HIKING THE LENGTH OF MANHATTAN
by Val Emmich
“I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.
That John Denver’s full of shit.”
—Dumb and Dumber
My mother-in-law asked me how my brother was doing and I didn’t have an answer. The next day I called him and asked if he wanted to hike the length of Manhattan with me.
We had meant to do the hike a few summers ago. Mike was eager to cross the item off his To Do list, one that included other sporty feats like a half-marathon, which he had recently completed. But time was running out, it being mid-August and Mike about to resume his teaching job.
The first thing I did was email our old professor Michael Rockland, the one who had given us the idea in the first place.
This week I’m planning to recreate your hike of Manhattan from your book, Snowshoeing Through Sewers. I’m doing it with my brother. He was also a student of yours at Rutgers. Mostly, I’m writing to tell you that you’ve inspired us to go on a little bonding adventure. While I’m at it I figured I’d ask if you have any advice for us that you didn’t share in your book. What year was it that you hiked? We plan on following your path down Broadway from Fort Tryon.
Hope you’re well.
Delighted you’re doing it, Val. I have a coupleof tips:
1) Make sure aboutyour footwear—light hikingboots or sneakers, eitherbut not brand new. Gotta makesureyou don’t get blisters.
2) If you really want to doall of Manhattan, the best thing todo is totakethe subway (I think it’s the#1 train) to whereit makes its firststop in what you think is the Bronx. That part of the “Bronx” is actually partofthe boro of Manhattan, sawn off when Spuyten Duyvil, which is a tributary of the Hudson coming aroundthetop of thepresentislandof Manhattan, wascut through ten blocks furthersouth. When you get off atthat first stop after crossing Spuyten Duyvil there’sa pedestrian bridge that you’ll cross onto the islandof Manhattan. This way you’re sureyou’ve done all of Manhattan, theisland and the entireborough. I think I talk about this in my story.
No need to haul food and drink. You’ll have that atyour disposal all thewaytothe battery. Whenyou’ve done the trip let me know how it turned out.
P.S. Sorry so many words together. This isn’t mycomputer. I’m in rural Maine and willsoon be heading home and departingon a two-week lecture trip toChileand Argentina.
Getting Rockland’s stamp of approval was important. He’s the type of guy who’s already done everything you want to do decades before you thought of it and done it better: the author of twelve books; a regular on NPR; he was an American diplomat in Spain where he hung with Martin Luther King, Jr.; had a Meryl Streep film shot in his house; and starred in his own movie, based on another adventure from Snowshoeing Through Sewers, in which he canoed up a creek in suburban New Jersey till he reached Manhattan. Thumbs up from Rockland. Now it was time to see what the hell I had just gotten myself into.
First I reread the chapter in Rockland’s book about the hike. Sadly, it didn’t offer much hard advice, namely because the city he faced no longer existed. He never specified in his book (or email) when exactly his hike took place but it was clearly decades ago. Rockland’s New York was void of smart phones, GPS, 24-hour pharmacies, and gourmet coffee—a pre-Bloombergian jungle. I did take note of one of his most relevant concerns. Where to pee? Starbucks, I guessed.
We’d follow Rockland’s route north to south down Broadway, leaving us at the end of the hike close to the PATH train back to Jersey. That was all the planning we did.
Feeling idle, I emailed some friends for advice.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #1
Stay off your feet as much as possible the day before.
My friend Matt and I had planned to shoot a music video the day before the hike. The video was to show me walking through Jersey City. To ensure we’d have enough usable footage I’d have to trek up and down the street for hours. I wondered if I should reschedule the shoot. But really—I thought—how hard could this Manhattan hike be?
We went ahead with the shoot. As I busied myself with a prop for the video—an airplane folded from red construction paper—I told Matt about the next day’s hike.
“I know a few people who did that,” Matt said.
“My friend Jeff and Nickie did it. And I heard about these two directors who wrote a script about a group of guys doing the walk together.”
