I grew up an immigrant kid in the late 90s in a city called Brooklyn. It was a sunny city. At least in my memories.
There’s something about nostalgia that reminds you of your reason. I’m looking for mine. In old photo books and childhood art. Maybe I’ll remember what it smells like.
Brooklyn smelled like trains and bakeries and dirt. Like chalkboards and wrinkled dollar bills. Like dogs and rats and newspapers.
I can’t smell anything in Dallas.
They say time flies and if I were time I’d fly to the Brooklyn Bridge to watch the pigeons and suicide jumpers. Time would smell the unspoken blues. Would smell the sweet melancholy of lost hope that traveled in the wind and moved every street performer. Inspired the skateboarders, the wrestlers, the jazz musicians. The poets who later become rappers. Time would smell it on all their palms.
I smelled it in the rust of the swings and the fruit that grew in neighborhood gardens. And in the smoke. On that day in September.
No one talked about it.
We all just kept breathing.
Mama was now always in a rush to get home. And then we moved and moved and moved neighborhoods, but there’s a still in my mind. A scene of a boy waving at me from across the street.
His name was Angel.
We were both holding hands with our parents, their conversations too high for us to hear. But there he was, a face, so still across the busy street, holding my attention for what felt longer than just a moment.
When you’re a kid, you don’t waste time looking for words you don’t know. You’re captivated, captured, consumed by one feeling, a watercolor mix of chirping birds and cigarette smoke and the face of a boy with a missing tooth waving at you.
I don’t know if I ever waved back.
But I stared.
I stared for longer than a moment. I stared at his curly hair and tan Puerto Rican skin. I stared at his Tony Hawk shirt and skinny legs.
He blinked. And I felt it in my whole body.
That moment smelled like chlorine swimming pools.
Will I ever remember what my reason smells like? Will it find me one night, returning as the smell of freshly cut grass and take me to the moment I caught light bugs in our old front yard. Or will it be the smell of wet concrete and take me to the day every kid in New York was evacuated from school? Will I find reason in disaster or in the connection that comes after? The smell of new American flags on every doorstep. The smell of old people breath when neighbors gave kids longer hugs.
Will I find reason in the strong smell of thrill’s breath?
My parents know fear, but I met adventure. He talked to me through graffiti on abandoned buildings. He shared secrets with me through a lip tattoo on a psychic. Introduced himself in the laugh of a drunk woman who winked at me when she caught me staring from our apartment window across the street from all the bars. He showed me freedom the first time I saw a man with a green mohawk and a woman with an afro make out on a park bench in front of all the kids and all the parents. And when my worried mother told me to close my eyes in every sex scene in a movie, I peaked through my eyelashes. I admired valor. Wore it around my neck. Kept the chokers hidden in my closet.
And then we moved and moved and moved, across city lines this time. Identity crisis is common when no one tells you you’re just a sponge. That you’re a moving time capsule of cultural commentary. That the smells coming from your palms tell people where you’ve been and how much you’ve cried. So you wash your hands with soap until you lose your sense of smell.
Kids in Dallas care about things other than Ed, Edd, n Eddy. Like racism.
And then my brother stopped talking to his friend when he became a cop and I had trouble understanding why. My eighth grade teacher who had relocated after Katrina let me try gumbo for the first time and that was the year a girl with skin much darker than mine told me she hated me because of my race and I learned the historic manipulation of self-hate. There’s a different tempo here in Dallas, something opposite of nostalgia. Will I find reason in pain?
I exist between cultures and time, a 1.5 generation kid, with big bug eyes and a soft spot for revolution. I’m looking for reason, but I can’t smell it anymore. I might just be another rebel without a cause. Loud like rock music on the beach or silent like black magic at dawn.