“Where have you been?”
My throat catches. The doorman at The Liberty.
“We haven’t seen you here for a while!”
A year, actually.
Smiles and he opens the door for me, both doors. I am not large – I don’t think – nor used to doors being opened for me. Not lately. Not for a while. For a while, for a year, they’d been closed, actually. I’d watched them close, sometimes slam, one at a time, sometimes several, then all. They had made me cry, at first, those closing doors. Cry out and cry on, like my fingers had been caught in one of them. Really, it was my heart, caught, unprepared for the cold. Then I grew tired of crying. Besides, crying does not open doors.
I got used to closed doors and the dark, this past year. Among other things: queuing for hours to answer questions for what seemed like hours, standing, trying to make eye contact across a plastic wall. Failing. Sliding forms through the slit at the bottom in the order requested. Submitting passport photographs. Biometric fingerprints. I got used to the looks and questions and headlines. The generic emails:
“Your file is still in administrative processing.
Thank you for waiting.”
Waiting. I got used to that too. While I did, I hung my life and liberty to dry, on the hooks beside me.
A year later, the doorman at The Liberty touches his gloved hand to his cap, I imagine, in salute. In honour of my return. He is just doing his job, really.
Just his job, to open doors. He has no idea. No idea where I went or why I disappeared, for a whole year, without saying goodbye. Saying in fact, instead, see you tomorrow, then not. Nor the day after that, or after. He does not ask. He does not hold a grudge, only the door. His job. Still, I thank him and walk into the lobby, blissfully warm. Up the escalator,
like it was yesterday. A Friday. Or the Thursday, Wednesday before. Or any other weekday last year, for years, at seven forty-four. The Liberty. I used to come here, another life ago. Another person ago. Even so, he remembered me.
At the top of the escalator, a pause, to look up and breathe. To feel small under the dizzyingly high ceiling. To taste awe and savour it; the hands that built these arches, these walls, these cathedral windows are gone. The feeling does not get old, even if I did, a little. Time is game played by children.
Right, to the armchair, aged brown leather, by the tall French windows. The best in the house; farthest from the bustle, closest to the sunlight. For years that armchair was home; I read, wrote, dreamt, and napped in it. Curled deep into it when I was scared, tired, cold, homesick. It has not moved, nor has the reading lamp on the table beside it. Just the right distance – my arm’s length – away from my coffee.
My coffee used to leave a ring. None today, the first real sign that life went on without me here. The second: that someone else is sitting in my seat.
The choke in my throat tastes worse than infidelity. Someone else’s coffee ring. Someone else’s cheek resting against the leather, softened by time, as time does all things. Beautifully. Someone else where once, there was me. But the chair and light have not moved! The same soft lobby jazz plays. I know the next track, and the next.
Life did move on. I should not feel betrayed. Should. So much should and doesn’t. Should have and didn’t. Should not have and did. Like all that happened in parentheses between two visits to The Liberty. In one year, life disintegrated, burst like a star, showered gold. But the dust taught me to see light, refracted, into sunsets sand rainbows.
Where have you been? Away, and lost. It’s been a while. It has. Welcome back! We missed you. I did too. It feels good to be back.
At reception, champagne on ice and a silver bowl of red apples. A divinely sinful combination so early in the morning. A year ago, I would have taken the apple, left the champagne. Today, I take both. Because I can. Because I am alive and here.
Red reflects on golden bubbles. Through them, I notice different sofas. These are a lush Amazon green. A year ago, they were beige. Behind them, though, through the windows, the Charles River is the same. The sun hits it at the same angle. The water shimmers and flows under Longfellow Bridge, ribboning between Boston and Cambridge.
The lady at reception remembers my name.
I remember hers. She still works the same shift.
“Still here. Still single. Nothing’s changed. Same Monday to Friday routine. Booring…”
I find that comforting, actually, like the arches of the lobby.
“What about you?”
I’ve been… It does not matter, really. What does is liberty. That I am here, and someone remembers me.