Like every New Yorker, he did not walk, but strode. In a New Yorker’s mind, the only person on the sidewalk that matters is them, and this sea of faces and bodies around them is just that – a sea, made to be parted by one who holds the power of God.
Howard Roark did not identify with the concept of being a New Yorker any more than he identified with any other term that implied solidarity with a demographic. It is simply a fact with its own truth: he did not walk, he strode, through a sea of people that unconsciously parted for the man with the heart of God.
He, striding, eyes focused and dispassionate, crosses Fulton Street.
Here, corner of West and Fulton, are where his steps falter.
He remembers their first meeting with violent clarity. He, who often lingered at the entrances of construction sites to indulge in that particular juxtaposition of man, material, and machine that made his gut knot and arms break in gooseflesh, had begun to avoid this particular segment of the Financial District as soon as construction on the “Freedom Tower” began in earnest.
He did not question this avoidance, either.
He simply waited, weeks, then months, then years, until he opened a newspaper one day, beheld the news, and found that his feet no longer turned from West Street a couple of blocks before Fulton, to take another route instead.
When he finally laid his eyes upon that which he’d refused himself the sight of, he understood, just as he knew he would.
To see One World Trade Center for the first time, wearing its true name – not some idealistic title, but its name, an address that evoked in Howard a sense of sovereignty and individualism – and glittering coldly in the midmorning sun, to see it new and complete and still thrumming with the energy of the labour that had brought it to life… this is what Howard desired. Having seen it in construction would have made banal the glorious, would have diminished his awe.
He would learn about One WTC later, would learn it inside and out, would explore every minute detail, and he would come to love it. Coming to love something was a systematic process, one that he had control over.
But this – this rush of blood making his skin prickle hotly, this flood of pure emotional response that hits so hard that tears prick at the corner of his eyes, this tingling in his fingertips and this acute awareness of every part of his body (like a struck tuning fork, he vibrates, his nerves singing electric) – this is not an experience he can control, and it is this visceral force of gravity that he simply calls attraction.
“I waited for you,” he murmurs without awareness of his spoken thought. He touches his fingers to one of the railings along the path up to the skyscraper’s south entrance, steel still cool from the overnight chill. His head and the center of his body feel uncomfortably warm, as if he is ill.
He cannot see its apex from where he is, so close to its base. He leans his head back and lets the sheer size of it overwhelm him, trying to breathe evenly, but feeling his breath shudder as if in rebellion of his attempt at self-control. His thoughts are intrusive and embarrassingly primal, tangled signals trying to make sense of themselves.
A building is not a person, but his body wants to be flush against it, wants to know its feel, its taste, the places where it is firm and the places where it yields. A building is not a person, but his mind seeks communion with it, to know it, to let itself be transformed by the knowledge. New York ebbs and flows behind and around Howard, time marching on, the world moving on, but Howard is acutely separate, a force acting independently, of its own volition and nothing else’s – not even time, not even space, not even the ceaseless tugging and pushing of the human sea.
The sloping glass façade is unreachable from where he is, but Howard indulges himself in imagining. He imagines his hot forehead against its cool prismatic surface, imagines the exquisite contrast of his soft organic flesh against its rigid inorganic shell, imagines knowing it, knowing the exact molecular structure of the glass, knowing the exact arrangement of geometric elements that formed its design, imagines thinking it is human skill, human labour, human will that made this, and it is my human mind that loves it, and in imagining all this the feeling that had overcome him at the street corner overcomes him again with greater intensity.
Flushed, intoxicated, Howard takes faltering steps towards a steel bench, and sits. Between his knees he squeezes his hands to the point of pain, his head lowered, his back a rigid forward-leaning angle. He closes his eyes and fills his lungs and moves his fingers to the inside of his wrist and counts.
At seventy beats per minute, he stands up, takes one more upward glance, smiles faintly, and leaves.
Up West Street, the human sea parts before him, and though his eyes are on the path ahead of him, he feels as though he is still gazing upward.