Purple Magazine
— The New York issue #39 S/S 2023

Rectangular World




We lived on the fourth floor of a six-story building. We entered on Broadway, the east-facing side, though we never caught the sunrise because the buildings across the avenue were taller than ours. We had half the floor, long and skinny, Broadway back to the airshaft. My sister and I shared the room facing the shaft, gray light all day from two dim windows. On the other side of our back wall was the other half — the west-facing side of the building, split off, with a whole other entrance on Mercer. I knew vaguely of the people who entered on the other side — a modern dancer, an Italian man — but never saw them. The backside of the building looked different, too: no ornate cast-iron fire escape, no storefront.

When I think about New York, I think about separate rectangles. Stacks of them, side to side, boxed-out little worlds and the boundaries between them. The back wall and the party wall. Our reality, 547, and the ones we lived next to but couldn’t see (545,549). The unfathomable even numbers across the block. The object that breached our rectangle was the elevator, which opened right into the living room. Sometimes, if I got in it and didn’t immediately press the button, someone from another floor would call, and I’d be delivered to their world. Different furniture, different floorboards, another view. People might show up, too. The metal door slid open, and there was “a man in a tutu,” disheveled, red lipstick smeared on their face, no one I’d ever seen before. I stared, and they stared. My mom rushed in and sent them back down, saying, “You’re in the wrong place.”

We moved to another rectangle, 12 blocks to the west and six blocks to the south, an L-shape away. I got my own room, and it was spring green. It was still in the back, and it faced another airshaft. I chose the green assiduously. I chose it with my mother. She liked mint, but I wanted something more yellow than mint. I wanted chartreuse, but she said I’d change and get sick of chartreuse one day. So, we went pale — we set the rest of my life in motion palely, yellow-greenly. I had my mother’s childhood desk, a little ’50s thing with splayed legs, metal knobs, Jetsons style. We painted the outer panels of the drawers the same green as the walls. I lay face up in the green room in the dark and saw the shadow of a boy who lived in another building. Through the curtain at night, moving, then staying still. We got older, and I realized by the shape of his shadow he was jerking off by the window, basically every night. He was five feet away from me, if you drew a straight line.

We never met or saw each other on the sidewalk. He became a whole person to me, the person I wasn’t. I was not a boy with a big smile, a jaw that flexed when he flashed joy. I was not a boy who wore thick black glasses. I was not athletic, with biceps that pushed through the sleeves of a short-sleeve black or white t-shirt. The boy had two pairs of 501s, one new and one faded. One pair of Timberlands, one pair of sneakers. A simple work jacket in fall, a worn-in hoodie and a black parka in winter. He was a good student, but not a show-off. He was popular, appreciated. The boy touched and was touched. In my green room, I didn’t sleep. In my green room, I entered another track, the other dimension, became the boy I was not. He walked around the city at night holding hands with a girl. They sat by the East River, laughed, hooked up. They fucked after school while their parents were still at work. He didn’t have a green room. His room didn’t need to be green: there was nothing for him to control. His bed was on the floor, the books were scattered, records and CDs; a Yankees hat hung on the doorknob, white Air Force 1s thrown off by the door. He wasn’t a girl, and so his room didn’t need to be green and neat. On the bed, on the floor, in the dark at 6PM in winter, he leaned back against the brick wall, the big arched loft windows shining yellow-orange light on his face, and his girlfriend unzipped his 501s and pulled him out. And he didn’t have to work hard, envision anything other than where he was. His eyes stayed closed, and he was him, on the floor, in his room, and he arrived somewhere. He was only where he was, he was never where he wasn’t and not anything other than himself.


[Table of contents]

The New York issue #39 S/S 2023

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