EMERSON AND GRETAThe third time Emerson and Greta met was at a house party in Brooklyn, as the year 2008 was about to gully in. Emerson was freshly 23, while Greta was seven months from 25 and growing impatient.
The second time the two young women had met had been at that same New Year’s Eve party, just one year before. But because Emerson was historically terrible with faces, and because Greta had been blackout drunk on boxed wine that year before, they now mistakenly attributed the vague familiarity of the other to a natural kinship of their souls, and the two became fast friends.
“Come with me for a smoke outside?” The cigarette was already between Greta’s lips.
“It’s freezing out! You’re crazy!”
Greta wrapped her fingers around Emerson’s arm and gave it a yank, bringing their foreheads together with the swift violence of a temporal catastrophe. “Am I crazy, or do I just have an awesome winter coat?”
They took seats next to each other on the icy front steps of the building as the New York night immortalized itself before them.
“Let me guess,” Greta began, after a long drag that could have revised history. “You’re one of those people who writes in the day and takes improv classes at night. One of those people who works ‘unconventional hours.’”
“What? No! Sometimes my improv classes are in the day so I have to write at night. I try not to pin myself down to any kind of routine because—because—well, I feel that—well, because I want to—It’s hard to explain—”
Greta lifted her chin and exhaled a puff of smoke in solidarity. “Hey, I get you, man. Monotony is death.”
In that moment, Emerson felt something within herself clarify.
Just then a bulldog slouched by, followed by a woman who appeared too young to be without human company during the final moments of an arbitrary division of time.
Greta turned to Emerson. “On the count of three, that woman’s name. O.K.? One, two, three—Vivian.”
“Ooh, so close! Profession? Two, three—dog-walker rushing to meet a deadline.”
“You’re so right, she’s SUCH a gastroenterologist!”
Greta hunched forward and traced the belly of a G with her cigarette stub into the ground, looked up at Emerson, then considerately added a plus sign and an E with the residual ash. “You know, a part of each of us will always be at this New Year’s party.”
“Wow—Greta—that’s really—that’s really sweet. I think we have some kind of connection, too, and I’ll—I’ll remember this night—”
“No, I meant. It’s science. Each and every moment of our lives… They’ve already happened. Except they don’t just happen and then fuck off. They keep happening. Past, present, future, they’re all the same, even if to us they’re one linear flow. And you know when we think we’re sharing a moment with someone else? It’s all just a sham. Someone’s gotten to that moment quicker, and by the time you arrive, they’ve already left.” Greta let out a nihilistic laugh and her eyes flashed. “Isn’t that wild? It was on Radiolab the other day.”
Above them the white moon continued to exert its gravitational force, and back in the apartment, 2008 shuddered like a train pulling into its destination.
“Happy new year!” the room screamed, like leaders of a quantum revolution. Those whose time-keeping devices hadn’t yet caught up felt embarrassed, but hoarded their secret admirably. This room made a small universe but already it was rent in two.
The first time Emerson and Greta had met was the day they had been born, which was December 31st, 1984, a Monday, at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Although birthed in separate wings, their paths had crossed when the medical interns transporting them ran into each other in a hallway and, rather unprofessionally, pretended to make the newborns engage in a flirtatious conversation about The Terminator.
Emerson and Greta were later handed to their respective mothers, and Emerson’s mother handed her to another lady who became Emerson’s new mother. This newly constructed family, including the anesthesiologist already married to the woman who was now Emerson’s mother, meandered west to Oregon before Emerson started losing her sensations to memory.
In Portland, Oregon, Emerson’s world was quiet and trees. Her best and only friend was a boy named Raj and together, in the acres of private wood behind Emerson’s house, they dreamed up lives for themselves and the improved cities that would fit around them.
When she was eighteen, Emerson moved to Brooklyn to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing and when she stepped onto the borough’s streets she felt a primal sense of familiarity and took her déjà vu as a “sign.”
Greta on the other hand didn’t go to college or leave New York City or grow up with a father. But she had kissed four boys on the mouth before Emerson even understood that Raj had been trying to kiss her and had alienated a person with her sincerity for every time Emerson thoroughly tried to be someone she was not. And at 2:08 A.M. on April 21st, 2002 Greta was at a 24-hour taqueria in the East Village arguing with a stranger about the philosophical superiority of tacos over tostadas, so that at 2:51 A.M. Greta was offered a job as an assistant to an artist who made chandeliers for hotels around the world, because the stranger found her to be persistent and weird and wanted more of her company. The entire time during that exchange, Emerson slept soundly in Portland.
