I lived in Greenwich Village, on a cobblestone road known as Jane Street. I loved my address and the way it spilled out of my mouth. It was personable like recalling the name of an old friend. “The Village” as I like to pretend we called it, had an everchanging face, a constantly shifting reputation. To some, it was the pulsating center of the city, tense like the plucked strings of an electric guitar, and fiery like the amp’s reverberations. To others, it was the village that raised their children on coloring books in the subway, morning walks to PS41 or PS13, hot chocolate in the coffee shop below the apartment. Still to others, the village had been hijacked, taken over by those who would never know its spirit. Despite this, everyone who lived in the Village felt like they had lived there forever.
The Village during wintertime is softer; children walk to school in large mounds, piled together like tumors to keep warm; people grip hot chocolate and hail taxi cabs with gloved hands. I have many photos of my childhood there, but the one I feel captures it all the best is not of me, or my friends, or my parents. It is a photo of the black iron fire escape outside our window, layered with grimy ice. Through the holes in the metal lattice, a taxi cab is barely visible under its snow blanket, but the yellow sticks out like sores in grey skin.
I like to think I lived in Greenwhich Village in the years it finished dying. At three, I ran through the neighborhood parks, where the green trees still swayed to the rhythm of poetry and strangers still high-fived strangers with shared euphoria. The guy who sold us cat food was a sculptor, hands rough from working clay like bodies. My neighbor walked back and forth with paper bags heavy from oil paints, two white pups at his heels. Perhaps, though, that’s just what I want to believe. Maybe I just want to tell people I was part of the Village. The Village that birthed the Beats, Rock n’Roll, “that which in a decade will be called art”. The village that nurtured the greats. Allen Ginsberg. John Coltrane. Jimi Hendrix. Marsha P. Johnson. Andy Warhol. They were gone before I got there, of course. Long gone. But I still felt the hot breath of their lingering rebellion on my neck as I walked to PS41 with friends, clad in striped tights and clutching dripping Italian ice.
Maybe I imagined it. We all must carry an irrational attachment to our place of birth. A romanticization of its past; of ours. Maybe the village was already dead, as dead as it will ever be, when I was there. My godmother, who made lavender soap and honey, moved to Brooklyn. Rising rents and high-rises. Rosary beads were replaced with pearls. New corporations sat on the graves of peacemakers who protested CEOS. And us? We moved to Florida. Growing up in the tropical heat, learning electric guitar in the perpetual summer. Thinking, I’ve still got that Village spirit in my blood and expecting to be proven wrong.
Someday I’ll return, I promise myself, and make Technicolor movies, draw portraits with oil pastels. I’ll walk amongst the ghosts. The ghost of the deep growl of Patti Smith reciting Factory, “And I got something to hide here called desire. I'm gonna be somebody, I'm gonna get on that train, go to New York City.” You can’t take a train from Florida to the City. But if I return, what will be left? Will even the ghosts of the Village be gone, wandered away to Queens or Brooklyn? And how will we know when the last ghost has hailed a taxi cab straight out of the soul of the city? I think I will feel it. I will feel decapitated. Or perhaps, just amputated. Even though it was never truly part of me, I will carry the phantom limb, searching for the place its spirits fled to. If such a place exists, the new haven of misfits, the new festering petri dish of rebellion; if such a place exists, with the laughable chaotic love of the Village - that’s where you’ll find me.
Yet, somehow I know I won’t ever find it. Like all the things we grapple for blindly in the sweet darkness of our bedrooms. Like love. Like God. Like happiness. Just like those things, I’ll have to make it myself. In worrying that the Village has lost a part of itself, it’s clear I’m really just worried that I’ve lost a part of myself. That I’ll never again be that kid learning how to ride a bike on the open roof of an eleven-story building, who was born in a snowstorm. That girl who loved the cold so much it snowed in her dreams. I would protest when my mother made me wear a coat, and a hat and thick woolen socks. I wanted to feel the chill on my arms and legs. Now, I shrink from the cold. I can barely stand 50 degrees.
When I think of returning to the Village, I always picture it the same way it was when I first arrived. A January blizzard, big enough to send flurries of snow in the air, big enough to cover the gardens on the rooftops of apartment buildings. Big enough to cloak the taxis in white fur, leaving nothing but a small yellow spot as a reminder of what was once there.