Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Walk in the Evening

It’s evening, the time between when normal people eat dinner and when New Yorkers eat dinner. We’re walking toward the pier off of 43rd Street, two blocks west of my apartment, overlooking the Hudson settled between the West Side Highway and glorious Hoboken, NJ. The center of the City is like the center of the earth – it gets hotter closer to the core. Subway lines, dense crowds, the heat reverberating from the roads and side walks, cars entangled in traffic emitting eerie body-like exhaust – I dread long ends of winters to wake up to a nice, heated day of Manhattan scent (and I think only those who have lived here can really appreciate the concept of a stale "Manhattan scent"). It hit 80 today, eventually settling into a nice evening, especially closer to the Hudson, a noticeable 10 degree difference between 10th Avenue and the pier.

I have a flashback on the walk to the pier. Not some sort of narrative or cohesive story, but a fleeting feeling or image, which is what I think most flashbacks are. People may reconstruct stories to try to make sense of it, but I think they're mostly lying when they say they have a “narrative flashback”. It’s a feeling I remember having when I was young, maybe six or seven. This was all in Potsdam, New York, a town based off one large street, maybe three miles long. The population may have hit something like 9,000 people in the past few years with a median household income around $21,000. My mom used to take me to these graduate student gatherings which included an evening movie, card playing, and what I remember being a lot of my friends gathered in some school facility or other building, though exactly where I can’t remember now (point above proven). I remember running out of the student facility around the center of town during one of these evening get-togethers. I had this feeling of seeing the traffic lights, cars and lit homes and the few buildings that may have been around the town center (which again, escapes my memory). I don’t remember all of the details, just that it was night-time, between that settling point after dinner but before "true night". It was exhilarating. I was running. I was a child who had frequently experienced anxiety and night-tremors of being left alone, was terrified of the dark, and afraid of being lost more than anything else who was running outside in the night without her mom. It was the feeling of evening. On 12th Avenue, I look up and see a boldly-slivered pencil-sharp moon (distinct enough to make out the remainder full, shadowed circular shape), triggering this feeling of "evening". Sure, tonight there are far more lights, cars, and buildings. But I feel evening again.

Those types of feeling flashbacks have decreased as I grow older, and parts of me wonder whether it's because I'm slowly losing touch with myself. When the now becomes a born-in pattern, there's little room for reconciliation between moments of the past and present. Psychoanalysts talk about this thing called alienation, the separation of the self and the image of the self. But I don’t think the acts I commit now can be connected to an introverted but compulsive, introspective and giddy, very sensitive girl at the age of six or something. I look at the past and feel disconnected or outgrown from the feelings and thoughts I'd had. I almost feel a desire to shed myself - the past self at least. The present vessel contains fragments of memories but cannot at once hold all the feelings of the past. But there's the irony - shedding those things from the past would be denying what philosophy of mind scholars call "identity" - the authentication (and almost ratification) of a connection between memories and self. A continuity. I am not ashamed of anything I have ever been through, done, thought, or felt. But I do find, that on a day to day basis of constant thoughts about fixing the problem in front of me or anticipating the problem ahead, or trying to set up a linear path for myself, I'm becoming less nostalgic. As a result, I am less connected to feelings of the past, the very little I have to hold of memories (like, "evening" or "lilac bush outside of our first house on
Winthrop Drive" or "potato after swim practice").

So I guess the feeling "evening" lasted a little less than ten seconds. But for that time, the moment I had forgotten was ratified, validated once again – my six year old experience in the past merged with a twenty-two year old experience in the present. For that instant, it was unclear whether I was six again or twenty-two again. The only clear feeling was evening. I walk back to my apartment with my added memory, heading towards the lit homes of 9 million and not 9,000, the evening settling into a
Manhattan night.
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