THE OTHER SIDE
I walked the same route to work every day but never
grew tired of it. Barrow Street up through the West
Village, a zigzag through Little Italy, and down
Houston into Soho. Since arriving in the city for my
internship, walking had become my favorite
I watched men in thongs rollerblade down busy
streets, heard pedestrians yack diatribes and
witnessed queens in flamenco drag parade down side
streets. I came from Chicago where these scenes would
have begged stares and comments. In New York, nobody
batted an eyelash. I decided this was my kind of
After a few days of my route, I began to recognize
some faces. I had a secret eye-contact romance going
with one guy I'd passed more than once. It was fun to
flirt with strangers even if it was only in my mind.
But at 19, with just a few superficial flings under my
belt, I began to wonder when I'd really fall in love.
As an editorial intern my days were filled with the
excitements of the publishing world, but at night I
was lonely. When Hilary called one Friday to invite me
to a get-together I jumped at the chance. Hilary and I
met at a family reunion in Philadelphia when we were
seven. My stepmother and her mom were distant cousins
so we supposed we were somehow related. Hilary had
just moved to New York from Chicago to go to art
"Everyone, this is Elizabeth," she said as I walked
into her place. I greeted people and glanced around
the room. I noticed a photograph on a table. It was a picture of
Hilary and Cedar. Once upon a time they were high
school sweethearts. In the photo they were smiling,
arms around each other.
The photo brought back memories. I met Cedar through
Hilary at a Tracy Chapman concert the previous summer.
She was tall and thin with green eyes, smooth olive
skin and seductive, sinister arched brows. She dressed
like an adolescent skater boy and had a contagious
sense of humor. She captivated me. But Hilary's
possessiveness cooled my inclinations, so I backed off,
at least for then.
Still preoccupied, I was led by one of Hilary's
roommates on a tour of the apartment. "Have you seen
the fire escape?" she asked.
As we walked up to the window I heard, "Hey, you,"
from the other side. I peeked out to see who it was.
It was Cedar. Hilary hadn't mentioned that she
was in town.
"Isn't it nice out here?" she asked. It was baking
inside and a slightly cooler though garbage-scented
breeze wafted in through the window. She was blowing
bubbles and watching to see how far they'd make it
to the street without popping. I
climbed out onto the escape to join her.
"You wear the same perfume as my friend Leah," she
"What?" I asked, "Body Shop White Musk?"
"Yeah," she smiled. We made small talk for a while and
then she asked if I wanted to go explore the East
Village with her.
"Yeah, I guess," I said indifferently, though my heart
was pounding. Cedar asked Hilary to join us, but
Hilary seemed perturbed and said she was tired.
"She's a cuddle bunny, isn't she?" Cedar said dryly
when we got outside. I didn't know Hilary well enough
to remark, so I just giggled uncomfortably.
We were two underage kids with no fake I.D.s, so our
options were limited. But infatuation has a way of
making time pass. As we explored the streets and
alleys I imagined pushing her up against the red brick walls
and kissing her madly. But I settled for a late-night
coffee at a landmark cafe. At 2 a.m. we decided to
call it a night.
"Wanna come up?" she asked.
"I don't think I should," I said. "I mean, Hilary's
sleeping, you know?"
"Just for a while?" she pleaded.
"Well," I thought, "just for a minute, then
I should go."
Upstairs, we sat in concrete-thick silence. Seconds
ticked in place. The tension between us finally drove
me to scribble her a note. I think you're beautiful,
it said. She read it and didn't look up, just
continued doodling like nothing had happened.
You are a fool, a complete and utter idiot, I thought
to myself. I had put myself on the line and stepped
out of bounds. After a while she got up and went to
the bathroom. I hopped up and leaned over the table to
see what she'd scrawled.
Faintly written on the paper was feelings mutual.
When she returned I pretended I hadn't seen it. But it
was all I needed.
We spent the next few days inching subtly closer and
closer, knowing she'd soon be flying home to Chicago.
In restaurants and movie theaters we sat, legs
touching under tables and in the dark, our quiet
affair only known by the sheer electricity between us.
We fell in love riding subway trains to the Bronx,
holding hands in parades, dining in Italian bistros
and people-watching in Washington Square. Every time
we came together it became more difficult to be apart.
What I hadn't counted on was that she had a girlfriend
"What are we doing?" Cedar asked me one day after
getting off the phone with her lover. Though we hadn't
even touched or kissed, it was becoming obvious that
we could continue playing this game for only so long.
"I've never felt this way," I gushed. "I want to be
with you. Really, seriously, totally." And I meant it.
Yet she had her doubts and wasn't ready to trust me.
Then we discovered that her wilting relationship back
home wasn't our only problem.
"Take your shit and get out!" Hilary screamed when she
caught on to the news. With two days left in New York,
Cedar found her belongings strewn on a dirty
stairwell. This included the stuffed rabbit she'd won
for Hilary at Coney Island ten days earlier. That was
the clincher for Cedar, some sort of sad symbolism of
their friendship's demise.
At the same time, we were ostracized from anyone in the
city associated with Hilary. Cedar was cut up, but I
didn't mind the eviction because it meant she'd have
to stay with me.
With Cedar's obligations as Hilary's guest no longer
an obstacle, we reveled in our time together. We lay
in bed for hours, albums of songs passing in nectar-thick,
sweet flashes. If someone had told us we were
to clear all the garbage in New York City or else,
we'd not have cared if we could have done it together.
When Cedar finally flew back to Chicago, we talked for
hours each night and sent letters and mix tapes all
the while. Eventually, Cedar got up the nerve to break
it off with her girlfriend.
We were euphoric and infatuated with life and with
each other. I told anyone who'd listen of my newfound
ecstasy. This was whether or not they cared to hear
that I'd fallen for the first time, for a woman — a fact
which confused my family and alienated some friends.
During the last weeks of my internship they were
paying me nine dollars an hour to think about Cedar. I
was untouched by the usual workplace dramas and
I passed my flight back to Chicago in anticipation of
our new life together. Cedar met me at the airport.
On that day and for many months after, we walked
around Chicago holding hands or arm in arm. We got
stares and heard whispers, but in the spirit of our
favorite city, we didn't bat an eyelash. We knew that
the vibrance of New York was woven into our story and our
story, tattooed on its streets.
about the author
Rachel Seed is a writer and photographer native to
Chicago and London, UK. She has worked in publishing
in New York, Barcelona and Chicago, and most recently
published a travel essay in RDR Book's "I Should Have
Stayed Home" series and read a commentary on
Louisville Public Radio. When she's not working pesky
day jobs, she also enjoys yoga, singing and baking
annoyingly healthy treats.