His friend Jeff was a guy he met through me. Matt collects new ones wherever he goes, then writes and directs a short film called Me Time about his desire to dump every single one of them.
It irritated me to hear about all the people who had already done the hike. Not for a second did I think that Mike and I were doing something original—after all, we stole the idea from a published book—but I at least wanted to get sole credit as the person in my friends’ lives who Hiked The Length Of Manhattan. “Talk to Val,” they’d say, “he already did it years ago. He’s like an expert.”
I didn’t want to talk about the hike anymore for fear Matt would damage my spirits further. But I couldn’t help myself. “You got any advice for me? I’m asking everyone.”
He thought about it.
“See how long you can go without talking,” Matt said.
“That’s your advice? That’s the whole point of us doing the hike in the first place.”
“I know,” Matt said.
I was already worried that Mike and I would walk the whole way without exchanging more than ten words. I made a mental note to ignore Matt’s advice.
I found out later that night that I’d have to go on an audition the following day for the CBS show Person of Interest. I called my brother and informed him that we’d have to reschedule the hike.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #2
My dad worked for many years at 670 Broadway (between 3rd and Bleecker). He had a factory there on the 4th floor where he made low end sportswear for women. In the 80s and early 90s my sister worked there with him. There was a small, sooty window in the “office” that looked out on Broadway.
My second year of law school I applied for student housing and was assigned a room in the Mercer Street residence. As it happened, my room was on the 5th floor in the rear of the building overlooking Broadway. My bedroom window was the same height as, and looked directly into, my father’s and sister’s office across Broadway. Odd coincidence, huh?
My wife and I were down in Asbury Park enjoying one of the last weekends of the summer. We went to visit my parents one town over in Ocean Grove.
I never know what to talk about with them so I felt lucky to have news to share. They’d be happy to hear that their two sons were going to spend some time together.
“I used to do that hike,” my father said.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “We’re walking the entire island from water’s edge to water’s edge.”
“Yeah, down Broadway,” my father said. “That’s what I used to do.”
It sounded straightforward enough, but I had my doubts. My father has always been a mysterious fellow. When I was growing up, to anyone who asked what he did for a living I’d say, “He’s in computers.” My friends had all formed tall tales about him. One friend, after hearing him speak fluent Russian on the phone, made me swear that he wasn’t a member of the KGB. Fact is, I wasn’t so sure.
“When?” I asked my father.
“When I was seventeen. I was in the Explorers.”
“The Explorers?” I looked to my mother who barely raised an eyebrow.
“They were a teen version of the Boy Scouts,” my father said.
“So you walked the full length of Manhattan?”
“Yeah, a bunch of times. I always did stuff like that. I once rode my bike from the Bronx to the Catskills.”
This wasn’t my father, a man I knew only to be a white-haired antisocial bookworm shut-in. But then again it didn’t seem impossible. When I was younger, my father and I played one-on-one basketball on the driveway and tossed around the football in the backyard. He played racquetball weekly, even had his own goggles and gear. He swam laps in our pool. Back then, he was, well, manly. So many decades had passed since I’d last seen that manly man, I had forgotten he once existed.
“Well,” I said, still recovering, “that’s what Mike and I are doing.”
“When?” my mother asked.
She was worried. A man had just shot his ex-boss near the Empire State Building, not a month after the Joker in Colorado and the Sikh massacre in Wisconsin.
“This week,” I told her. “We have to lock down a day.”
But we never did. Mike was busy waiting tables and I was busy doing who-knows-what and so we pushed it to the following week. The final week of summer. Our last chance to do the hike.
I told Mike about our father being an Explorer. He was surprised but not so surprised, which is how it is. Our father’s story leaks from a barely dripping faucet, one scarce drop at a time.
I started to think: maybe we’re destined to do this hike. It’s practically in our blood.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #3
I’m sure you did research but here’s a few blogs I found.
