The train from the New York City’s Penn Station doesn’t feel different from the last time I took it. It was late February and the city—even Hudson—was delightfully warm. You needed a jacket, but didn’t need to bundle. On the train that February, I buried myself in work since leaving the city for a work day meant doubling up to make it worth it. As it stood, the trip was work. It was Nina’s place that called me: her small apartment, her vintage eye, the street-found furniture that was placed in corners of her home, making it like tiny museums in Mexico, Botswana, or her native Sweden. Every art piece had a story, which she told me as I tipped my body over her daughter’s bed, bit into apples, sorted a plate of oranges at the center of her kitchen table, and shared space and air without fearing that I may be carrying a virus that would get her sick.
The news about the virus back then was real, but to us, to New Yorkers, it didn’t hit us yet. It was far away. It was still in China, or slowly traveling to Europe, we heard. We shared sandwiches in Maker Hotel, and spit-laughed over aperol spritzes. It was the first time in a year I had seen my friend, Alexa, whose son’s second cancer battle was still raging. (He is a fire-beam old man of a child.) She spent days going back and forth from the city to Hudson, trading twins and hospital rooms, rotations, and we heard rumors from doctors and nurses. Alexa had done it twice now, and in truth, her ears were already tuning to the virus we couldn’t see yet. Mothers like her have a sense that isn’t afforded to the rest of us. It’s like she could sense the pH balance in the air had shifted.
Night had started to fall in Hudson by the time I caught the train that would slowly shuffle me back to the city, back to my children, and the sitter I would tap out after dinner and right before bed. As we walked on Warren towards Alexa’s car, someone she knew (a stranger to me) casually gave her a hug, then once dropping her arms, mentioned she just got back off a plane from China that morning. She dismissed the dismay with an “I’m fine!” and a wave of the hand as we slowly took steps to separate our bodies from her own. We gave a swift goodbye and went to Alexa’s car where her hands rapidly shook the contents of hand sanitizer onto one palm and the next, rubbing them together and apart in the ways the hospital teaches you. Two weeks later, I went to three pharmacies, a Walgreens, and two delis to find not a bottle in sight.
On the train home that night, I thought about that moment with that stranger and Alexa, though not much about the virus itself. It wasn’t tangible for me. But the transgression, maybe even, if I dare, the slight violence of it all, yes. That I considered.
The train was so slow back to the city, and the darkness hid the trees squeezing around the metal machine and my brown body. The only thing left to do on a train back from Hudson is wonder, which I am awfully good at. My mind kept coming back to this: When do we materialize someone’s struggles as our own? So that we respect their fears and, ultimately, their truth?
For the ride there this August, I took no work, just bags of clothes and hand sanitizers that remind of Alexa, plus two children, masks, and the energy necessary to eject myself from the city. On the train, the trees still hug us and we wonder what’s planted beyond the brush and how deep is that water and why does the moss look so green? I’m busy answering questions, allowing the sway of the train to rock me like someone’s baby. I can’t think too much of February. It seems a whole lifetime away; but I am still monitoring, for that person out there for whom the virus still rages. In New York, we live with the virus, with those who may have gone, with the sisters, brothers and aunts of those who may have departed. Maybe we don’t know them, but still we assume their pain, their fears, their loss.
Currently, Hudson is full of people who left the city in an effort to be close to it but not in it. There have been all-cash offers on houses that had been on the market for months and years. Who has all cash in a pandemic? Well, a certain kind of few. These people are not transient. They are people whose second homes are now the first, who will be a part of a large shift in Hudson, where black-and-white Black Lives Matter signs hang on every window.
But we are just visitors for a few days at the end of August, during the slow drip to September. Visitors willing to spend money locally and blend in–or not, depending on who you ask. Hudson for a few days without work, without a peek at social media or emails, is a place for me to step inside of myself again. I needed to reattach to my shell, its safety. A pandemic and an uprising have given way to the melody of ambulances, helicopters, police sirens, and nightly chanting, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Living, quite literally, at the intersection of it for nearly half a year, does something to the system. Working through it, raising kids through it, does something to a woman.
But there’s Hudson and the slow train ride there. Our walks through town are slow, too. I peel back the layers I’ve collected, like bags we carried up that Warren Hill. We stayed in a home with terrible coffee. At night, Alexa arrived on my temporary porch with palo santo. I pushed the lawn chairs six feet apart, taking measures before she arrived. In the morning, we visited L, W, and A on their island, which she likes to playfully call a compound. A compound in which veggies sprout up to be picked by children, tables and chalk for play, and the sound of birds. Alexa dances to their tunes. Her clothes hang to dry in the distance, and I am in awe. It’s a sign of the pandemic, but a sign of living–possibly even thriving!–in these times. We entered a little bubble, and our children said separately and at the same time, it was the best day of their lives.
When not with Alexa, River, Oak and I found places to explore. I brought the film camera and requested they hold still as I pulled the lever. I realized I zipped up into myself. It took a day or two, or maybe it was the train. It could very well have been seeing my friend and chatting from behind our masks, six feet apart, and shouting, “You’re okay?” and “I’m okay!”
The rocking train home lulled O into a deep sleep, his six-year-old body stretched across two seats, and there was just enough light to catch the sun duck behind the Hudson as the trees and wind carried us back to the city.
(Photographs shot on film during our time in Hudson, NY)