Although the chorus to this song is, "who says I can't get stoned," which would be a natural counterpoint to my other favorite commuting song, Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia" with its head-banger chorus, "I don't care." Flip sides of the same defiant mood, sentiment be damned. Although, frankly, the only time I was stoned was by accident. Don't ask me how, ask my friend Ned. Yup. A beer and White Russian kind of girl. Maybe a little red wine--it's good for the heart.
". . . it's been a long night in New York City; it's been a long time since twenty-two . . . "
I moved to New York when I was 23 to attend graduate school, leaving behind a new boyfriend in DC. Amtrak was cheap in those days. I had moved to WDC at 22, and its small size, the lure of the Hill and the social scene there, the easy transitions up the diagonal avenues named for states, up from white marble formality to green suburban lawns, all were comforting. In the end, it was hardest to leave the boyfriend, who kept telling me that DC was a revolving door--you go out, you come back in the next electoral go-round.
But, New York. How could anyone be in love with any other city in the U.S.? I could be in love with the boyfriend, but not with DC. I am still not in love with DC. I will never be in love with DC. It's like saying you're in love with your grandfather's law partner--the one who wore a vest to work with a bow tie and a pressed linen handkerchief.
The boyfriend came to New York to visit, and I spent most of my first year of grad school roaming the city with him or by myself. Mostly we took the subway downtown on its long, clacking tracks under the variant suburbia of the Upper West Side to the Village, the East Village, the edge of Alphabet City, SoHo, to spend hours on the creaking floors of the Strand, to eat cheap Indian food and greasy blintzes in an all-night diner with Orthodox waiters. To cross Christopher Street at night in the rain, and see his face lit by dim streetlights, all the while making grim and inappropriate banter about the break-up of Yugoslavia as a war about alphabets. And pick up the Times at one of the green newsstands at 2 a.m. on our way home. And when there was, sometimes, snow, to marvel at the contrasts.
Oh, DC, the city that always goes to bed on time.
This is all just to say I'm going to New York for the weekend with my daughter, who is just old enough to be excited by the pulse of that city, and just young enough to be nervous about it. I want her to breathe in the rapidity and the crowds, the lights, the freedom of being an autonomous person in a dense crowd of multidirectional personal autonomy. To somehow tell her, this, this is what it's like to be your own person, your own way, without anyone looking or caring. Be a sucker for your heart's perfect sentiment on the cusp of what will be the longest, most breath-taking swoop of your life--this is what I want her to realize, now.
By the way, I married the boyfriend.
". . . who says I can't be free from all of the things I used to be, re-write my history . . ."
In the end, what I want to show her is my Before. Because New York is my Before. Maybe my 'before' is a bigger contrast with my 'now' than for many of you, what with Robert's disabilities. Or maybe my 'before' just feels more poignant, gives me license to be sentimental, or gives you license to allow me to be sentimental. Or to be sentimental for you so you don't have to admit to it. Or perhaps this has nothing to do with you, and it is I who would occasionally like to be free of all the things I am used to, re-visit what was my life, seek out my heart.
My heart is the weak link in my body. The middle link of the seven chakras. I still struggle with the anahata poses. Sentimentality is no substitute for actually opening the heart.
When I had my heart attack at age 40 (the middle of my life), my internist told me that anyone who undergoes grave and constant stress will develop a weak physical link: for some headaches, for others stomach trouble. Or back pain. And so on.
For me, it was the heart. That this is appropriate to my life continues to unfold as discovery and surprise, even though it remains a fact I can only ever push to the background. The anahata chakra links the physical and the intellectual, the child of my body and the child of my mind. The child of my ever always having been, and the child of whatever it is I will become. The north- and south-bound avenues, and not the diagonal, keep this heart from breaking because they are more direct. Give me no slant sentiment. Because it can break. Really. Some of us know this, that the links snap and the world flies apart. Some of us push a vague awareness of this ever to the background.
A few weeks ago, the words, "and not those things that they were emblems of," kept rising to the surface of my conscious mind. For a while, I shrugged it off. And then I remembered, "players and painted stage took all my love." Yeats--"The Circus Animals' Desertion." He mentions the word "heart" in almost every stanza of the poem: I must be satisfied with my heart, themes of the embittered heart, heart-mysteries, and, of course, the poem's final lines, "the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." I must lay down. And yet when all is said / It was the dream itself enchanted me. Where all the ladders start.
Yeats would have wanted to understand the chakras. Yeats with his seances, his study of arcane spiritual texts, his inability to spot any boundaries in his crazy love for Maud Gonne. If any poet understood the connection between the child of the body and that of the heart, surely, it was Yeats.
And if he's still looking for his circus animals, I heard they went to New York.