• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 01
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Rivers on every Side

I grew up on this tiny little island – less than 14 miles long and two and a half miles wide. And it seemed enormous to me when I was a child, riding the subway to someplace so different than where I lived. But later, I realised I could walk that island in a day, walk down Broadway until I reached Harlem, the Upper West Side, the glass and steel of Midtown, the Village, the abandoned factories turned into art studios in SoHo, the old Financial District, and down to Battery Park at the very end.

I grew up on a tiny little island with 1.6 million people living on it, daytime population bringing in 2.3 million more. Daytime population? People coming in from all the places around it and beyond. I hate it when people say bridge and tunnel now, when they say it to make fun of people who live beyond. But I didn’t then. When I was growing up there, I felt like I had to claim it, say it was mine. And I still think, I know this tiny little island better than I know any place in the world. It’s my territory. But I still don’t know everything that’s there.

I grew up on a tiny little island in a city where almost 800 different languages are spoken. Sometimes I used to wander in places that were unfamiliar and familiar at the same time – like places that appear in a dream: the flower district where potted palms lined the streets, the shops on the south of the island where you could buy cheap tropical fish, the streets that the girl from school showed me where they only sold ribbons and buttons and lace.

I grew up on a tiny little island with a halo of bus exhaust above its sidewalks, above its elevated trainlines, above its fire escapes, above its trespassed rooftops, above its claustrophobically small parks.


Rivers on every Side

I grew up on a tiny little island with a beaten nickel-coloured sky, where the streets got dark earlier than they do in other places because the skyscrapers blocked out the sun, where stars at night could never break through the extraneous light and the sky was always uniformly smeared with smog, only airplane beacons breaking through the grey.

I grew up on a tiny little island that everyone thinks they know, that everyone thinks they have a claim to. Everyone’s got a fucking opinion on it.

Sometimes I long for it – long for bridges' lights reflected on the dark water at night, the skyline blindingly bright on the rivers’ banks. I miss being surrounded by rivers and walking across this tiny little island, this tiny little island that was once my whole world. This tiny little island, where everything was bigger than me, where everything lit up at night and kept going and there was never a time when everything was quiet and everything was still and no one said a word.