Pulling a piece of string between my thumb and forefinger I will always search for a knot or snag, somewhere to stop, a blight to measure the rest of the smooth string against. No matter how much string I have to play with – long, uninterrupted lengths – my fingers will always find that knot.
I long for something to settle on. Sometimes it’s just a chair because my legs are tired, or my final choice from a too-busy menu, other times bigger things. Like a place I might feel at home, my definitive Best Song Ever, and the actual date that my heart will stop hurting.
On my 31st birthday I’m longing for love and a bagel, so settle on Russ & Daughters Café, the new sit-down sister to their old-school deli counter. During my time in New York, the Orchard Street diner becomes my knot. After days spent wandering up and down long blocks, its white coat-clad waiters, vinyl booths and endless pots of fragrant Darjeeling draw me back.
It’s the second consecutive birthday I’ve spent away from home and away from him. Before breakfast I stand in front of the mirror carefully curling my hair and think I look much the same as when he favoured me, but that I never styled my hair this way then. I wonder if these hot curls ever felt the comfort of his warm hand, stroking my hair while we watched television. In two years, with regular cutting, perhaps there’s nothing left that he knew. Maybe this is the only part of me that will ever grow out of the relationship.
Walking the few blocks to my friends and celebration, with the constant knot in my heart, my thoughts fall in to rhythm with my footsteps. May. Be. He. Miss. Es. Me. May. Be. To. Day. Is. The. Day. He. Will. Change. His. Mind. Every step a syllable, every block a sentence I don’t speak aloud. I. Won. Der. If. This. Stops.
Of the four bagels on offer, served deconstructed on a wooden board, I choose the same one every time: the Shtetl ($18). Silky, sour goat cream cheese and oily smoked sable are cooled, their rich creaminess cut, by thick slices of tomato and rounds of red onion. Wincingly sharp capers top the lot, book ending the salty sprinkles on the barely toasted everything bagel. I savour it in halves and immediately want another.
We’re a raucous, rag-tag group – my three friends exquisitely different from each other and tied together by their newness in this big city, and by me. I love watching them get to know each other; I love imagining them as friends after I’ve travelled home to where we all come from. I love sharing perfect potato latkes ($9) and laughs over a very long, very late breakfast on my birthday. For today at least, I’m the knot on each of their strings.