Recently this happened:
It was early morning, before dawn. I came down the subway steps and at the bottom of them was an old lover of mine, right there looking back at me. We looked straight at one another, until he looked away and I kept walking.
And then this happened:
I remembered how, almost ten years ago now, while we were in bed, he held onto my hips once, the skin and fat part, and he said, 'FLESH' -- like that. Only days before he'd shown me a photo of his ex-girlfriend, the one who'd obviously taken his heart, who was off somewhere with his heart in her pocket, the pocket sewn shut. She was a very beautiful woman, and very thin. So when the man held onto my hips and said, 'FLESH' like that, I was sure then that it was just a fancy way of calling me fat.
And then another thing happened:
The ongoing joke he had came back. Even then, even when he used to say the joke -- the fourth, fifth, sixth, twentieth time he said it -- I remember thinking that years later it would be what I would remember him by. The joke went like this: when I excused myself to use the bathroom -- in a restaurant or from that futon mattress where we slept in his studio, his paintings engulfing us -- he'd say, "Number one or number two?"
"You said you were going to the bathroom. Number one or number two?"
And again and again and again again on the subway platform the other day, before the sun had come up, me armed with coffee and lesson plans, I heard him saying, "Number one or number two?"
Memory works that way. It spans the liminal between then and now; it is an ongoing loop that resurfaces in the present.
Once, we lay on his mattress listening to Ginsberg's "Howl"; once, he took my shoes to make paintings of them. We used to talk about Schopenhauer, we intellectualized desire. These were some of my beginning days in New York, back when my time in New York could be measured by days.
I think that people who assert they never look back are either full of shit or very afraid. Either way I'm not interested in knowing them. The present must be informed by the past in order for the present to be fully realized.
But maybe I'm worse. Maybe I'm the one who's all talk. After all, I kept walking.