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NOVEMBER 2005

> THE OTHER SIDE | rachel seed

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 pastime.

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 place.

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 school.

"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 commented.

"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 back home.

"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 performance anxieties.

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.

> BIOGRAPHY | 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.