In New York City There is Nobody

Personal Essay

It was the beginning of January in New York City and I couldn’t think of any good reasons to get out of bed. In my defense, my mother and I were staying at The Plaza Hotel for the weekend so our bed was a chic king-size with satin pillowcases and warm cotton sheets; even the most dopamine-balanced mind would succumb to its bedridden pleasure.

My right ear pressed into the satin pillow. The hair around my temples grew moist from sweat. I was uncomfortable but unwilling to do anything about it. When we first arrived at the hotel, my mother noticed, as if by maternal instinct, that the bathroom had no counter space, only the slim, gleaming edge of an immaculately white sink which could balance one toothbrush and maybe a tube of lipstick. Despite the inconvenience, my mother was eager to bathe in the gold framed shower with a golden shower head and a golden soap holder. She showered every afternoon until her skin pruned. I, on the other hand, don’t remember if I showered once. I have no memory of the golden shower head or steam or stretching my toes against the mint tile. I just laid in our bed like a hopeless sweaty thing as my mother washed her arms and belly with the flower and herb scented soaps the hotel provided.

The shower water turned off. I heard my mother clear her throat and flip on the overhead fan. I imagined the hot steam as it began to melt off the mirror’s glass and evaporate into the ceiling. The thought of a wet, steamy bathroom depressed me more. I pulled my cheek away from the pillow and sat up. Sitting up was the first strenuous step in trying to convince my mother that I wasn’t clinically depressed. Mounds of satin pillows surrounded me. On the bed table to my right I saw a rectangular notepad with the hotel’s name curled into the top. I moved the notepad onto my lap. Then I reached for a black pen and began to describe the emptiness I felt. I was a shell. Tears swelled behind my eyes the way nail polish drops of the brush and onto a bare nail. At least I could feel something.

My mother came out of the bathroom wrapped up in two fluffy white towels, one on her head and the other tucked and hanging above her breasts. She looked like one of Mario Testino’s subjects for a towel series in Vogue. She sprayed her wrists and neck with perfume. By the time I wrote two full sentences on the notepad, my mother had already laid out her jewelry and heels for the evening and rubbed a coconut lotion into her chest. I stared down at what I had written and felt miserably worthless. I pitied my mother. She looked radiant and clean and ready to see the city. She didn’t deserve to be pulled beneath the concrete with me. Like any healthy woman would be, my mother had a thrill through her bloodstream. She was excited to call a cab and excited to eat sushi and excited to see Aladdin on Broadway. She took time to select her outfits and curl her hair.

As I watched her move about the room, I began to grow restless and jealous of my mother’s vibrant nature. I threw the duvet comforter to the side and swung my legs off the bed. Color and enthusiasm unfolded in my mind the way it always had when I believed that I could simply stand up and start anew. I thought about what I could do to get ready. Mascara, I thought, will liven me up. Perhaps some lipstick as well. I sat down in front of a full body mirror with my light pink Claudíe makeup pouch. In a slow, sickly manner, I set the makeup out before me. Achey and heavy, my arms continued to move the makeup out of its pouch until the products, like dominos, formed a straight, anticipating line. I looked at my face in the mirror and was horrified. There was no rosiness in my cheeks. My eye whites were dull and lonesome. There was no plumpness to my face. I looked flat and deficient and dead, but most of all, I felt pathetic.

Before taking the elevator down to the lobby, my mother asked me to sit in a teal velvet chair at the end of our hall for a picture. Like our bathroom, the chair had golden edges. Above the chair was a painting of a dark haired woman’s profile with pearls around her neck and a rose in her hair. I sat down and crossed my legs. For a while now I had stopped smiling with my teeth. I flattened my lips into a pink sneer and waited for the flash. Waiting. That’s all I knew. Waiting for sleep. Waiting for the next day. Waiting for our walk through Central Park to be through.

My mother showed me the picture in the elevator. The flash made every colorful thing more vibrant and every dull thing gloomier. I looked at my face and tried not to cry. There was no life behind those eyes. There was no passion beneath her chest. I looked and looked and looked until I memorized the face. There was nobody inside, I thought. There is nobody.

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