Recovery and Rehabilitation

Jessica Langan-Peck

After, we wanted either candy or donuts. We stood in the street deciding. On the left was the Dunkin' Donuts where you got two glazed donuts for the price of one after a certain time of night, secretly, with a significant look from the Indian proprietress. Across the street was our favorite Rite Aid, the one that had been a theater and then a dance club.

“M&M's,” I said, “peanut butter.”

Miles preferred the regular peanut ones because at least he was eating an actual nut. We went into Rite Aid and walked past the registers, down the sloping floor past 50% off Christmas decorations and huge garbage bags filled with tinsel and exploded yogurts and smushed Reese's. The sloped floor led down to a little landing, with a railing, and we stood at it and watched the store open up, high-ceilinged, with neat rows of shelves and aisles like a maze, or more like a grid. We could see people moving through the aisles with red shopping baskets. There were maybe thirty more feet of ceiling above where the shelves of greeting cards and dental floss stopped. We went down into the grid and walked around. There was still a mirrored disco ball in the center of the high, domed ceiling. I looked up at it with my arms open and did a slow, turning dance that almost made me lose my balance completely. Miles put his hand on my lower back reflexively, steadying, and we went to the candy aisle.

Back in the street we stood across from each other, swaying slightly, shivering. He was staying with our friend Jeremy in Prospect Heights. I did not want him to go. It didn’t feel like sex. It was something else, some other kind of proximity.

“We could go sit on my roof,” I said. I had moved out of the building with the phenomenal roof six months ago, and I was sleeping on the lumpy chaise lounge in my studio behind my landlord’s back, but I still had the keys to my old place.

He nodded. His shoulder blades were moving in and towards one another. He was cold, but he was not going to say so. “I always love that roof-view.”

We walked, close together but not touching, all the way along McCarren Park, which was darker and quieter now, and we were both thinking about Christmas trees. I told him how Angela had been taping up the RSVP cards for weeks. The wall of the kitchen in her apartment was covered with the little rectangular pieces of heavy-stock paper, neutral, wintry colors, which she and I had stamped with the silhouette of a bare tree. The steam heat in her apartment was making the edges curl and the effect was something like a flock of little square birds, or boxy, flying beetles.

When we got to the kicked-looking door in the converted warehouse building on North Ninth, I thought about telling him I’d moved out, thought he probably had already heard from Angie or someone, so I just opened the door, and let him follow me up the six flights of stairs to the roof. The stairwell was cement, functional feeling. I always thought about it being a grain elevator, or something similar, when I panted up and down the stairs. I was out of breath and trying to hide it.

“Smoking again?” Miles said, from behind me. I didn’t answer him. “I’ve been climbing,” he offered. “That might be something you’d enjoy.”

I pushed open the heavy door at the top of the building and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark, to the cold, and Miles stopped behind me. I felt his breath on my neck. Stairs were hard even if you were in great shape. I walked carefully, the roof was full of all kinds of obstacles, and I was still feeling hot and loopy from all the saké even though it was very cold up there, exposed and windy. I pulled my hat down lower. Someone had built a crude wooden deck on the roof, where there were picnic tables covered with plastic for the winter and a big old charcoal barbecue. In the summer we’d all come up here almost every night, invited more friends over, stashed bottles of liquor behind air vents, laid down on our bellies and looked into skylights for shapes or shadows of the people who lived on the top floor.

We sat down on the edge of the deck and dangled our legs. We looked at the view. From up here, in the wind, you could see all of midtown Manhattan tall and lit: the Empire State Building, still green and red from Christmas, the sparkly Chrysler, the New Yorker’s neon. The East River was black and quietly lapping, not looking anything like water. Miles was seeing it as if it were the first time, I thought, or he was remembering Fourth of Julys, watching the fireworks on lucky years they were here and not over the Hudson. Once we’d put on a music festival, all of our friends in dirty t-shirts, all of us sweaty and lying in the sun with our winter-white skin.

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