Across the Park
Morningside Park, New York. 1994–2014.
When I was 14, I chose a best friend who shared my name. At school they called us “the Sophies,” and when I talked about her I called her “other Sophie,” or sometimes, when we were on the outs, “bad Sophie.” People who didn’t know me well sometimes thought that I was talking about my alter ego — and also, probably, that I was insane.
The other Sophie and I were an embattled minority in the mid-’90s, when the landscape was littered with Jennifers and Jessicas. We were the Sophies of the ’80s. (Now there’s a whole generation of postmillennial Sophies, anonymous and underage.) We developed the same patterns of intonation and the same mannerisms. We sat up in bed all night, looking deep into each other’s eyes, gesturing in mirror images, talking for hours. Physically, we were opposites, or as opposite as two white girls of average height can be: she is blond and I have dark hair, she is busty and I am flat-chested, her eyes are green and mine are brown, she has a Roman nose and I have one that turns up at the end. We met at that stage of adolescence when you’re always on the brink of becoming someone else entirely, especially when you’re living in a multiracial metropolis — in our case, New York. We knew people who changed their identities — their clothes, their hair, their music, their slang, their accents — every year. Over summer vacation, a Nike-loving Jeru the Damaja fan could become a conceptual art–making Morrissey impersonator in tight jeans. In such a world it’s good to have someone who is just the same as you, a mirror image to remind you that you’re still there — a spare self. The other Sophie and I did everything together, and our Social Security numbers were only two digits apart. My mother worried that college admissions officers would think we were the same person and combine our files, that we would both be admitted but there would only be space for one physical Sophie, and the other Sophie, the one who didn’t get there fast enough, would be left with no future. At sleepover parties, I remember lying in the dark, hearing someone whisper “Sophie” and knowing it was not for me. At those moments I was the ghostly second Sophie, the one who didn’t exist.
The other Sophie was from downtown, Greenwich Village before it became an overlit tourist destination, while I was from the upper reaches of the Upper West Side, before it became a shopping mall. When I started taking the train down to Christopher Street every weekend, my mother worried — she thought it was still the ’80s. She warned me not to go to Washington Square Park; she’d read in the newspaper about how dangerous it was. The other Sophie and I loved Washington Square Park. We’d plant ourselves on a bench and stay for hours, reading fashion magazines, gossiping, and watching the people go by. It was the ’90s, and though someone would offer to sell you drugs every fifteen minutes, everyone knew those drugs were fake. For tourists.