I left many hearts in New York City, but only mine matters. I moved when I was twenty-four, and I left when I was the forty-something, who gave up on the luxury of having all the time in the world to seduce a city that had way too many distractions to ever pick me.
In the nineties, especially later in that decade, there was a romantic and almost fantastical theme about the city that tackles more than half the battle for homegrown filmmakers, who always score high when they use The Big Apple as their requited backdrop.
When I arrived in 1997, I wasn’t actually living in the city, but I convinced myself that I did each time the PATH train pulled into 33rd Street, merely blocks away from my day job at Gap. Jersey City was the best I could do in the early months, but that only lasted until the situation got precarious and I had to quickly find another roof over my head.
It’s amazing how the simple action of revisiting the place where you made the most sacrifices forces you to unearth just how long life really is. The days don’t actually go by fast, and you aren’t aging a mile a minute. Life is really a slow process of growth and re-growth, as the branches get thick enough to insulate you from what you might not want to remember.
In my case, I recall most things, the worst ones graphically, and the good ones are peppered with dramatics, so none of the memories are ever free from mental photoshopping.
But on my recent bus ride to Manhattan from Baltimore, I retrieve the emotions that overwhelmed on the bus ride two decades ago, as the Greyhound bounded from a rainy Cincinnati, to the destined location.
I had been advised not to go by a college friend, and I had been ordered by my mother to stay put in Kansas City and pursue my master’s degree, but all I could muster was my endearing obstinance in retaliation.
I was going to make the city of my dreams love me, and if I could’ve belted out that swinging number from Dreamgirls about the faith in a love so true, that it surpasses doubts and fears, I would’ve done so in my favor. But all I had was the means to make the journey, and a heart bloated with expectations and the youthful vigor that can sometimes be our undoing.
Oh, but how amazing it is to be able to look back and say you did it!
As the bus settles in a parking lot at a plaza in Delaware, for a short break and the warning that fifteen minutes is all we got, I step into the unbearably warm sun, and receive the visuals of the young woman messily transferring all that she has from one bus to another — all my by herself.
I had underestimated the challenge of taking a cross-country road trip by bus, because even though it did prove to be quite the adventure, the stress of making sure my belongings remained intact during the numerous stops, made it a royal pain.
This time my load was considerably lighter, with just me and a medium-sized bag. So why did I feel like I was carrying the whole world and then some?
It took me a little more than a decade to finally feel like a real New Yorker, after spending enough years pounding the pavement for the job I never got, before finally settling for the job that I didn’t want but kept because it paid enough to fund the basics.
In the time, I did jump ship by trying my luck in the city of Angels, and the year away was required, but it only made me miss my first love even more. I guess that’s what happens when your heart is captured at first sight, as a nineteen year-old, who examines a thriving environment that produces a soundtrack that she can’t forget.
The thing is that New York was pleasure, even when the pain was intense.
Abusive relationships should never be fondly scrutinized, but in this case an exception must be made and respect has to be paid to the hustle. There’s nothing like it, and you won’t find that pace of highs and lows anywhere else in the world.
When people talk about their achievements or tweet about their latest book deals or brand collabos, all I can think of is how that pales in comparison to being able to grab a city like New York by the balls and demand the permission to keep a day job at a financial firm — while working as a writer during low tide — in the studio apartment of a decent building in a fancy neighborhood.
My heart was in it — always.
I never stopped loving the smell of shaded alleys, as stale pee slaps your rapid movement, or when the steel grid below, that blows hot wind, rises up and slaps your moving thighs, as over-crowded trains pull away.
And then there’s the award-winning performance that greets you while assimilating into a crowd — that will blissfully walk all over you and dare the manifestation of thicker skin.
As the sun beats on the concrete, and the familiar waves of excitement override bitterness and resentment, I once again rejoin the aura of my younger self, as I pretend that the last couple of years never happened.
I walk briskly, and with the cool demeanor of a woman who did the city proud, by smartly picking the job at Bloomberg over the nightmarish but prominent Library gig. I’ve been there since 2013, and five years later, I’m thriving with enough money to call downtown Brooklyn — home.
In my dreams, New York treated me fairly and rewarded me with the money and dignity to boot, while being the full-time writer that linked us in the first place, had to be reduced to a well-paid hobby.
In real life, I’m standing in the neighborhood where I spent a lot of mornings walking back and forth, during lunch breaks, and other activities that had to be in the vicinity of where my paychecks were issued. There are subtle changes with the disappearance of Duane Reade — and the emergence of something trendy — that will overtake the space that saved me more times than I can count.
Everything else transports me back to 2009, the best year of my life, and how I took for granted that it would always be like that.
Can you really have it all?
Can you work in client management by day, and then juggle the duties of a freelancer in the hours left, and make a decent living that allows for spontaneous vacays, as you swallow the ocean, and mix it with a half-cup of saucy margarita, while drunkenly kissing Obama to the delight of your squad?
I took too long to obey the traffic light, and the people behind me pushed, and I relent with a smile.
I used to be that New Yorker, who couldn’t handle the dysfunction of out-of-towners, scoping every inch of a magnificently complex landscape, that does require the extra effort to appreciate, but for those of us who arrived with a purpose, we never have the freedom for such indulgence.
