The man at the movie theatre said, "thank you," as I left. I was in shock from the end of Cold War but I told him to have a good night. Pawlikowski's film had turned me inside out, the way art should. I didn't want to leave that black and white world of romance and courage and long, silent, thoughtful eye-contact. But the bright lights struck us lingerers as the credits rolled, so we gathered our coats and checked our phones and slipped into the night.
I didn't try to stop the tears. I didn't really even know where to assign them: winter? disappointment? the city? the film? nobody texting me on a Friday night? it didn't matter. I just zig-zagged through Midtown and let them fall.
I hopped over brown puddles speckled with bits of trash and look up in time to glimpse a sliver of the empire state building gleaming against the sky. eight blocks south buzz Times Square, a dome of lights, casting their gleams against the clouds. Someone not too long ago called me a city girl. For the first time in my life, I held those words in the air, letting them wiggle there, not letting them latch on to me the way they normally would. This time, I didn't wear the title with pride. I set it on a shelf and walked away, unsure if it belongs to me anymore.
After work, I come home and it's still sitting there, waiting. I want it to belong to me. But the city these days feels like war more than home. I sometimes ride the train home with my eyes closed, not wanting to see all the other people, not wanting to be reminded of all the ways I can't keep up. I can't keep up with the girls in their fur coats and shiny purses. I can't keep up with the latest restaurants or the fashionable trends, with the street lingo, with the newest books and the newest art exhibits. I am tired of neon and the zinging lights of strangers' cell phones. I am tired of loud people and smelly beggers. I am tired of anonymity. I am tired of leaks in the subway and elevators being out of order. I am tired of cement and brown tile and racing the flashing orange hands at stoplights.
A man behind me at the theatre laughed when the screen went black and the credits began to roll. The silence that followed was his correction. Love in a time of war is not a laughing matter, but maybe he was too stiff on the corners to be unfolded. I have been unfolded: maybe the city was never meant to make me strong, only soft. Maybe this isn't where I belong but it's where I live. And to live is the only choice I've got.