The City Is Empty Without You In It


Five months after I quoted your words on Tumblr and four months after you published me for the first time and three months after we met face-to-face in a crowded Chinatown bar, I saw you crossing that fat intersection on Houston, you know the one. It’s something like six lanes wide. I yelled your name and you looked up; you were confused and I knew right then that you couldn’t place me. I tried not to take it personal and you tried to pretend you knew who I was.

When we became actual friends, I learned you have face blindness, or at least you like to joke that you do. I err on the side of believing you, though; ever since that night we had an intimate dinner at Our Restaurant. Afterward, we cut through throngs of tourists on Prince Street, walking west until we reached that bar we were hosting an event at together. You were swarmed by strangers when we arrived, so after grabbing a drink, I came over to rescue you. I tapped you on the shoulder and you whipped around and extended a hand. You said, “Hi, I’m Ryan!”

“I know,” I said. “We just had dinner together, remember?”

“Holy shit. Steph! I’m so sorry, it’s my face blindness. I’m so fucking blind.”

The girls swimming around you giggled with discomfort, but we laughed—a real laugh, one that cemented our friendship. We were like, what are these bitches laughing about? We just shared $22 meatloaf!

You know, now that you’re gone, our places are a lot more prominent: Delicatessen, our place to decry the overpriced menu and to debrief; that Peruvian spot on Sixth, the cheap one with the great food; That cocktail place on Kenmare that you always tricked us into going to with promises of an affordable happy hour (not affordable); Metropolitan, where I never wanted to go until I was there, and then. I loved that backyard, all the backyards we drank in. And that Houston intersection I used to think was too wide. You know what’s too wide? The distance between New York and LA; where I am and where you are. You’re no longer a text or a doorbell away and I can feel it.

It used to be that I could call you on a Sunday afternoon to say, “Meet us at Shoolbred’s!” And you’d be there in ten, guacamole order placed, debating whether to sit in front of the fireplace or at the round mosaic table with the street view. It used to be that you would drag me to some literary thing at a moment’s notice—a Joan Didion conversation or a reading hosted by people we follow on Twitter—places I would’ve never gone on my own but that you were all-knowing about. It used to be that I would call you on all my long and lonely walks and you’d fill my ears with everything I’d already thought to myself but needed to hear echoed. I loved us being on the same book, page, paragraph, line.

I loved picturing where you were while we gossiped, too. Walking through tight spaces in SoHo while you shopped for candles or sitting on the couch in your just-big-enough East Village apartment, your roommate Caitie next to you watching Lisa Kudrow on Showtime, your tabloids and high-brow glossies splayed out on the coffee table next to each other like they belonged in the same place. Sometimes you’d be in a cab, and I’d think of that long ride we took from Central Park all the way downtown as you told me about Weekend and how excited it made you to see a realistic gay relationship unfold on film. I remember peering out of the cab’s windows as we cruised down Second Avenue, noticing that we’d passed at least nine Dunkin’ Donuts and how the same everything can get without the right people, even in Manhattan. You made everything more colorful.

Now I don’t know what to picture when we talk.

I had this conversation with my parents once, who aren’t religious but who I guess have a spirituality to them. They asked me something like, “When your body dies, do you think your energy dies, too? Or does it return to the universe?” I said, “No, I think everything dies at once,” although I hadn’t ever thought about it before. When the conversation ended, I thought, How could one person’s energy make a difference, either way? But I learned the answer to that when you moved across the country. The city doesn’t buzz quite right, it’s like a broken alarm that knows something’s wrong.

This post was originally published on Medium.