This essay is a selected submission from Street's Love Issue personal narrative contest. Read some of our other favorite pieces here and look out for new pieces as we publish them throughout the week!
As an old City Parks worker from Staten Island, Bobby McGinn knows.
He knows his time here is short. A seventy–some–odd–year–old man with a couple cancer scares on his record, he appreciates the beauty in each and every day. He’s still got a while left on this planet, but then again, most of us do, until—suddenly—we don’t.
He knows he hates the city even though he worked there his whole life; the parks were really just a reminder that even in the thickest, most cramped concrete jungles, nature abounds. Blades of grass poke miniature holes through random cracks in the pavement. Squirrels, scrawny and scrappy, make cornucopias of trashcans. Little kids, babyfaced and doe–eyed, marvel at the loveliness of a dandelion as the sun illuminates the wispy white clouds above—heroes and villains in their still–untamed imaginations.
But somewhere along the way, clouds become water vapor, dandelions become weeds. The rushing wind of passing taxis and subway cars sucks away childhood dreams and spits out practicality, the metrical, halterbroken force that powers the city that never sleeps.
He mumbles the words through a heavy New York accent, looking off into the distance, as if he’s searching for something he’s not even sure exists anymore.
He knows it used to exist. He remembers it. He felt it.
“Did I eva’ tell you how I met Janey?” he asks.
“She was a schoolteacha’. Little kids, ya know? Anyhow, I was buildin’ that park ova’ there.”
He motions towards a few elementary schoolers jumping around an old playground.
“She was teachin’ just a few blocks down, and one day I start noticin’ this beautiful gal—gorgeous, ya know, really stunnin’—walkin’ ova’ to the bus stop every day. Wasn’t too nice of an area at the time so I stop her and ask if she needs a ride home.”
He smirks, reliving the sweat, the grime, and the exhaustion of a day spent shoveling mounds of dirt and laying concrete blocks. The rat–a–tat–tat of jackhammers and the rushed conversations of passing pedestrians fill his ears. So, too, does the murmur of automobiles.
All the while, tension builds until, once more, a wave of relief overwhelms him, and he unleashes the same crooked grin that burst across his face 50 years before.
The moment Janey said “Yes.”
“It was all right here,” Bobby reminisces as he wades through the smorgasbord of hipsters, immigrants, and street performers that give life to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He reaches out one weather–worn hand, and Janey grasps it, gently leaning her head into his shoulder. I stare at them, frozen, as the kaleidoscope of the city life flashes before my eyes, waiting hungrily to hear the rest of the story.
"So the next day,” Janey recalls in a thick Staten Island accent, “Bobby offered to take me home again, and I said yes. We talked, and it was amazing, really. We did that every day, and before ya know it, Bobby and I became friends.”
While Bobby spent his days building a shelter for childhood dreams, Janey spent hers trying to convince kids that they were possible. Unlike Bobby, she loved the city. The din of car horns and bartering street vendors was a musical, nearly magnetic reminder of New York City’s vibrancy.
“What can I say, kiddo. We fell in love,” Janey laughs.
As her laughter trails off, my mind drifts. Our stroll through Manhattan ends and suddenly I find myself jogging down Locust Walk.
The sun peeks out beyond the horizon, splashing a breathtaking mélange of red and yellow across the sky. My footsteps beat alone against the red brick and silver cobblestone, and except for a robin, singing in solitude from the naked branch of an American Elm, campus is quiet, barren, and beautiful. Pausing for a moment, I gaze in the robin’s direction. Strangely, it seems lost in thought, whistling a merry tune that contrasts almost hauntingly with its absent, cold stare.
Captivated, my mind wanders. It settles back to Janey, to the scent of chalk wafting through her classroom and to the gentle scrape of desks against the floor. It wanders back to the rat–a–tat–tat of jackhammers and the rushed conversations of passing pedestrians that filled Bobby’s ears. It wanders until suddenly it arrives at the moment Janey said “Yes,” and, from the bare brick of a cold campus, it wonders whether that moment could ever happen here.
I blink, and as I open my eyes, I notice that there’s something enchanting about the robin, bristling in the cold as the sunrise shimmers across its feathers. I feel lucky, and as the robin flaps its wings, I gaze upwards, watching as it slowly becomes part of the sunrise, its melody a mere memory. But I’m scared that in a few short hours, I’ll forget this moment, that the weight of ambition will crush my fascination, and that in the rush to become someone, to do something, I will forget to show kindness to a stranger, the same kind of love that Bobby showed Janey 50 years ago. But for now, at least, I remember. So I stare into the distance for a single, bated breath, a smile on my face. It’s as if I’ve found something, something I wasn’t even sure existed anymore.
But now, I know.
I see it.
I feel it.
Patrick Wilson is a junior from Tulsa, OK.