“But what Dakota most enjoyed about the beginning of winter was the crispness of the air (that practically demanded the wearing of knits) and the way that tough New Yorkers – on the street, in elevators, in subways – were suddenly willing to risk a smile. To make a connection with a stranger. To finally see one another after strenuously avoiding eye contact all year.”
You’d like to imagine that when someone’s about to jump out of a plane or get down on one knee to throw-up those bat-winged butterflies that are swarming inside of them into a, “Will you marry me”, the feelings they get are exactly the same. First, they’ll try to squeeze their finger inside those knots that are twisting around the inner lining of their stomach, desperate to pull them apart so they stop choking their large intestines. Then, they will soak through the pockets of their pants with their misty hands before spinning the wheel of “what if”. And then, well then, they will suddenly smooch a gloss of calmness that will slide over their entire body, exactly like a Snuggie. That’s the only way to get through it, to make it past the first 15 seconds, which are always the dizziest, the foggiest.
That’s how you remember it.
Exactly 365 days ago, you tight-fisted the handles of two 50 lbs. suitcases, dragging tailwinds and the hearts of palms left behind in sunny-side up Florida, as you boarded a one-way ticketed flight to New York (I can’t believe I’m doing this) City.
When the plane landed, nobody said, “Welcome to New York”. You’ve been on many plane rides before. When you landed in Minnesota once, they said, “Well, hello there and welcome!”, in Paris it was a lovely, “Qui Qui, panini, croissant” (or so you thought they said in broken French).
But In New York, when the plane landed, you heard babies screaming and thick Brooklyn accents threatening to “cut” someone if they didn’t open the doors to the plane in the next five seconds, “Whadda-mean we got-ta wait?”. You’re initiation was an elbow-jab shove by the passenger in row 4b and getting eye-slapped after saying sorry for accidentally dragging the strap of your purse over some ladies acrylic nails. Welcome to a city you had been to only twice before, to go live in an apartment you had never seen, with a roommate you had only met once through the tight frames and blurry picture of Skype, to start a career in a field you knew nothing about.
You got off the plane, and delicately placed your converse sneakers on top of a fluffy, crunchy, substance that you had never seen before, snow. You were terrified, the kind of scared you feel that instantly transcends your entire body into a frigid state of shock, where your knees are clanking together and your doing a dance that makes it look like you desperately have to pee. This is great, you told yourself as you waited in line for a taxi with patches of ice accumulating on your body, your first encounter with NYC in the snow, and you were about to pee your pants.
Many people will ask you how you did it.
When you got out the car for your first day of high school where you knew not one person, your mom gave you a hug goodbye and ironed out the creases in your sweater with her stable fingers, she said “Jennifer, if you don’t like it here, go to the payphones and call me and I’ll come pick you up”. And so, you’d come to New York and you’d try to digest as much of this place as you could and when you reached your peak, you’d dash toward a pay phone, that a group of homeless people and hungry pigeons would be fraternizing around, and you’d tap out, nicely.
That was your only plan.
Here’s something about NYC that no one will ever tell you.
She was lying there dead. Outside the Herald Square train station where you walked a mile every morning just to catch the N train for work. A women, lying on the sidewalk, pale as a faded set of canary yellow sheets, with no rise in her chest or roll in her head. There were hundreds of people outside, rushing, panting, yelling on their cell phones. But no one, not one person, stopped.
You stopped. You stood there for 23 seconds, which you’d quickly learn that stopping anywhere for that long in NYC, is dangerous. Briefcases sideswiped your hips, drops of coffee were being spilled on your collar, people were more burdened by you standing there alive than this lady, lying there, dead. A guy in a fine-pressed suit walks up to you and places his palm delicately on the lump of your shoulder. He tells you that It’s not your problem. He says this is what happens when people stop moving. He tells you, politely and in full confidence that you need to, have to, move on.
Many people will ask you how you did it.
You get lost, a lot, your first couple of months here. Whenever you make plans to go anywhere, you do your homework before you leave. Spending extra time that you could be using to tease your hair or dress yourself in stocking without any rips is being delegated to studying maps and memorizing your north from your south. At first, you don’t understand. You want to go to the Lower East Side but somehow you end up in Jamaica, Queens. You enter into an intimate relationship with the map on your IPhone, fingering it every which way to guide you toward the direction of where you want to go. Then one day, you’re map breaks up with you–Apple slaps you in the face with this new map that leaves you even more lost than if you used the North Star for directions. You start from scratch and end up at the Bronx zoo when you’re trying to go to a place called “Meatpacking”.
