. Most ignore us. One looks back at my jittering head and arm. My radar: we lock eyes.
I look right. A woman is up-ended on the sidewalk, blocking traffic like us, over her little boy, fixing a coat zipper. Hold still! she says. His head is down, his tucked chin holds the bunched front. His hands hover and fly like mine, in clumsy kung fu, wanting to Do It Himself. They concentrate: both must see the moment and manner of her success.
The light is green. We drive. Behind me the load shifts. I turn, stiff, peer into the back. As if I could do anything. Parkinson's depletes my dopamine every day, sleeping refreshes it. All this work does something else entirely.
At first I wanted to hole up at home today. They said it was OK, if I really wanted to. No, not OK, I had to help, and I am supposed to be getting exercise. I am glad I came.
It wasn't so bad. Rocky and Eli stayed over the night before and packed. It took just two hours to load up, to stagger things down the tiled hallway, out over the worn stoop, up half a block. Back and forth, past the middle-aged Hispanic woman with the bucket of suds, sweeping the spotless sidewalk in front her place. Past the lounging orange cat up on the fire escape, two doors down. Past the roaming families and kids and refurb'd bicycles, the stray broke-ass hipster and hoodied teen, walking the neighborhood. Back and forth.
"she's got everything
she's an artist
she don't look back "
Re-birth. Here's proof: they got the work done, laughing and joking the whole time. They handled me, my need to plan the next two or three carrying trips in advance, with aplomb.
Here's more: they didn't grouse or snap at us. Well now. Most adults can't do that, when moving. And this: she was done already with the place. Not bitter or lost or too sad. Just done.
What we talk about, Deb and I, all the way to the Williamsburg Bridge, is how she hopes. Not tremulous wisteria-in-the-loosestrife, but tangible, breathing, sturdy-pine-replaces-quaking-aspen hope. A hope that protects that great glass bell like bronze armor, cast in fire and burnished with use, transmitting her clear, steady note, making it resonant and pure.
It is the note, the sound, of what comes next.
She is tomorrow, plain and simple. Her best work safely under her arm, Rocky is ready to go to a new place, unpack it, spread it out, and make it better.
So odd, this. I hear the sound in her, the soundness of her, in part because she sees us now. She has become, in just a few months, tougher about her self, and softer with us. She is now, well, just another human being, I guess. But what a glory, what a mighty joy, this ordinary transformation. Cautious Roxanne, the quiet one, finding her voice, stepping purposefully, eager for new friends. A mensch. Holy holy.
I say to the looming blue of the ornate-old-postcard bridge: carry her over. I whisper to all we pass, the grinning lot attendants, the old grandmothers in the second story windows, the shoppers at El Furniturio Especial: make me as good as she is now.
Deb and I nod in agreement.
I say to her: I won't m-make a b-b-big d-deal ab-b-bout this.
No, she says.
But th-this is s-s-s-o g-g-g-g-good! I say.
Yes, she says. It sure is.
I close my eyes as we climb the curve of the bridge. I squeeze them tight. My hand, my arm, shake and shake. I remember thirty years ago, coming to Manhattan from Montana, with five-year-old Molly, just the two of us. I open my eyes and look at the skyline.
We descend into the lower east side, pass Delancy and Orchard. Everything here is faster, taller, art-directed, and orderly.
Mighty Gotham is all arresting beauty and dark coats. A woman's micro-mini and black silk leg. A cafe called Phebe, topped with Dickensonian fonts. A man in a striped scarf and tassled Italian loafers.
A bright scarlet Vespa, vulnerable on the concrete. We turn on to the wide meander of Houston Street, then north up 3rd Avenue. Parrish colors glow in the side-aisle colossus of 27th Street.
To Rocky's home.
We fill her half of the clean, bright dorm. The girls and I wait outside while Deb puts the van in a lot, so we can go eat in a diner up the street. Up her street, at her diner.
After we eat, the two of them, slim and athletic, wrestle. Eliana never wants to say goodbye. Rocky pulls a ferocious right jab half an inch from Eli's face – I taught them boxing fundamentals long ago, so that no harm would befall them – and we say That's enough! and C'mon! Stop! Really! Enough already!
"so happy just to see you smile
underneath this sky of blue
on this new morning
on this new morning
with you "
On the ride home Eli lies in the back of the van. I watch Manhattan disappear. The security guard at her dorm, a father of three, assured me Rocky would be safe. I believe you, I grinned at him.
But of course I doubt it. Safety is uncertain, even in mama's arms, even under papa's watchful eye. Beauty fades, the mind wanders, hands tremble. Things change.
What we hope for, what we work for, is for them to be strong. We listen for that one clear note, we watch to see if they hear it, too. The sound that never ceases, once begun, when they are out there on their own. The pulsing and tender note of life.
I feel OK. Rocky found the music in her. Rocky is a bell.
Even so, I turn and pray to New York City, to the sawtooth skyline, the bright lights, the golden glow on the edge of the ocean: keep her safe.
Eliana Rachel, and Roxanne Rein
All quotes on the right are lyrics by Bob Dylan. "Chimes of Freedom" – honoring and benefiting Amnesty International.
Broadway in Brooklyn: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broadway_Brooklyn_IMG_9137.JPG
All other picture by author