I sat on the beach that weekend in Asbury, hardly thinking about the hike. That is, until my wife’s brother Jeremy arrived. He was one of the people I had emailed for advice. He never responded.
“I never got the email,” he said.
“I sent it to your Gmail.”
“I don’t really check that. Send it to my work email.”
“Okay,” I said. “Do you have any words of wisdom for me?” Jeremy had just completed a triathlon.
“Sounds pretty cool,” he said. “How long is it?”
“I don’t know actually. I haven’t checked.”
For some reason, I didn’t want to know.
“Isn’t it ten blocks for every mile?” Jeremy asked.
“Is it? It’s two hundred seventy five blocks, according to my professor.” Jeremy went quiet, I hoped because he was busy doing the math. When he didn’t speak for a while, I chimed in. “So that’s like twenty-seven-and-a-half miles.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That can’t be right.”
Jeremy’s wife checked her phone.
There I was, trying to present myself as a real voyager, and I hadn’t bothered to do a lick of research. I looked down the length of the beach. Maybe it wasn’t too late for some improvised Rocky training.
“Thirteen-and-a-half miles,” Jeremy’s wife announced.
“I’d love to join you,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah, that would be great.”
But it could never happen. We both knew it. Jeremy’s job was too demanding and besides, it was a private thing, brother-to-brother.
* * *
The day was set. Wednesday, August 29. The forecast promised a breezy morning. No auditions came through. No impediments. The hike was happening. And it was a good thing too, because it was our last available day.
On the Tuesday before the hike, Jill and I went on a bike ride. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to save myself for the hike. I went anyway.
We were riding along the Hoboken waterfront when she asked if I was ready.
“We’re not worried,” I said.
Mike wasn’t worried, so I wasn’t worried. Then again, we’re brothers. Maybe we shared a naive bravado that would ultimately do us in.
“How long is it again?” Jill said.
“Thirteen plus, I think.” It was right there on Jeremy’s wife’s phone. She had seen it with her own eyes. I had put my faith in someone else’s word and I was at peace with that.
“That’s like half a marathon,” Jill noted.
Marathon. It sounded legitimate. The hike attracted me because it was finite, much like a marathon. Manhattan is an island and an island has clear borders. The city has numbered streets. The whole thing was laid out for us to conquer. Calling it a half-marathon only made it more official.
“You never replied to my email,” I said.
“You never sent me advice.”
She didn’t respond. Maybe she was thinking. Probably not. She didn’t want to write me an email. She wanted to talk about it. But I needed her to write it out and I didn’t want to have to explain why.
We cycled along the Hudson River, the sun baking our backs. I stared at the city and imagined myself winding in between the tall buildings. My legs started to feel tired.
* * *
Mike drove up to Jersey City later that night and we had dinner.
Afterwards, Mike said, “What time should we start?”
We were stretched out on the couch watching mindless TV, our bellies packed with rice and beans.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Early.”
I sipped my beer. I wondered if alcohol was a bad idea the night before a big race.
“First we have to get up there,” I said.
“How long will that take?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Jill, you’re good at this stuff. Can you figure it out?”
Jill reluctantly opened the laptop.
Mike scoffed. “That’s exactly what he did to me when we were kids. He’d tell me I was good at things so I would do shit for him.”
I smiled and waited for Jill’s results. She mapped out our trip using HopStop.
“Why do you want to go all the way to the Bronx?” she asked. “The 1 train stops at 215th Street. That’s close enough.”
“Because,” I said, “then we wouldn’t be doing the entire island.”
Mike agreed. The details made it mean something.
Jill entered the last bit of info into the website. “It’ll take you ninety minutes to get to the top.”
Mike and I agreed to eat breakfast at five and be off by five-thirty in order to catch the PATH train leaving at 5:53 a.m.
* * *
I woke up two minutes before my alarm sounded. I slid on cargo shorts and a tee, doubled up my socks, and loaded my pockets with sunglasses, phone, earbuds, and wallet. I smeared myself with suntan lotion.
