In bed that night, McCormick, nerves blazing, objects to tomorrow’s plans.
“The ferry to Jersey City? Why do you need your files? Then the subway uptown and back? You can’t put color in your hair anyway. And dinner with Alison? Julie, Jesus! After what we just went through?”
She uses the patient-but-not-really voice that will not be retired just because she’s so wrong this time.
“It was Braxton Hicks, Michael. Spotting is normal. They have chemical-free dye. This isn’t a health crisis. Women have babies every day.”
“Well, you might have one tomorrow. On a boat in the Hudson River.”
June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
He arrives early enough. Walkways are clear, although many benches are occupied. The homeless seem to sleep in.
There were sweeping city views the first time he was here, during the summer of online dating that lead miraculously to Julie.
That day’s Digi-Match was Greek. So is McCormick, on his mother’s side. She had shiny black hair and believed in angels. Told him about a friend’s child whose aura was indigo. Who had been born to save.
He called her again—Nikki—but she didn’t return. Ego dent. And new construction has made a narrow valley of this fancy park.
It’s Staff Appreciation swim, so members can’t get deck chairs or loungers until 10.
McCormick, taking a mere table, gives June an iPad. Watches the workers’ kids splash and laugh. When they get out, the regulars reclaim their territory.
Pretty quickly a toddler fight breaks out, causing several fit women to don DVF Cover Ups, extract their progeny, and retreat to separate corners of the roof.
The core of this epic meltdown, a neatly coiffed six-year old, won’t stop hollering “I had it first!”
McCormick—a Neiman Marxist—can’t resist the cliché: Brown children shared. White children did not.
Sarah. My sister’s daughter. Like a sister to my daughter. June.
Visiting, from the Inland Empire, with her father. On their way to Thailand where he will give a workshop. Sarah says, After Poppa teaches his class I get to ride an Elephant.
Among my sister’s last wishes, Sarah should see the world, of which quite a bit is displayed here on the C train.
Sarah and June cling to the pole in the center of the car.
Why do I hear so many languages? Sarah asks.
New York, June answers, shrugging in the way our town has taught her.
Grandparents are different from parents. Grandparents never get mad, but they are very worried if you go a few feet into the ocean with, like, even a tiny wave coming.
I have a Yiayia and Papou and a Halmoni and Haroboji, because I am half Korean and half New York.
Daddy says some of me came from him and is Greek. Crazy right? There wasn’t Greek in mommy’s belly.
Parents make you say sorry when they get frustrated. And sometimes they are sad.
Mommy cried a lot when Imo (Aunt Sue) died. Halmi and Harbi never even say her name.
Their visit to the funky Northwest recalls the disappointment of his beloved alma mater almost making him faculty when he finished his Ph.D.
But if he’d gotten that job, and not stayed in New York and found Julie again, where would the life force that is their daughter have manifested?
In the Peconic Bay mansion of a German fund manager Julie met at a private equity conference? Crammed into a two-bedroom bungalow with McCormick and a grad student who dropped out when she got pregnant?
No. Those are stories. Really, without this overcast day, June wouldn’t be anywhere.
McCormick returns from the morning run with a glad heart. In two days they fly west.
Oh, sweet reprieve!
Then he watches the English bulldog from 3-J (Cromwell) pissing on the planter out front. That will smell good later.
A predictable blip, but he’s irritated. Why must we pack so early? Julie makes several lists as June drags everything she can reach from her closet.
“That many dresses?”
“In case I eat cake and pie and tarts all at once again.”
She spreads her arms, New Yorker born and bred. “What? I throw up at weddings. That’s my thing.”
(He’s recalling therapeutic passages that led to the moment at hand...)
Elaine Southard was recommended to McCormick and Gwen (his partner of twenty years) by Sal Bergen, McCormick’s analyst.
Sal and McCormick’s signal exchange had been punctuated by Bergen gasping, dropping his shaved head into his hands, and saying “The self-deception is just breathtaking.”
That inextinguishable memory lit up when Southard, describing her own divorce, said “marriage can be an arena of sublime self-delusion.”
At his next session with Sal, whom he loved, McCormick said, “You sent me to your ex-wife for marriage counseling.”
Sal flinched, and the sadness in his eyes was something they could not help each other process.
Posting only pictures of garbage did not attract a slew of Instagram followers.
Maybe that’s not all McCormick was after.
He told Julie, who claimed not to notice unless they were pointed out things like melting snowbanks that shed chicken bones and soiled underwear, that he wanted to see art when he looked at trash. So life would be more beautiful and she would hear fewer complaints about the city.
Just one of the ways he deployed Dr. Bruce Blend’s mindfulness therapy. Decatastrophize, Blend urged. Slicks of shit and cigarette butt are disgusting, yes, but not signs of the apocalypse.