After attaining her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing, Emerson moved into another neighborhood in Brooklyn, where she rarely left her building and routinely fell in love with the people she had class with or sat across from in the subway. She liked that she had the power to make her world bigger and then smaller again, and that the fluctuation made certain things seem more valuable than she had originally thought, and others less so.
When Emerson saw Greta next, it was like time hadn’t passed and like everything was different all at once. The floors and the walls of this New Year’s Eve party had stayed constant, and the guests had not changed, no one seemed to have died or moved away, but already Greta looked disproportionate and blurry, like Emerson was going to have to struggle to catch up.
Greta climbed atop a couch in her boots and leaned up against the wall, bored. “Nothing that matters ever happens at these parties. They’re always the same.”
Emerson climbed up after her and surveyed the room. A number of people were drifting around like lonely satellites with beer cans and in that moment she realized humans looked a lot younger when they didn’t think that anyone was watching. “Everyone is always so confident and well-adjusted,” she added.
Greta turned to Emerson. “You want to fight?”
“What? Not really…”
“Please physically battle me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“To remind yourself that you have a body and that we are alive and here in this moment! To teach ourselves that we weren’t meant to be anything, that we are not any singular thing, that we don’t exist for any force outside of ourselves.” She shook Emerson’s shoulders and set her nose against Emerson’s nose. Her eyes shone with a comforting kind of danger. “Come on, Emerson, I need this. Slap the shitty self-importance out of me!”
Emerson looked at Greta. Then she swept her arm back and ricocheted her palm off Greta’s cheek. People close by turned and gasped as the blow rang particularly loud.
When Greta opened her eyes again her cheek was flaming red and she grinned at Emerson, then threw a punch that caught Emerson’s chin and dislocated her from the top of the couch.
The remaining party guests stood around, either thrilled by the disruption but unsure if they could join, or unamused by what they judged to be an enactment of alcohol and estrogen.
Emerson felt the consciousness gyre out her body and concentrate in the action before her, as the seconds expanded into inconsequence.
Eventually, however, Greta’s hand pushed a little too hard and there was a crunch and Emerson’s nose began to bleed.
Greta dropped her fists and marveled at what she had done. Then she began to laugh, and soon Emerson, too, was laughing from genuine satisfaction.
At some later point in the night the room groggily began to chant, “Ten…!” and when that happened Greta instantly took Emerson’s arm and walked her out the door, down the hallway, and into the stairwell.
As Greta slouched cinematically down the stairs, Emerson could still hear the numbers ringing like slothful spirits behind them.
Suddenly, Emerson stopped. “Let’s meet up every year on the thirty-first of December.”
Greta turned around to look at her in surprise and laughed out loud so that her teeth showed and the fresh scratch on her right eye radiated like a splinter of light. “Sure, buddy.”
Then they continued on their way, pushed open the door to the street, and kicked snow off the steps.
The year after that Greta wasn’t at the house party, and the year after that Emerson stopped going.
In 2011, Emerson was reading a blog piece about successful 30-year-old entrepreneurs in Brooklyn and saw Greta on her screen.
She saw Greta’s dashing eyes, looking, as they always did, ahead of their time. The bones in her face, however, were more pronounced, and her clothes had more buttons than Emerson was accustomed to. The article said she had founded a restaurant that plied Choose-Your-Own-Adventure dining experiences and had since accumulated a number of locations throughout Brooklyn and even one in Manhattan.
Meanwhile Emerson was still 26 and still writing freelance and still thanking her dad every once in a while for frequently picking up rent. Once she thought about getting a dog, but the idea stressed her out so much that she dropped it almost immediately.
Emerson clicked around on Facebook and sent a message that began “Hi, it’s Emerson” and Greta hugged her tightly when they met.
They sat across a round café table on the 7th-Ave sidewalk in Manhattan.
Towards the end of the afternoon Greta leaned in conspiratorially. “Hey, what are you doing December thirty-first?”
In that instant Emerson forgave Greta, forgave herself, felt the sun heating up her skin. “Can’t say I have any plans. What’re you thinking?”
“I’m getting married that day. You gotta come, man.”
“Oh.” Emerson was going to ask for his name, a good summary, the way he dressed. “Right on.” Then she cast her glance away.
A lady walked past and Emerson fantasized about her ethnicity. “Hey, that chick’s name, on the count of three. One, two, three, Blaize.”
Greta was already lost to someplace else. She looked up from her phone. “I have to take this.”