After eggs, granola and coffee we walked our bikes out of the house and into the dark morning. In minutes we were down the steep hill and riding side-by-side through Hoboken, the streets all to ourselves. On Washington Street, we saw a grey-haired lady scolding a cat who was being dragged down the sidewalk in an open suitcase.
We locked up our bikes outside the PATH, bought water and protein bars at a corner store, and disappeared underground.
On the train I read my horoscope on a television monitor: “Let your curiosity guide you to new and open places.” I looked around to see if someone was playing a prank on me. Mike acknowledged the serendipity with a shrug.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #4
Above 103rd street, be careful.
We emerged in Herald Square in dim daylight and walked west to the 1 train.
The two white dudes with water bottles bulging from their cargo short pockets, those dudes stuck out like sore thumbs, even in New York City, where everything goes. But by the time we reached Lincoln Center the professionals had all but de-boarded, leaving Mike and I alone with a cute Latina and a bunch of men in various states of decrepitude. I tried to play it cool, but I could tell they were eyeballing us.
I read an article in Metro about Jormile Wint, 22, who stabbed his mother in the back, his brother in the head, and then tried to set the apartment on fire. I studied the other passengers. Upon closer inspection, everyone looked pretty normal and somehow that disappointed me.
Just as Professor Rockland had instructed, we crossed the river and exited the train at 225th Street, which is technically still part of Manhattan. I had never been up this high, never to the two hundreds. I snapped a photo of Mike standing in front of what I assumed was the Harlem River, though it may have been this Spuyten Duyvil Rockland spoke of. Either way the river was meager. Even with my weak arm I could toss a stone to the other side. Come to think of it, the whole city looked rather quaint from this vantage point. Quiet, flat, penetrable.
We took note of the time. Just about seven. We walked across the bridge, which couldn’t have been longer than a city block, and officially began the hike we still knew nothing about.
* * *
The first thing that struck me was the hilliness, how the streets rose and fell. Nothing like San Francisco, but enough to make you groan on the way up.
Around 200th Street, with our energy still full, we veered off Broadway to visit the Cloisters. Joggers passed us as we marched up the stone pathway. At the top we looked off across the Hudson to New Jersey. I spotted the George Washington Bridge in the distance.
I remembered sitting in Michael Rockland’s office back in 2010. He had invited me to speak to his American Studies seminar. I was to talk about the “Pain and Pleasures of Celebrity,” as preposterous as it sounds and as embarrassed as it made me feel.
Michael informed me that he planned to address the students about the tragedy before beginning class.
“What tragedy?” I asked.
Michael broke the news to me that a college freshman, Tyler Clementi, had thrown himself from the G.W. the previous night, an apparent victim of cyber-bullying.
Michael’s phone had been ringing all morning. He had never taught Clementi but in addition to being a Rutgers professor he also happened to be the author of a book titled The George Washington Bridge: Poetry In Steel. With little to go on, the press was hounding Michael for a quote.
Michael encouraged me to offer consolable words of my own to the students if I felt inspired. I did not. I felt hollow and queasy.
My brother and I pulled ourselves from the vast river view and walked on. We copped a pee in the public restroom, figuring it might be our last chance for a while. We took a peek at the Cloisters museum, having no intention of entering (was it even open that early?) and then walked back down to street level.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #5
Spend five blocks speed dating.
We were so busy talking we hardly noticed the numbers falling. My brother and I are both morning people. That’s when our brains work at full capacity. And so we let them work.
We talked politics: how if Christie ran for President it would have spelled doom, what Mormons actually believe and what a bore Romney is. Mike told me about a beautiful girl who kissed him and then turned gay. He told me that he had recently become an ordained minister.
“My friend Kate wanted me to marry her and her girlfriend,” Mike explained. “It costs thirteen bucks on the Internet. Actually, it’s free, but if you want the official certificate it costs thirteen bucks. You need the certificate in order to marry someone.”
