The Hudson used to be different. You used to kiss someone at the end of the old, wooden pier and hold each other more for safety than for comfort. Back then, you could hear each step. At night, it was mainly gay men, but pairs of women went during the day. I remember kissing Leila there, once, and hearing something bat against the piles below the pier, knocking up against its old, wooden legs, and being carried through them, trapped. The waves knocked the figure around beneath the docks, propelled by the same wind that blew our hair into our faces, veiling us from each other. Blood came out from under the pier, coloring the waves and falling into them, and at first I thought that it was coming from us. But we were whole: our smooth white arms were alive and separate, not quite touching, above the bleeding ocean. The blood was carried into the middle of the river and away, and the seagulls flying overhead sensed this and stayed in the air, with the knowledge that there was nowhere safe to land. Now, every length of the Hudson is safe. It is a park with ice cream vendors and bicyclists and water parks. Now, the Hudson is just straight women standing by the river with babies or in bathing suits, taking in the sun. People write lines of poetry about it that are pasted all over the city on the walls next to construction sites, next to advertisements for condos and insurance. I try not to read them. The stretch between the river and the highway is a collection of separate people: a woman stretched out, bare-backed, on a towel, a man reading on a bench, a woman looking out at the tame waves behind the fence, a woman running with her headphones on, a man doing Yoga with his back to New Jersey. Leila and I, too, lost our authenticity at the same time as they tore down the old piers and built Astroturf jetties that reach all the way down. Their walls extend down into the river so that you cannot see their piles and you know that anything that floats under them will never be able to escape. “ “Love” is thrown around a lot these days.”
The word “Love” is thrown around a lot these days. There is a piece of scaffolding in SoHo, with that line pasted all over it on white, thin poster board, calling this reality to the attention of everyone on the street. I have never understood the power of words: what is behind them and through them, what makes people scream and what, once it is said, will make people go crazy. I have never understood how words like love can change things between people. I am a translator, from French to English and English to French, and I have never seen words change anything. I have put everything into a different language. I have done voiceovers for DVDs, translated an aviation-training manual, written subtitles, rewritten manuals for heavy machinery, and made the words of doctors understandable for their patients. The nuances lost in translation never seem to change anything. I translated, into French, for a doctor planning laser eye surgery. The eyes of his patient were gray and had -5.5, -6.0 vision, which the doctor joked is close to blindness. The customer didn’t laugh. The whole time that I was talking to him, he had his glasses off. For him I was defined by my voice, but I could tell that he was looking straight at me. After the appointment, as I was putting on my jacket in the waiting room, he asked me to have a drink. We went to the bar across the street. It served cocktails with thin, pink umbrellas. The man was tall and had gray hair. He said that he was here on business for a year. He wanted to have the surgery here, because it was cheaper. He said many other things. None of them were important. What was important was the way he leaned towards me on the love seat. His hand was around the top of it, over my shoulder. He nodded his head slightly with the background music. He tapped his foot, too, and when it hit my leg under the table, he put his hand on my thigh, to apologize. He had a habit, he began that night, of touching my hair, combing a few strands between his fingers. When he disagreed with me, he tightened his lips. When he was tired of me, he turned his head away. During the surgery, I translated the few words said. When it was finished, I took the blinded man home and put him in his bed. I brought him water and sandwiches. After he recovered, I did not move out for a year. And when he left, there was nothing to say.