belonging by Alex Schneidman

Smudges of light dance across the subway windows, ephemeral, and they belong. In their tiny way, in their light deep in the burrows of the city, they are meant to be. Someone gave those many lights a place.

The sighing, belching body metropolitan swarms past the dots. The City is an agitated tessellation of them. The people and the lights. If we could hear their music it’d gurgle and clang. Cement pours and keyboard clicks.

I am at one year swarming with the rest of the City from haircuts to restaurants to glass skyscrapers. I have fallen into my patterns and learned the best door to get in on the 1 train. Like I’d dreamt for so long, I have given my soles to the sidewalk grime…

And yet, the City is not “mine.” Even before I moved here I knew that. I do not own this place, the grime on my shoes, the subway lights. None of it is mine.

I do not remember being in a louder place than Shea Stadium on October 4, 2006. 

It was the first game of the 2006 National League Division Series between the Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and my mom pulled me out of my fifth grade class early to go watch. That year, baseball was my nearest held love.

In the top of the second inning, with John Maine pitching and no outs, rookie Dodger Russell Martin hit a long double to right that Shawn Green played off the wall and launched to the cut-off man, Jose Valentin, who threw a dart to the Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca to tag out a huffing Jeff Kent. The home plate umpire thrust an emphatic fist declaring Kent out while Lo Duca turned around to survey the field.

That moment was, to my 10 year old body, the loudest feeling I had ever known. That would not last very long.

When he turned around to survey the field, Lo Duca had an instant to tag out a diving JD Drew, who was looking to capitalize on the catcher’s engagement with the previous runner to sneak a run. The tag was placed, the ump pumped another fist, and the Mets achieved a fairly bizarre double play.

Shea Stadium swayed beneath my feet. The fifty year old girders and cement felt like rubber, warping and flexing. I was terrified. I was thrilled. Loudness like that can’t be measured in decibels or in the vibrations of air. It’s a loudness that you are part of and that swallows you whole, a feeling that could only be observed by the people creating it.

I don’t remember feeling anything even partially resembling that again until October 18, 2015 at Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Cubs, when Daniel Murphy deposited a two run home run into right field off of eventual 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta in the first inning. Perhaps that moment only partially resembled the first because it was in a new stadium, Citi Field, where the girders are probably less likely to warp, and the mezzanines less likely to sway.

Citi Field was opened for the Mets in the Spring of 2009. At the time I did not much care for it.

The Mets’ two final years at Shea after that 2006 playoff run were disasters, and I never felt like I truly got to say goodbye to this place that I had been coming and playing Hot Wheels on my mom’s shoulders, or waiting in lines for ice cream, or getting to see my favorite players, Piazza, Wright, play this game that was my whole existence. In my privileged Long Island life, the Mets and Shea had provided my greatest heartbreaks. Watching it get dismantled meant I’d have to find closure myself, and we’d never get to reconcile.

I never asked for Citi Field, I never wanted it, and it felt like a sterilized, unworn place. Unwelcoming. Nothing at Citi beat the feeling that the field at Shea was debuting itself to you every time you left the concourse to get to your seats. Shea possessed magic like a pop up book. It held so much more than my young mind could comprehend.

I even said that I liked the new Yankee Stadium better than Citi Field.

I have danced with the subway tunnel lights. For almost a year, I have gazed long at my reflection in train windows, watching the blurs of stations and passengers and stations and passengers. My year in New York City has passed. The days were long, the weeks were shorter, the months blink, the year.

I am older. I certainly look it. I almost feel it. And in so many ways I have failed to accept that belonging no longer comes as a given. Acceptance is more elusive than recognition.

Before the City, the belongings I felt, those tuned vibrations amongst people or places, were granted to me. I fell into them by fate, or by privilege, or by the hilarious indifference of the universe. The harmonies of high school theatre casts, the howlings of friends in a college bar, the hum of holding someone I love. This year, scraping boots on the sidewalk year, screaming on the twelfth floor year, sharp exhaling on the platform year, humming alone year, noise cancelling headphone year.

I was fortunate to have gotten to see the Mets play twelve times this season. I was there on “Obi Wan Canobi” bobblehead day, and Polar Bear Pete T-Shirt Friday. I went with a Nats fan, I went with a Yankee fan, I went by myself. I went with old friends and friends that are old.

I went with my mom, my favorite person with whom I get to go to Met games. On August 21, we stayed until the tenth inning and watched JD Davis walk the game off with a single to left field. We hugged and screamed and high-fived strangers. We lingered in the aisles as the celebratory music died down and JD got to do a Gatorade drenched post game interview.

Something had begun to turn. Familiarity. The soft melody of a song I somehow knew…

On the following Tuesday, Pete Alonso hit his franchise record 42nd home run of the season. I was there, standing at an aisle seat in the second deck in left field.

On September 28, Pete hit his rookie record 53rd home run. Again, I was there. Alone, awash in the reverberations of the Met faithful. The loudness

This time I was shocked into silence, having added my voice to the crowd’s with so much force that I feared vocal damage.

In those moments of individual silence the song grew more present. The song of weekends and trust, of knowing glances and shared fries, of community. Of belonging, ephemeral, blurry, tessellating belonging.

In a year with so much for which to listen, so infrequently did I find the song I knew. The song of a year is hard to discern. All at once I am making it and hearing it. It is easy to get unmoored in the din.

In the City, the belongings come only when I pursue them. At Citi Field - suddenly familiar, alive - I discover them. Despite the disorientation of the people and the lights, the cement pours and the keyboard clicks, the subway screech and the jackhammer rattle: I have found a place I belong.

It will take a bit longer before other places in this agitated city resonate on the frequencies for which I am prepared to listen. Until then…

I descend the staircase from the subway platform, and as I step to the bottom, the stadium rises from the ground and dominates the sky.

There is only one song I hear. Something I know I’ve heard before…