It is a long, treacherous journey to a clean and kempt urban heart.
Nestled in the sensory engine that is New York City where eight million hearts respire at varying rates, one must battle with the grime of the past, and dust of the future to remain true to themselves. In the quest for pure happiness, the heart often finds itself in dire need of a cleaning. Ammunition is often needed along the way. Sometimes, a dustpan and brush will suffice, the instruments working in unison, steering towards a clean emotional slate. Logic and years spent in the metropolis taught her to exercise discretion and cleanliness as a means to navigate through life’s particulars.
He lived alone, navigating his existence amidst his own quiet clutter and background noises of back-to-back episodes of Law and Order Special Victims Unit. Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things” never ceased to give her goose bumps and reduce her to tears. He was often silent, resigned, hard to befriend, and most importantly hard to love. He had an affinity for Joni Mitchell’s discography, particularly her distinct jazzy era that was marked by the 80’s. She is loud, sensitive, extroverted, and talkative. She is Palestinian and he was Jewish. She had faith in the notion that both fate and circumstance could become the vehicle where love can flourish, bringing different people together, especially in a magnetic, transient place like New York. Often, she romanticized the prospect of a happy ending, perhaps a solution to the never-ending Middle East conflict. Maybe, she thought, the shoe that fit, was one that belonged to the other side. This one, after all, was made in New Jersey. It was not Zionist or Israeli, and it was not manufactured in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
There was no happy ending and no shoe that fit. In fact, there was no cathartic war. She found herself politely navigating through a relationship that she could not travel through any more. What remained was a conflict of unresolved nerves; dust, and dander that she tried to live with but could no longer tolerate. In a year and a half, her heart had become shrouded, covered with the soot of anger and frustration that she had attempted to withstand. Anxious, her heart hoarded feelings that grew seething and old. These perceptions had to be expelled. There were far too many trinkets of headlock. It was then, at the intersection of heart and mind, perched on the fifth floor of her apartment on Amsterdam Avenue; she realized that it was not meant to be. She ran out in the middle of the night and hailed a taxi. Fueling the journey were emotional pollutants of despair: a numbing twenty-block trip to break up.
No one can ever prepare for the emotional and mental stinging an unfulfilling relationship can bring. But almost a year since the break up, on a quiet Christmas day in New York City, she realized she still had some of his things. Nestled in the top drawer of her dresser was a drab, blue, pair of Fruit of the Loom boxer briefs and flannel pajamas. They had been left in her drawer since last Christmas, where they had spent five nights together inseparably. They had hit up the holiday markets, a Muslim and a Jew, baking, cooking, and loving, all to a playlist co-created on a shared Grooveshark account. But on this Christmas day, she was alone. She cooked a dinner worthy of attention for one. Honey-mustard salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts. The sprouts were tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, finished with pine nuts, and Parmesan. She ate daintily, standing on one leg, a contemplating Palestinian flamingo in her very own kitchen. The sprouts, the salmon, the temperature, the perfect doneness of the fish, and how things had been so different exactly a year ago.
Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc later, she realized how dirty the apartment had been. She could not recall the last time the place had been dusted or mopped. In need of a scrubbing she could not think of a better way to put his clothes to use. It was proactivity on her part, steering her heart towards a new direction. A healthy mind, she thought, is a heart that is open to new feelings, void of the dust and dander, antique broken hearts can bring. And while she accepted the city as a dirty sovereign force to be reckoned with, she also realized that her pure heart is just as self-governing, traveling on, towards happiness wherever it may be amidst the city and its expansive limits.
© 2013 words and art by Faris Habayeb
Illustration and an excerpt of this piece were published in [wherever] magazine,