At the corner of Forest and Catalpa, there is Norma’s, a cafe run by two women. Early in the mornings, the perfume of bacon and cheddar biscuits baking would wrap itself around my face, causing my mouth to water. I spent an entire year there, eating spicy chocolate cookies, biscuits and writing my dissertation. As the stickiness of a July in New York City forces the sweat to pool along my back, I consider going inside for a lemonade. But I stop to weigh my options. Across from the cafe, there is a bodega, where the owner and I would discuss our shared love for Carib Shandy. A Trini-Dominican love affair between two women on the block, just connecting. I know that I want something, that my body needs something, but I can’t quite name it. Standing at this corner of the block in Ridgewood Queens where I lived for 5 years, I can’t help but think of you.
Sister, girl, nena, loca, sissy, girlfriend. I have called you a thousand names a thousand times. I remember the last time we spoke, the last I held your hand, the last time we promised not to let life get in the way. And yet.
I looked up and I realized I no longer knew who you loved, where you lived, how you spent those few precious moments between work and real life. How could I have lost you? The woman with whom I once spent nights spinning stories like gold, dancing until the sun burned slowly through the morning fog, ordering two desserts so we could share both. Fuck people who share one dessert; they, we concluded, were savages.
And now, I don’t even know what part of the world you have disappeared into.
But sometimes, a song comes on and it makes me think of you. I turn up the volume on the song that makes me want to call out your name as I walk slowly towards Myrtle Ave, the thoroughfare that runs like a pulsing artery through Queens and Brooklyn. When I first moved here, we wandered up and down this street and it’s mom and pop stores where I bought discount curtains and a daffodil colored dress for my sister’s wedding. These are silent blocks, this borderland between Brooklyn and Queens. In this part of New York, you can still hear birds singing in the morning light, see children dancing around the trees that erupt from the sidewalks, and marvel at the darkness of the sky.
Trinidadians bake breads and cakes and roast bakes and coconut rolls, so this place with a bakery on every street made me feel at home. I stop at yet another bakery, Rudy’s, and the owner thought she recognized me. How many customers did she have that ordered guava pastries by the dozen? If I wanted to celebrate a birthday, a me and you date day or a day where I felt I was falling to pieces, guava pastry. There was a flakiness to her dough that I had yet to master. At the first bite, the buttery flakes would dissolve and the sweetness of the guava would sit on my tongue. How could something that instantly fell apart be so beautiful?
Maybe I loved you because you were broken, just like me. And I hoped that if I could fix you then one day maybe I could be someone worth holding onto. At your side, I tucked away my self-doubts, made peace with my flaws, didn’t always have to wear the armor of a good bra. With you, I was someone complex, beautiful, ugly and whole.
Maybe I loved you because you are crazy. Like cuss out people at the job crazy, not give a fuck if you lose everything crazy. Give up your good government job and live your dream crazy. Fight people in clubs because their politics didn’t allow the space for us to exist as black, red, yellow, brown and anyone who’s down beautiful. You were crazy in a way that I admired because I had wasted eons constructing walls around myself, and you just lived free: untethered, unbothered, unapologetic.
Behind me, a bell rings. Just above the three storey buildings, I can see the bell tower of St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church, where we baptized my son and you held him in your arms. I still have that photo of the two of you. I used to be able to judge the passing of time by looking at how a picture would begin to fade, so it befuddles me that your face seems so clear on pictures that are stored on my computer and yet I can’t remember the last time we exchanged something more than brief text messages.
Perhaps I saw this love letter coming and life had tried to prepare me for losing you. Our last date was nothing but lies about how we have to get together again, about how being a woman trying to navigate life and love felt harder than trite words like “impossible” could convey. The last time I was in your house, I realized you had so many other people in your life who loved you and who were devouring your time. The time you could’ve been spending with me, but didn’t. I let you blame me for something that I was not wholly responsible for, but in doing so, allowed you to keep loving someone else, to choose someone else over me.
And then we fell apart. Or drifted apart. Or pushed each other away, screaming and shouting and accusing one other of the unimaginable.
My other girlfriends told me that I was being stubborn, to forgive and forget. Your other girlfriends told you that you were acting ridiculous. But no one could tell us how to rekindle a sisterhood that had once burned bright and was now only a pile of slowly dying ashes. Yes, there was warmth, the memory that two women had held hands there, kept each other cozy and safe from the storms of crazy mothers, jobs that didn’t align with our passions, lovers long lost, from life. But, something, once broken, is never really the same.
As I approach the stop light at the corner on Seneca and Myrtle, I trip over my own two feet. There is no one to catch me, no one to laugh at my inattentiveness or clumsiness. There is just me. Looking left and then right, I have a decision to make. Do I walk towards Brooklyn, with its West Indian enclaves, Huxtable homes, sports arenas and cachet? Or do I walk towards Fresh Pond, staying in Queens, in the neighborhood a co-worker once called posh, and I thought, “perfect”? It feels like no matter which direction I choose, the place I used to live no longer exists.
Some days, if only for a minute, I want the world to stop. For everything to go back to how it was. I want us to be friends again, to be almost best friends again. I want to dance with you in the hallway when the most unexpected things make me happy. I want to call you up and laugh when things have gone beyond ridiculous. I want to hold your hand when you are angry, silently swearing vengeance upon your enemies. I want to be selfish. But, only for a moment. If you can be content, can live a good life without me, then I know you are fine. You may need someone like me, but, maybe, you don’t need me.
I like to imagine you the way we were: snuggled up on the couch taking naps, sitting across from one another at meetings exchanging looks, sitting in dark cars with boys and girls who smelled like good times and trouble. And I hope that you’re happy. I hope that you found someone who can love you, who does love you. And I hope that you know that even though you hurt me and I hurt you in ways that we only knew how to because we loved one another, I still smile when my heart whispers your name. Even knowing that we will never again be what we once were, I am still delighted by the memory of you. Walking through Ridgewood, I see shadows of your face everywhere. As the night begins to fall, I see the edges of stars as the lights on the street flicker off. Just for a minute, I stop. I’m here thinking about you, and maybe if you happen to gaze upward at the same stars, you’ll feel me. You’ll remember me and know that despite it all, I’ll always, in my own steady, quiet way, I’ll always still love you too.
About the Author:
Ejima Baker-Morales is an educator and artist. Her experiences growing up in Trinidad, going to school in Cuba and living in DC and New York City frequently find their way into her writing. Her artistic and academic works focus on the experiences of women, popular culture, race and sexuality. Ejima has performed musical and theatrical works in many different countries and venues, from rooftops in Havana, Cuba to Madison Square Garden in New York City. She is currently working on several storytelling projects, including a series of creative nonfiction essays and a novel about a mother and daughter searching for one another across time and space in Trinidad.
Feature image by BiancaVanDijk / Pixabay