The crisply dressed corporate crowd are rambling on about office politics and weekend plans at the Hamptons, as they carry containers of over-priced chopped salad. The voices sound exactly the way my ear remembers when I was seated at the cubicle making travel arrangements for associates that were way younger than me.
The text message confirms the rendezvous spot at Rockefeller Center, and as I begin to make my way there, I’m proud of the way I’m cushioning the bag that seems to have bloated up. I need to cash the check from the IRS that came in months ago, but Chase is a New York bank, and as I look up to find one — there it is!
When you live in a city that provides all you need within blocks of each other, you simply can’t live anywhere else.
That’s true to some degree, although as I deposited my check and made my way back into the grind, I was convinced that I needed to find my heart again.
Reuniting with old friends that New York generously gave you is a feeling like nothing else. But before the hugs, I re-bonded with the subway, and almost teared up when I bought my first MetroCard in three years. The heat brought on a shower of sweat that never happened in the previous years, but accumulation breeds a new skin with erratic pores.
I feel old riding the shuttle at 42nd Street Grand Central, as I notice that the seats are missing, and have been replaced with thick bars that are supposed to suffice for the incredibly short ride.
As I walk out of the station and back outside, I’m suddenly confused about what direction matches my final stop, and this irritates me as I refuse to accept my first indication that I’ve been away too long.
I end up in the heart of Times Square, where tourists stare in wonder and take multiple shots of what they may never see again. They also ask for directions and New Yorkers are surprisingly helpful, despite the long-standing rumors of hardcore rudeness.
I ask for directions with an accent that sounds like a weird combination of Nigerian and British. The guy greets me with a smile and the reference to my “sexiness,” and then watches my lips as I tell him to direct me to Rockefeller Center.
We have to hurry after exclaiming about how good we look, because the memorial service has already commenced. The half-sister she regained in Miami back in 2012 — after decades apart — is saying goodbye to the mother she never knew.
I recorded the first hug the sisters shared as adults, but I’m not recording the woman in the coffin or the sparse mourners that bear resemblance of solemn prayers that always dilute the potency of our mortality.
I almost asked God to take me back, but thankfully it was time to stand up and honor the departed spirit with thanksgiving. It was fitting to spend my first evening back in a funeral home, since death has been the messaging of what has turned out to be the year of inescapable loss.
The uber drive to the Bronx was at night, and the vibrance of well-lit infrastructure calmed me down and made my silence less obvious as the other passengers engaged themselves.
The apartment was new and delightfully evidential of a six-month-old baby and when I lifted him to my bosom, I swiftly pretended he was mine, and I was relieving my visiting friend of the burden of a smelly diaper.
Her man made us drinks that were too strong, and my breath smell like sulphur. We laughed, I cried inside, and then the bed greeted my drooling eyes as I faced the night sky and smiled when I heard the block party down the street.
The noisiness of a pompous city is the best lullaby because it makes the heart happy.
The next couple of days were immersed in re-connections to refill on the awareness that past investments mattered, and the present is the unification of interests that are varied, but still valued at the epicenter of like minds.
Harlem has been gifted with a sprawling structure that has been labeled “Whole Foods,” and it looks a whole lot like what I used to snuggle up to back in the day, in neighborhoods that typically birth those things.
Harlem has a ton of interracial couples that seem to elevate the worth of White women with men of color, and I didn’t like to see that, but I chucked it to the weirdness of being the only single one — walking.
Harlem still calls my name repeatedly, as I pass by the brownstones I used to run up to for errands and weed, and head over to social centers, where I park myself next to the curb and get the drink of choice — that will semi-numb the sensors and make me invisible enough to openly gawk at racing bodies, as I compose the symphony of words.
The morning of my departure was a mellow one.
I worked out while listening to Akon whine about wanting to hold on for much longer, and as I sped through the belt of the treadmill, the brilliant blue sky presented the orgasmic option to kiss it before my death plunge.
Living in a skyscraper would steadily increase my capacity for staging the scene of a crime that would only involve the stager.
Saying goodbye is easy to do when your heart can’t be splintered into anymore pieces.
Or when you pretend that you spent a long weekend with your girlfriend from back in the day, and now have to go back to your comfy abode at the tip of Spanish Harlem. Your place, across the street from the Chinese dry cleaners, who were nice enough to zip up your dress when living alone proved to be too snug.
You have to walk the extra-long blocks to get to 11th avenue, and then you can cross over to 36th street and see the others, waiting to drive away from the city — back to where they left their hearts.
I don’t answer the question of my life until I secure a window seat and stare out of it, while observing the constructions site and the limber guys directing each other. They’re not paying attention to the mammoth vehicle loudly backing out of the spot and joining the traffic that points to the exit.
It’s like when you die, and only the ones who are inconsolable about your loss, notice the change in temperature — right away. Everyone else is busy constructing their lives, and can’t see past the imminent masterpiece.
I left my heart in NYC because first loves always win out, and matches made in heaven only happen in heaven.
In real life, difficult relationships have to come to an end, and while the good times will serve as the anchor, there will never be the return to the thankless grind or the young and impressionable girl, who thought her love was strong enough to make it last.
I said goodbye to my heart in the summer of 1997, and I don’t want it back.