Twelve boys in matching sports jerseys stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the top deck. Ramos. Garcia. Elvin Jr., their backs read. They gaze out at the water, muttering in Spanish to one another until a noisy nearby helicopter drowns out their voices and then they are quiet, resting their foreheads on the rail. Above, an American flag whips in the wind. It’s flying at half-mast, but it shouldn’t be. The freight containers out on the water look like Monopoly pieces, bright tokens shuffling across evanescent waves. A man next to me is on his cell phone, yelling about grocery shopping: “I TOLD YOU, I’M NOT GOING. I EAT LIKE A BIRD ANYWAY, SO I AIN’T BUYING SHIT.”
In the distance, fog blurs the bridges and buildings, making the skyline seem softer than it is. There is nothing soft about New York. I realize I have not lived in New York long enough to be able to say definitive things about this city, but there is nothing soft about New York.
I eavesdrop on three different conversations and hear three different languages I can’t identify. “Restricted Area” warning signs bark from almost every door and gate on the ferry’s top deck and except for the Statue of Liberty—where is she, anyway?—I can’t name any of the structures that I see. I think I’m facing north but I can’t say for sure, really, and this is more-or-less how I’ve felt since moving to New York a year ago: disoriented, a little dizzy, but some days, when I’ve got my sea legs beneath me, something close to sturdy.
The great affair is to move, wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. The ferry lurches along. The waves turn into suds. We continue taking in the view. I want to think it’s prettier at night. I want to think the gray, hard skyline will take me in and blur me up around the edges, too. I want to think I will stay in this city long enough to outgrow it.
The approaching. The being almost there. The scallop-edged waves, the gladness of the river. The looking behind, wondering how far I’ve come. The crossing over, again and again.
Tonight, I’ll climb out of my apartment’s kitchen window, up the fire escape to the roof. I’ll wave hello to neighbors I’ve never met who are enjoying a last summer rooftop soiree. I’ll make my way across the concrete until I’m at the edge, looking out at the same skyline from the opposite direction. Up here, it is prettier at night. Up here, there is a little bit of softness. The bright lights puncture the sky with a kind of purpose that I envy, and I still cannot name most of these buildings, but I am certain I am facing west.