“Yeah, and I called up City Hall to make sure it was legit, you know, to see if I needed to do anything, like register with them or something. They didn’t care. People argue over this idea of marriage, how it’s supposed to be so sacred. Can you believe it? I’m an atheist minister.”
We hit our stride through Washington Heights. The top half of the city is narrow, only about four avenues wide. It feels like a quiet corner room at an otherwise all-night rager. More like an urbanized Shelter Island than a part of the Big Apple.
In the 150s, the terrain rose up and down every three blocks or so. Mike broke out his protein bar. I followed.
In his book, Rockland speaks of the stark contrast between neighborhoods in upper Manhattan, how he could practically smell the cultures change every twenty blocks or so. But if there was any ethnic diversity to be found, we missed it. We saw only familiar chain stores. Each one signaled a different tax bracket. As the street numbers decreased we found less C-Towns and more Whole Foods Markets.
At 130th Street, Broadway lowered into a deep valley. I saw the 1 train soaring above as it broke through the ground, exposed briefly like the stretching root of a tree.
I asked my brother, “Are we hiking or just walking? I hope this is considered hiking.”
“Hiking sounds so much better,” Mike said.
We spoke about marriage, whether it made sense anymore. We spoke about children, how scary the world is getting. I tried to sound mature and smart, like an older brother should, but it was hard because I was shouting.
“WHY AM I SHOUTING?” I asked.
“WE CAN’T SEEM TO DITCH THIS GUY!”
I looked to my left. A street sweeper roared alongside us. Apparently it had been matching our pace for a dozen blocks.
“THAT EXPLAINS IT!” I shouted.
“I WAS WONDERING WHY MY THROAT WAS HURTING!”
Mike pointed at the driver. “HE’S LAUGHING AT US!”
We worked our way back up a long hill and were ready for another snack. We picked plums and peaches from an outdoor stand and slurp-chewed them as we walk-hiked. I didn’t want to say it aloud, but so far the hike wasn’t all that difficult. And we were almost halfway. I wondered if we’d hit an obstacle along the way. I almost wished for it.
* * *
Somehow we had wandered off Broadway. We were now on Riverside Drive. Unlike the rest of the city’s manmade grid, Broadway swerves to and fro like a live river. It started as an American Indian trail. The Dutch later called it Breede Wegh. It’s the only street that runs the entire length of the island. It was our bloodline and we lost it. It wouldn’t be the last time.
We got back on course near Columbia University. Signs were posted for incoming freshman. Later that day I would receive a Facebook post from my friend and old bandmate, Eric, wishing me a happy Eileen Rush Day. It was a reference to an old song by our college band.
Eileen Rush, my loan consultant,
You’re the one who made me realize
Where I’m off to in a few months
When you opened up my checking account
For college, what an unfamiliar world
That I am scheduled to enter on August 29th
Mike and I spoke about a Columbia freshman who had just days ago leapt out her 14th floor window. Mike had a student who committed suicide. I wondered if he was thinking of her now, but I didn’t ask. Shamefully, I was too wrapped up in my own daydream. I had just released a new album the day before and I was thinking that the last song, “Audience,” would be the perfect last song for me to release as an artist. How, if I killed myself soon, the song might bring me posthumous fame.
But it was just a daydream. Our father had tried many times and warded me off the whole thing. Took all the sexiness out of it. There wasn’t any there to begin with, of course, but as a teenager you don’t know that yet.
* * *
By Columbus Circle we finally felt something. Mike felt it in his hamstrings.
“Is the hamstring the back or the front?” I asked.
“I feel it in the front,” I said. “What’s that?”
“Weird. We feel it in different places.”
“We walk differently,” Mike said.
He told me about a book called Born To Run. He said if a man and a horse run twenty miles, the man wins every time. Humans are pure distance runners. But since we started wearing shoes we no longer run how we’re meant to—on the balls of our feet.