One day your standing on the corner of 31st and 1st, waiting for a friend to meet you after work. Your using a TD bank window as a mirror to help you apply eyeliner when two ladies approach you from the side and ask how they can get to 71st and Broadway. Without a pause, you continue to draw a straight line on your lid and in one breath you tell them, “Take the cross town bus to the 6, take the 6 to Grand Central, the shuttle to Times Square and jump on the 1 train.” And just like that you prove yourself, you take the city by it’s cojones and you tell it who’s boss.
Here’s something about NYC that no one will ever tell you.
The first time you cry in public will be somewhere silly, like walking down 6th avenue at dinner time. You’re hysterically crying, the ugly kind of crying, where your face clenches up and you have snot drooling out of your nose, leaving spots on your pristine white turtleneck sweater and making a splash on your new boots. Most days, New York will make you smile. There’s so much crazy going on this island that your world feels balanced. But every so often, approximately once every three months, you just can’t take it anymore. Maybe it’s because you haven’t slept in a week due to early morning sirens and late night screaming on the streets outside your apartment. Or you’re crying because they raised your rent, again, and you don’t know how your going to pay for a roof over your head and still be able to eat. Perhaps you’re crying because you don’t know what you want to do with your life and everyone else here, does, or is working toward knowing. Or even more pathetically, you do know exactly what you want to do with your life but you’re too scared to admit it, even more scared to try it and fail. It doesn’t matter that you’re crying. No one on the street will ask you why, they wont sling their arm around you and tell you everything is going to be okay. Most of them won’t even look. You’ll walk by a row of tourists gulping down a Coors light in the bar next to the Empire State Building. In slow motion, they watch you walk by, crying. They speak amongst themselves and examine you as if you were a delicate statue at the MET. They pull out their cameras, eagerly and with haste, they photograph your pain. Your pain is what they are looking for, the human emotion of a native trying to stay afloat in this city. They will stare at you like bird watchers, commenting on your leg warmers, the exhaustion that’s leaving suitcases under your eyes, and the way you walk around this city like you have nothing to hide, or you’ll hear one tourist blurt out, “I bet she doesn’t have any more room to hide it.”
You’ll ask yourself, a handful of times, is it worth it? Does anyone here appreciate that I want to be somebody, someday? You’ll scream that out loud on the street corner one summer afternoon and all you will hear in return is a honk from a taxi driver and his voice telling you to get out of the middle of the road.
It’s 7:45pm and you’re leaving work a bit late. You’re starting your trek home on a dark, alleyway that’s filled with begging homeless men and a barking dog. Someone grabs you. You’re offering to give them all the change in your wallet, your phone, anything but your life. Then suddenly the person hugs you, they scream “OMG Jenny”. You look up confused, shocked at who you’re seeing. There in front of you is a boy whom you haven’t seen since the 8th grade, since your mouth was occupied with a full set of braces and your face, zits. He doesn’t live in New York, or mind you, the United States. He is shaking you with excitement. He tells you he is here visiting. You tell him he’s in the wrong part of town, he should be staring at the blazing lights in Times Square or stuffing himself silly in the Village. He tells you he’s lost, he’s looking for his friend in Midtown. You start to undo your scarf, take off your thick black hat that covers your head and the upper half of your face. You ask him how in the world did he recognize you, here, in the dark, all covered up for winter? He tells you that you look the same, which makes you rolls your eyes because for the past 10 years you have tried to look anything but.
You try to part ways because after skimming through the who, what, where, why, when, how of where you both are now in life, the rest is just complicated. Starting over is complicated, for fear you’ll skip out on important details or the other person won’t be the least bit impressed. You cut him off mid sentence and dodge his raised eyebrow ed look by going in for a warm hug. Maybe we’ll meet again in another 10 years, you laugh off the awkwardness by saying.
“Jenny”, he says before you walk east and he walks west, “I’ll never forget you”.
Here is something no one will ever tell you about NYC:
“In the first grade, you got up in front of the class for show and tell and tied your shoes with your eyes closed. I was jealous and ill never forget that.”
Here’s the one thing about New York City that no one will tell you. That people who live here, have lived here for any period of time, will reluctantly leave out of their twisted anecdotes filled with paying too much of their paycheck for rent and trying to make it through ungodly frozen winters just so they can frolic along all summer in some glamorous, equally overpriced place like the Hampton’s. Sure, people will boast about the third parities: the palate watering food, or the monkeys dancing on the stage of Broadway, the museums that you can lose yourself in, but no one will tell you this.
Though it seems like everyone, who lives here, is looking down and everyone who doesn’t, is looking up. There’s always someone, somewhere remembering to watch the middle. Nobody will great you with flowers and a map of how to survive you’re first night in the city, but if you stay here long enough, if you make it through you’re first winter, you’re fist public ugly cry outside a Jamba Juice, the fist time you take the Subway up to Harlem when you meant to go to FiDi, if you make it through it all and your still brave enough to stay, you’ll learn the one thing that no one will ever tell you, here: