This morning, much like Marcel, I could not sleep. I went to bed early, woke in the middle of the night, and then again at six this morning, and decided, rather than lie in bed and watch the light turn my shutters golden, as I usually do, I should go out and greet it. I put on my madras shorts and USC t-shirt, put band-aids on my feet (scarred by tight flats and not used to athletic shoes!), grabbed my teal Bianchi (a tiny, Italian racing bike which once belonged to my mother, and which has recently recovered from a flat tire), and walked down my building’s narrow stairs.
The East River Park is only two blocks from my apartment, though I had not been there since last weekend, and while it is not the most picturesque of New York parks, the path by the river runs by the water and under the bridges, and riding along it, I have found, feels more free than any other place in the city.
You should also know, faithful readers and concerned friends, that I am not exactly the most agile biker. I first brought my Bianchi to college Junior year, and scarred friends and strangers alike with my careening, haphazard, brake-less flights across campus. I absolutely adore biking, but when I moved to Manhattan, was forbidden by the boys and my mother from setting foot on the streets with nothing between me and New York traffic but a few inches of plastic and steel. After two months of dutifully avoiding city biking, however, I decided that a park with a dedicated pedestrian/bike lane might be a safe place to start, and brought along my helmet.
The sun was still rising over Brooklyn, and I pedaled down the river, shakily at first, and then with more assured progress. I passed under the Williamsburg bridge, soaring steel latticework that shook as cars rumbled across it. I rode under the FDR (for a terrifying thirty seconds when the path converged with the street) and past the IKEA ferry (which always gives me a little thrill whenever I see it), under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and down into the Financial District. Unwilling to stop, I wove through the passengers getting off the Staten Island Ferry, and down through the trees in Battery Park, finally reaching the very tip of Manhattan, where I stopped.
I sat there on the bench, knees drawn up to my chest, watching the Staten Island Ferry dock and depart, as the mist cleared away from Governor’s Island and Investment Bankers made their way to work around me, and was struck by two simultaneous thoughts. The first was how terribly much I love this city, and the second how haunted I am by time.
Summer is ending, has, in many respects, already ended, and, for the first time in seventeen years, we did not return to school after Labor Day. The surreality of this has yet to sink in. But it has put me in a September mindset, and I find myself questioning what will come next, what will change, and how best to hold onto my magical summer before it fades into memory. Nostalgia, or rather, the preservation of those crystalline moments which precede nostalgia, seems to be a theme of this blog. Nora, Marcel, and I are all
struggling to grow into our adult selves without losing touch of what has brought us there, to put down roots without becoming paralyzed, to find our way and make a living without compromising what it is that we truly live for. In so many ways, we are more real, more independent, than we have ever been, and life since graduation has been nothing but wonderful. But like Marcel, we feel time racing away from us, feel the constancy of change, and fight against it.
There are many ways, Proust tells us, by which we may hold fast to moments in time. We can capture it in art, pin it down through pages and pages of flowery prose or sheets of canvas; we can find immortality in a friend or lover; we can eat the right food, listen to the right piece of music, and be transported back to the very first time we encountered or tasted it. In essence, Marcel says, if we appreciate life in its intricacy and complex splendor, we may be able to slow the passage of time. I myself have always chosen another path, one that is far more in keeping with my sensibility than with Proust’s. My summer was filled with sunlight and laughter, late nights cooking bad carbonara and drinking perfect sangria, trips to the beach and the lake in central park, and biking along the promenade in Governor’s Island. I have learned how to keep my own apartment clean and pay an electrical bill, how to do HTML coding and pull together a magazine.
And all the while I have been amused, interested, teased, and looked after by the most wonderful friends anyone could ever ask for, who make me laugh until my sides hurt from lack of breath, and I have never felt more young and alive. Nick and Sam told me recently that I have two speeds, 180 mph and zero, and I would say it’s a fairly accurate assessment. I tend to operate on a higher energy level than anyone else, speak and walk faster, try to pack everything into a single day, only to wake up early on the next one. And I think, on some level, that this is my way of fighting time, my way of holding onto the moments I cannot bear to lose. Unlike Proust, I do not try to slow down time. Instead, I race it.
After about ten minutes, I picked my bike back up and rejoined the throng of suit-clad commuters just beyond the trees. The sun had risen past the horizon by now and lost its yellow glow. By 8:15 I would be back in my apartment, hopping into the shower. By 9:30 I would be at work. And by 6 I would be sitting on the deck of a boat on the Hudson river, drinking white wine sangria with three of my best friends. I thought, in a flash of geeky-lit-major reminiscence, of John Donne’s declaration to his reluctant lover in “To His Coy Mistress,” a poem we read in tenth grade,
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run
And with a slight smile, I began to pedal.