I went to the noodle shop in Chinatown, the one we went to the night we got married, before I stood in front of you in a dress that I bought for $20 at a consignment shop, which barely touched the bottom of my thighs. I ate oily soup, chunky beef, and elastic noodles, the laminate table sticky from whoever had their lunch before me. The plastic chopsticks clicked together every time they resurfaced from the murkiness of my broth — tck, tck, tck. The city was sweltering, humid and dense, and I was melting in my booth, the bowl steaming in front of my round face, but I continued on, tipping soup into my mouth from the deep spoon, feeling my throat burn as people walked past the window in shorts and sandals and threw their heads back — Goddamn! It’s too hot! — and I agreed, it was too hot; by the time I finished my meal, left the booth, and walked out the door, my thighs had made a moist imprint on the seat, parts of me left behind in places I knew, but maybe didn’t know me.
I went to the noodle shop in Chinatown after the dog died, and you were out of town, and I had her collar wrapped around my wrist like a bracelet. I picked up pillowy pork buns with the chopsticks, shoved them into my mouth, with only a bite or two before swallowing them. The pork belly was tender, and the carrots were soured with rice vinegar, and my cheeks bulged as I made my way through the bamboo steamer basket. The heart-shaped tag on the dog’s collar was pressed into my palm, cool metal reminding me that I once loved a small thing with no business living in a high rise apartment in an over-bloated city, her bark bigger than her head, who probably would have survived in the wilderness despite the fact that I was able to cart her around in my purse, sourcing her ferocity from past generations of genetic domestication. The waitress silently brought me over another basket of buns, and I took a breath, fingering the tops of the steamed dough, the edges of them brought together in poetic folds, holding so much in their bellied out centers.
I went to the noodle shop in Chinatown when you were sick in bed, and the city was in the middle of a blizzard that slapped against windows, and it buried cars and bikes and swollen bags of trash left on the street corner. I put on every layer I could find, wore three pairs of socks, but still was bitten by the wind and ice, my cheeks flushed and my gloved fingers curling into fists. The closed sign was facing the street of the shop, but I could see people sitting at tables, and I recognized the waitress and the cook and the owner, and they had brought their small children, who sat at a booth — my booth — their small fingers grasping pieces of shrimp, popping them into their mouths. I turned to leave, but the owner saw me through the window, and opened the door, and I was enveloped by the salty warmth, the fermented cabbage, the smell of different bodies as they peeled off their coats, and dropped into wooden chairs. He ushered me inside, and promised me a feast, and I stood there wide eyed as the children looked up at me, this stranger, intruding on their family festivities, and the waitress waved at me from underneath her husband’s arm slung over her shoulders, and I smiled back from underneath my scarf.
I carried the bulging plastic bag back to the apartment, and we ate in bed in our underwear, and watched old episodes of Freaks and Geeks. You doused your noodles in chili sauce to clear your clogged sinuses, and your ankle was hanging over the edge of the bed, careless and gentle, the tendons relaxed, the soft hollow of skin like stone smoothed out. After the plastic had been shoved away and you had thrown yourself backward against pillows, hand over the plush of your belly, I straddled your legs, and leaned forward towards your feet, kissed the emptiness of the space between bone and muscle, your skin chilled and delicate and holy.
We went to the noodle shop in Chinatown, fingers twisted together in a knot, and it was spring, and the air was brisk, woven with the smells of gyro stands, and exhaust from the city bus, and a grandmother’s cheap perfume as she waddled past. My body was home to something new, and it was small, maybe only the size of a pea, and only you and I knew about it, but you still covered my stomach with your hand underneath my tee shirt, stroked the soft hair that trailed from my belly button, as if it was something bigger, something more, and your hand would protect it from everything that was happening outside of it.
I ate seaweed salad and stir-fried rice with caramelized cabbage and tofu, and you watched me, chin in your hand, and you looked at me in the way you looked at me when we first met, when we would eat ice cream by the East River at two in the morning just because we could. I wondered how you could look at me like that after all of it, all of the years, and I wondered how my body could harbor a new life, why it chose me, and how that small life would look at me, its mother who had gotten drunk in shitty bars and peed in alleyways, and had a diet that consisted of mostly MSG and hand-pulled noodles, and had never set foot inside a mommy yoga class.
In a month, we will return to the noodle shop in Chinatown, only it will be closed, and I will be empty of the being once inside me, my body inhospitable, the life unsustainable, and you will be cold towards me even when you say you love me, and the loss will feel so heavy that my arms cannot wrap themselves around it. The noodle shop will stay closed for months while the owner goes to chemo treatments at Mount Sinai, because his daughter’s husband is a doctor there, and has promised his broken body the best care. I will dream of pan-fried dumplings, and chewy rice cakes, and the smell of too many things cooking at once in a small kitchen, and the way my body would feel damp after finishing off a bowl of soup, and you will sleep next to me, fitful, for a few more weeks, until you find someone else to love those soft parts of you, someone who eats salads for lunch every day, who doesn’t cry at the sight of an empty noodle shop in Chinatown, the FOR LEASE sign above the door.