The Paris Review runs a contest where they ask people to write what they see from their windows. I gave the prompt a go, writing about the view from my bedroom window in Manhattan. The rules asked for no more than 300 words.
When I look out my bedroom window, across a neighbor’s backyard garden to the backs of the buildings on 1st street, I know that what I’m really looking for is time.
Yes, I can see my neighbor’s apartment windows – at night their lights clicking on one-by-one. I see the garden plants, wrapped around the trellises, blooming in spring, withering in fall. I see the man across the way who on cold mornings climbs to his roof with a paper and a coffee mug. I see the glow from One World Trade, the dog who wanders the garden in the mornings, the shapes in windows as people get ready for bed, the bath, breakfast. Manhattanites arranged in perfectly rectangular buildings, all with windows looking out onto the same garden, the same dog.
But I also see the years, stacked in my mind like a diagram of the Earth’s layers. At the top is now: the buildings, the garden, the morning coffee. The next layer looks similar but the neighborhood is Ukrainian – same buildings, same shapes, different culture. We peel back another layer and it’s Klein Deutschland “Little Germany.” Lower buildings, dirt streets, another language being shouted from window to window. The next layer is different still. It’s a farm now with pastures, and animals, and no hint of what it would become. The final layer is just countryside. There’s a stream, grassy hills, trees dotting the land, and the occasional tribe walking across the scene as they make their way to the river which will in 400 years be five blocks away.
At night peering out my window I see speckles of light, the hint of moon. But I also see my own face reflected. My eyes looking back at me as I search for history.