I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea, time flowed past indifferently above us, hours and days had no meaning. In the beginning our life held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride.
They have never put it into words, they cannot; but each absence is a threat. They never felt this way in New York - they moved all over New York. Here each is afraid that one of the others will get into some terrible trouble before he is seen again, and before anyone can help him. It is the spirit of the people, the eyes which endlessly watch them, eyes which never meet their eyes. Something like lust, something like hatred, seems to hover in the air along the country roads, shifting like mist or steam, but always there, gripping the city streets like fog, making every corner a dangerous corner. They spend more of themselves, each day, than they can possibly afford, they are living beyond their means; they drop into bed each evening, exhausted, into an exhausting sleep. And no one can help them. The people who live here know how to do it - so it seems, anyway - but they cannot teach the secret. The secret can be learned only by watching, by emulating the models, by dangerous trial and possibly mortal error.
The summer ended. Day by day, and taking its time, the summer ended. The noises in the street began to change, diminish, voices became fewer, the music sparse. Daily, blocks and blocks of children were spirited away. Grownups retreated from the streets, into the houses. Adolescents moved from the sidewalk to the stoop to the hallway to the stairs, and rooftops were abandoned. Such trees as there were allowed their leaves to fall - they fell unnoticed - seeming to promise, not without bitterness, to endure another year. At night, from a distance, the parks and playgrounds seemed inhabited by fireflies, and the night came sooner, inched in closer, fell with a greater weight. The sound of the alarm clock conquered the sound of the tambourine, the houses put on their winter faces. The houses stared down a bitter landscape, seeming, not without bitterness, to have resolved to endure another year.
There is an illusion about America, a myth about America to which we are clinging which has nothing to do with the lives we lead and I don't believe that anybody in this country who has really thought about it or really almost anybody who has been brought up against it--and almost all of us have one way or another--this collision between one's image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.