I began walking on the balls of my feet. I must have looked silly.
“Fuck,” Mike said.
“We lost Broadway.”
I looked up at the street sign. Amsterdam Avenue.
We found our way back to Broadway. Mike was still talking about the book. I told him to hold on while I took notes on my phone. “If I don’t write it down I’ll forget,” I said.
“You won’t remember this day, will you?”
He said it with such resignation. We shared an entire twenty-year history spent in the same suburban house and only one of us recalled the details. I didn’t remember leaving him stranded in our high school parking lot or dunking him into a bathtub before his big date or generally being so far removed as a brother. But he reminded me often enough.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #6
Use jazz hands only in between 43rd and 41st streets.
In Times Square the city finally announced itself. Skyscrapers, neon signs, taxis, tourists, hustle, bustle. This was the place I knew. Like one pounding headache.
Between the traffic lights and the crowds, we were forced to stop at every block. It felt like trudging through a thick mud.
A tattooed man held up a cardboard sign: “Need money for weed…why lie.” We both respected his honesty and believed it would yield him more donations.
“You still smoke?” I said.
“Not as much. When I’m anxious.”
“Wish it worked like that for me.”
“Yeah,” Mike said. “I know, it makes you paranoid. It calms me down.”
We stop-started down the street.
“I can’t sleep anymore,” Mike said.
“I wrote a song the other day called ‘Night Light,’” he said. “Just about all the stuff that keeps me up at night.”
I didn’t know he was writing songs. I wondered what ‘Night Light’ sounded like. I thought about asking to hear it but didn’t. Me being the songwriter of the family, I didn’t want to add pressure to what was meant to be a pressure-releasing activity. I was just glad he was writing. It had worked for me.
“How’s everything with the house?” As soon as I said it, I worried I shouldn’t have. But I wanted him to know I cared enough to ask.
“This guy’s dragging his feet,” he said. “If he doesn’t buy it, it looks like foreclosure at this point.”
He seemed at peace with it, as much as he could be. After two of the most stressful years imaginable, he was done fighting. I took a deep breath for both of us.
Then, one of us, I forget which, noted that we had passed the halfway point of the hike. I worried we were moving too fast. Why had we started so early in the morning? We assumed we’d finish around dinnertime. We had already planned a celebratory beer. Now I was starting to worry we’d be home by noon.
But just in time, the hike grew challenging. We didn’t say much for a while. It was getting hard to walk and even harder to think. I was thankful. If the hike didn’t hurt then it sort of didn’t count.
* * *
The farmer’s market in Union Square taunted us with fresh aromatic treats. We craved lunch but it wasn’t even eleven. We agreed to eat when we reached Houston Street.
Thirty blocks had zipped by like a dream. We were talking again. When we talked, we moved.
I told him about the new title for my novel. He agreed it was better than the old one. We argued about who we believed were the original voices in fiction. We agreed to each write a story about the hike. We made up one rule: the story didn’t necessarily have to be true.
“You know what I don’t see here in New York that I see in Asbury?” Mike said.
“Obese people riding scooters.”
“Fuck,” he said.
I looked up. We lost Broadway again.
* * *
FRIEND TIP #7
Enjoy every sandwich.
We found a Chipotle just north of Houston. They had just opened for business and had yet to fry up their pepper-and-onion mix. I begrudgingly went without it in my burrito.
It felt good to sit.
“It’ll be hard to get up,” Mike said. “You’re going to stiffen.”
“That’s what she said.”
He smiled. “I’m all in on this place.”
“I know. It’s the best.”
“But this music is horrible.”
We listened to the horrible music that wasn’t so horrible to me.
My phone rang.
“Where are you?” Jill asked.
“Houston,” I said.
“Already? You’re almost done.”
“Not yet,” I said. “I think we’ve got another fifty blocks.”
“I can’t believe how fast you guys did it. Was it easy?”
“No,” I said.
