Friday, January 2, 2015

"Leaving (Brooklyn)" by Josh Lefkowitz - 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

Leaving (Brooklyn)
by Josh Lefkowitz

            The driver helped me load the bags into the trunk, then pulled the car away from the curb.
            It’s like we’re pulling away from the curb of my life, I thought to myself.
            “It’s like we’re pulling away from the curb of my life,” I said aloud to the driver.
            “Huh?” he said.
            “Um, nothing,” I replied.
            “Where to?” he asked.
            “Queens,” I said, “Sunnyside.”
            We drove in silence for a few blocks.  I watched Park Slope through the backseat window.  People were out in the street: walking their dogs, carrying groceries.  An irregular abundance of couples strolled through the neighborhood, all of them holding hands with each other, as if they had conspired the night before: Hey, tomorrow?  Let’s make that guy in the backseat of the car driving by feel as terrible as possible!
            After about five minutes, the driver spoke up: “Her fault or yours?”           
            “Neither,” I replied, “it just wasn’t working anymore.”
            “So, yours,” the driver hypothesized.
            It was all those bags that had tipped him off, I’m sure.  Two suitcases, plus several additional garbage bags stuffed with clothes, books, a skillet, a cheese grater.  Whatever I had thought to grab, in the moments after she’d said, “you have to leave – you are not welcome here anymore” and before the car had arrived.
            Or maybe it was my eyes that explained the situation: wide and wounded.  Panicked.  Shell-shocked.
            Or my scent.  What did a break-up smell like, anyhow?  Fear, I suppose.
            “Love’s a bitch,” said the driver, merging onto the BQE without warning and sans turn-signal.  How many members of broken homes had he helped shuttle from one borough to another, I wondered.  In this city of eight million, was I even the first one today?
            I sat in the backseat, picked at my lip, and studied the shape of his cranium.  He seemed intelligent, or maybe I just needed a father figure.
            “What do I do now?” I asked.
            “That’s easy,” he said, “you get laid.  You go fuck a girl and pretty soon you’ll forget all about this one.”
            “I just wasn’t going to marry her,” I explained.
            “Why not?”
            “I don’t know.  Her work was always going to come first.  And I wasn’t happy a lot of
the time.  She was pretty, though – and very kind.”
            “She sounds great,” said the driver, “has she got an older sister?”
            We resumed our silence, the car speeding along the highway.  The city’s magnificent skyline twinkled to the west.
            “All women are crazy,” said the driver after a while.  It was the kind of grossly misogynistic statement men are always making to each other in times of need; like watching your team make a single errant pass and declaring, “These Knicks suck!”  I said nothing in reply.  Maybe I chuckled a little.
            Then I asked, “You ever been through something like this?”
            “Please,” he said, “When my wife died, I crawled inside the bottom of a bottle.”
            “I’m sorry,” I said, “how did she –”
            “Car crash,” he said, “1980.  No, ’81.  Afterwards, I showed up to work drunk.  ‘Course my boss, he understood.  His wife had died six months earlier.  He gave me a week, said ‘if you’re like this next Monday you’re gone.’  So I cleaned up.  A couple months later I met a girl – long and droopy like a string bean.”
            “Nice image,” I said.
            “Thanks.  Anyways, I fucked her and that’s how I got better.
            “Look at me,” he went on, “I’m a fat old man, and even I do alright.  You’ll be fine.”
            “Maybe,” I said, then added, “I’m sorry I’m so wounded and raw.”
            “That’s okay,” he said, “you just don’t have any self-confidence.  I knew a guy just like you once.  Larry was his name.  He’s dead now, but, still.  Nice guy.  No self-confidence, though.”
            We pulled up to my friend’s apartment.  I already missed her, or so I believed.  In truth, maybe I just missed her apartment; or Brooklyn as my home borough, or Brooklyn as an idea.
            He unloaded my bags, and set them down on the street alongside me.
            “You’ll be fine,” he repeated again.
            “How do you know?” I asked.
            “I don’t,” he said.
            “Then why’d you say it?” I asked.
            He squinted at me, cocked his head, scratched his side, hitched up his pants a bit, shrugged, and got back in the car.  He switched the gear from park to drive, and was about to step on the gas when he rolled down the window and said, “You know that old folk song ‘Hard Times, Come Again No More?’”
            “Yeah, sure” I said, “it’s very pretty.”
            “Well, they always come again,” he said, “and singing that song doesn’t make a damn difference either way.  But we still sing the song.  Y’know what I mean?”
            I nodded my head.  Car driver as prophet.
            He smiled.  Then he said:
            “Hey do you know where there’s a public bathroom I could use around here?  I gotta pinch a loaf.”
            “Naw, I don’t know” I said, “this isn’t my neighborhood.  Sorry.”
            “That’s alright,” said the driver, “I’ll hold it,” and he stepped on the pedal and drove away.
            I rang the buzzer to apartment 5F, but my best friend Jason wasn’t home yet.  I dragged my bags over to a stone bench in the courtyard, and sat down.  It was Easter Sunday.
            I don’t know where I’m going to live, I thought to myself.
            “I don’t know where I’m going to live,” I said aloud, to no one.
            I sat and stared at the fountain in the center of the courtyard.  It was surrounded by flowers, pinks and blues and yellows, all of which were beautiful this time of year.
            Oh, and the wind: the wind felt lovely against my exposed skin.

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