We were upstate for the holiday, there where the road signs were hard to find, where the directions to the house included such gems as “this road twists and turns a lot” (huge understatement) and “the road sign says the road ends, but don’t believe it—keep going” (true). We’d picked up the car left behind for us in the commuter train parking lot. We drove for some time in darkness. There were no streetlights. If we burst a tire on this part of the road, we would have been in pitch-dark, in a narrow passage where only one car could get past at a time, not sure which gravel drive was the one we wanted. We got there early, and so pulled in to darkness. When walking toward the door, I did it by feeling with my toes, step by step, my hands held outward. Standing before the wide patch of darkness—in which were trees, and I didn’t know what else—scared the shit out of me. The motion sensor went off and what wasn’t in the pool of light felt darker, worse than before. The door to the house was unlocked. That freaked us out, the unlocked door. We had locked up the car even though it was parked at the end of the long, winding, private driveway. Once in the house, we scoped out the rooms, making sure no one was hiding in there. Then we wanted to put on the TV, but there’s no reception. We were hungry, but there wasn’t much food and the closest stores—not close at all, mind you—were closed. No place delivered. We discussed driving back to the gas station, where there was a convenience store, but realized we would probably get lost and we weren’t that hungry anyway. So we stayed in the dark, quiet house. I turned some lamps on. I missed the city like crazy.
Lately I’ve been wanting to leave the city, as some of you know, to start fresh somewhere else. But when our train back to the city at last entered the dank, tagged tunnels of Grand Central I felt relief. The 6 train came just as we set foot on the subway platform. It was bright, and filled with people, none of whom I knew, and I felt relief at that, too. We’d decided to take the 6 all the way downtown without doing the shuttle transfer. We emerged in the rain, without umbrellas, wheeling a suitcase of presents along Houston Street. On Mercer Street, we turned uptown and found a camp of people with nowhere to go on Christmas, huddled in a dry spot with plastic tarps and blankets. It pulled at my heart. It pulled, as we wheeled the suitcase past them, filled with things we didn’t need, on to our own dry apartment. It was Christmas night, but the local Chinese restaurant was still delivering—a boy on a bike swept past us in the rain, an order tied to the seat. On Bleecker Street, the bars were lit up red and green, as was the Empire State in the distance. I felt lucky to have somewhere to sleep. I felt lucky to have E, who held my hand in the rain as we crossed the intersection. I felt lucky to know that if I suddenly wanted Szechuan tofu in the middle of the night on a bona fide holiday I could have it. We were home.