This block was new to me, but its warped cornices, crumbling lintels, and broken, zigzagging fire escapes could have been ripped from my memories. The people seemed familiar, too: the woman in curlers, cigarette dangling from two fingers, leaning out a first-floor window to gossip with a neighbor on the sidewalk, a potbellied mayor holding court on a nearby stoop. Older boys with gleaming biceps who slouched in lawn chairs and played video games on a television hotwired into the streetlight. Teenage girls in suffocatingly tight jeans who caressed the rusting finials of a wrought-iron fence and kept an eye on a horde of children—black and Spanish—who ran screaming through an open hydrant.
I stepped aside as a girl, maybe seven or eight, tore past me with a water balloon. I used to be one of these kids, I thought, oblivious to the crushing heat: exactly what that made me now, forty years later (and acutely aware of the heat), I couldn’t say. Though as much at home here as anywhere else in the city, I viewed the street warily. We shared a history of sorts, but history—my history—was at best a pleasant dream from which I always awoke with an unsettling sense of loss. I had no reason to be nostalgic. As for the future, that too had always been filled with questions, which led me to suspect that, in the hours and days ahead, I would still be chasing ghosts.