Macdougal Street, NYC, 1972
It was my husband’s idea. Leaving our suburban garden apartment in northern New Jersey to drive into “The City”, as he insisted upon calling it, he feigned an intimacy and swagger about his relationship to the West Village that made me feel even more isolated. It didn’t seem possible that I could feel any more alone, but that sweltering day, walking the streets of Greenwich Village, I did. Seeing the “hippies” of both and all sexes, in their tie dye tees and faded bell bottoms, seemingly beyond-comfortable with themselves and life, felt strangely devastating. My suburban-ness felt magnified, for all to notice, the polyester faux peasant blouse that now clung angrily to the sweat on my back a real give-away. I wilted. I faded. I pulled even further away from this good enough man, my husband, and from this moment, my only reality.
(He was a good man, a kind man, just a man driving down the road with the wrong woman, sitting in the wrong car. I didn’t know this then. I couldn’t possibly know this then.)
I fit nowhere—that was clear. Nothing worked. The high school in which I taught was the only place of connection in my day. My home life? Our garden apartment, furnished with his mom’s comfortable stripped black-and-white chairs and couch, the black shinny parson’s table? Our marriage bed, with its new and fancy Spanish carved wooden headboard and matching armoire? It all looked right yet there was nowhere on earth that I could imagine being lonelier. I lived in a fog of marijuana, my best and only friend. I ached with an emptiness of which I had no awareness, since it was my consistent and always state of being. It was simply the water in which I swam.
Greenwich Village made it harder that day. I sensed in the Park, watching the cool dogs playing Frisbee, listening to the funky guitar-playing guys with joints hanging out of their mouths, something to which I had no access, some level of authenticity and of freedom. I had neither. I married him because I had to—nice Jewish girls just get married. I shamefully left my relationship with a woman, my first and only love, in the Peace Corps, back in the Philippines. I had to marry him. There was literally no other choice for me in my world.
We trudged endlessly through the Village that day, he and I, smoking pot, looking in store windows, attempting the casual, the normal. As usual, he got louder as I got farther away. He carried on and waxed brilliantly about most everything, movies, the neighborhood, Leonard Cohen’s new album. I sweated, I melted inside and out, and I just kept walking. The glare of the sun, the intensity of the heat bouncing off the sidewalk, blinded me, numbed me, deadened me. Eventually we found our way to Café Reggio on Macdougal Street, the café he talked so much about, the one he allegedly had spent so much time.
The café was dark. I remember sawdust on the floor and the smell of beer, beer and sawdust and my own polyester-induced sweat wrapped into one scent. I was grateful to be out of the bright glare of the afternoon sun, grateful to be in the cooler shade of the near-empty café. Sitting down in the rickety chair was a physical and emotional relief. I felt as if I might never move again, that I was doomed to sit, forever exhausted, in corner of this café forever. He nattered on. I sat, alone with my emptied, hollow heart. Time came. Time went. I drank ice tea. He drank beer. He rambled. I floated.
And then I saw them.
The only other occupants of the café, two women who sat at a table across from ours, came into my focus. Together they simultaneously as in a choreographed, slow-motioned dance leaned toward one another in a moment of beyond-tender intimacy, an intimacy that only lovers—something I didn’t have and couldn’t imagine—could offer one another. Their heads touched as they merged into one space, into one moment. My heart lurched toward them, clamoring open. Without knowing, I knew. Without ever experiencing, I understood. These women were lovers. Women could be lovers. Women could kiss and touch and live and be together. Here. Right here. Now. Right now. In this place. In this City. In The City. I was awakened, dazzled by its possibility, literally for the first time in my twenty-five years of life. The concept, the possibility literally didn’t exist in me before this mere moment or two.
And the moment, as they do, faded. And his voice returned, only louder now. So much more pain had to pass over my heart, and so many more days of aloneness had to unfold before I could lean in the direction of connection, of intimacy, of oneness with myself or with another. But that day on Macdougal Street, that day in Café Reggio, I was awakened by possibility. In mere moments, a multitude had shifted inside of me.
I think of those two women, living their authentic moment, and how their truthfulness and love changed me. I offer them my forever and always gratitude. Are we not called to live our authentic lives, to offer that energetic possibility to others? Not only for ourselves but for one another, our truthfulness heals us, all.
Dear Readers, have you had a moment in which multitudes shifted inside of you? Can you imagine ever being in the role of the innocent bystander, in which your authentic presence, without knowing it, profoundly impacted another? Breathe, relax, and consider. And keep those emails rolling in.