phantom pains.

Venturing out takes a bit more effort these days. My hair is a bit unkempt, the remnant of a whim and promise at the dawn of 2020, and requires a bandanna. Before putting in my headphones, I’ve got to pull on my facemask. Before I set out, I glance at myself in the mirror, shooting myself a small smile.

Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think I see a difference in my eyes. I commit to smiling at strangers even if they can’t see it.

The city is nearly the same place it was when I moved here two summers ago. Businesses have risen and fallen, and the age of social distancing has cast a bizarre hush over all of it, but the buildings still sprawl, mighty in every direction. My eyes for it are new again, grateful for every inch of my wandering.

Everywhere there are stories. On 14th Street, near 3rd Avenue, I think of my friend who threw a housewarming party for his new roommate, then left us there with her to get acquainted. At that Mexicue, a first date that still makes me smile to think over, even if romance never blossomed from that vine.

There, the Mexican restaurant I went to with a friend after we finished a movie neither of us enjoyed. We both would have walked out, we realized, but we didn’t sit together and each of us stayed for the other. Our server, upon discovering we had no ambitions beyond chips and margaritas, ignored us for customers seeking entrees. A third friend arrived, having been ambling through that part of the city following a house party, and she greeted us with a story about a little black dress and a torn pair of tights. She’d ditched the tights, she shrugged. We laughed, and we raised our glasses.

I ache for new nights, for those wild moments where a bunch of people I love end up in the same place, the birthplace of stories. I yearn to come back to my apartment, exhausted and inspired, sloughing off my jacket and genuinely reveling in home.

Through the window, I can see the sky is blue, but I can’t quite feel the sun on my shoulders. Through the computer screen, I can see the faces of the people I love, but it’s not the same as knowing I can pull them into a hug.

I wait for the days of experiencing the world firsthand. I miss everything and everyone, and I’m tired of living with my breath half held.

A sharp inhale, a long exhale, fogging up the glass between us.

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