We made sure to pee before we left. So far peeing had not been a problem. We hadn’t felt a strong need to pee, probably because we hadn’t been drinking water, because we never really felt thirsty, because we weren’t sweating, because we were walking in the shade of tall buildings. But we were exerting ourselves. We felt sore. That was proof enough.
* * *
After Houston, the street names could no longer be trusted as distance markers. Numbers were replaced by proper names whose history we knew nothing about. Spring, Walker, Duane, Reade. Each told a story, those last two for sure, but on we walked.
We ducked into a Starbucks near Canal and exited with two iced coffees. We sucked our straws and complained about our quads and hamstrings. Mike was sure he had a blister.
Chinatown. Little Italy. Here was the diversity Rockland had promised us back in upper Manhattan. But I had already seen these neighborhoods countless times and so I walked through them now with only faint interest.
Collars stiffened near Wall Street. A silent protest forged outside City Hall. A large banner read: “Shame on Sam Chang.”
We chanted the tongue-twister as we soldiered on.
Shame on Sam Chang!
Same on Sam Tang!
Shame on Tam Wang!
The streets grew narrow and crowded. The Freedom Tower burst into view, hovering over us like a shimmering monolith. An Africa-African cab driver belted out Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” from the open window of his cab. In our delirium we fell in love with him.
* * *
Up ahead we saw a break in the sprawl as buildings gave way to open blue sky.
I started to question Rockland’s count of two hundred seventy five blocks. To my eye some twenty streets were missing. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line then perhaps Broadway’s erratic curves could help explain the discrepancy. Then again I trusted Rockland had gathered his information from a solid source, whereas I had only piggybacked on his diligence. I pushed any doubts from my mind, too lazy to question the matter any further.
“Fuck,” said the minister.
The street sign read State Street. I looked at the map on my phone. This time we hadn’t lost Broadway. We had reached the end.
We entered Battery Park, our finish line. But there was no tape to break, no parade or confetti. We hobbled past a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Along the water’s edge, people waited in line to board the ferry to the real statue. Uniformed tour guides gave history lessons to tourists. We each posed for a picture with the Hudson behind us.
We sat on a bench and rubbed our legs. We stretched. It was just past noon.
We needed something to mark our completed journey.
“Seems too early for a beer,” I said.
* * *
We had to backtrack ten blocks to get to the PATH. Construction at Ground Zero sent us on various detours. The Freedom Tower stood not fifty feet away but we couldn’t get to it.
A security guard directed us through Two World Trade and into a riverside courtyard where suits and skirts were eating lunch. One particular woman, tall and dark, caught my attention.
“No way,” I said.
I rushed Mike out of the courtyard.
“I went to college with that girl. I can’t believe she works on Wall Street. She was a total cokehead.”
“They’re all cokeheads, aren’t they?”
I looked down at my grungy attire, hoping she hadn’t spotted me.
We eventually found the PATH, rode the long escalator down and boarded our train.
Our heads fell back against the window of the subway car. My feet throbbed and I was thankful for it. I reached into my pocket and found my earbuds. The day before I had restocked my phone with music that I planned to listen to on the hike. But I never once reached for my earbuds. Neither did Mike.
Now, feeling worn and accomplished, I picked a song and shut my eyes. Soon the train creaked forward.
* * *
The next day I rose out of bed with little difficulty. I wanted to feel more pain, to hurt so badly I couldn’t walk, but I walked just fine.
After taking the dog out, we sat and ate breakfast.
“How’s he doing?”
This time it was Jill, not her mother, who was asking. I still didn’t have an answer I felt confident in. There were plenty of major topics my brother and I either never got around to or just consciously avoided. But it wasn’t a checklist. It was a feeling.
“He’s good,” I told her.
I felt closer to him than I had in some time. The walk wasn’t as long as I wanted it to be. But it was the longest walk we had ever taken together. I’d have to ask Mike whether that was actually true or just the way I remember it.