This is my love letter of sorts to the city that I have called home now for eleven years. When I was little I dreamed of visiting here one day, I never thought I would live here and especially this long. I also never thought I would find my voice by going through the worst possible hell of my life. But isn’t that how it always works out. If you live in NYC I hope you love this city as much as I do, and if you don’t you should visit at least once before you die. There is truly no other city quite like it.
The subway system of New York city is in many ways the great equalizer. The wealthy may live in posh neighborhoods but given the logistics city traffic and the cost of cabs nearly everyone takes the subway. No gated communities exist in New York as once we are walking around the streets, or traveling in trains under the city we are all on the same level. I didn’t realize it until I was editing this piece that all of my stories happened on the subway. Considering most of us spend a lot of time underground surrounded by fellow New Yorkers it is not surprising this where we interact with strangers most often.
It wasn’t yet three months after the tragedy of 9-11 and I was suffering from one of many severe sinus infections I got that year. My doctor thought all of which were a direct result of the ash and debris from the disaster that contaminated Brooklyn. My now ex-husband and I moved to Brooklyn with all off our worldly possessions in a Ryder truck only five months prior to the tragedy. It was the middle of the Christmas tourist rush and I am going to work, as a singing waitress despite my illness. Every waiter knows you can’t call in sick, ever. Feverish and exhausted I exit my train at the Rockefeller Center station and I head out the doors, walking up the stairs I suddenly collapse. I have no idea what caused me to fall, the fever, my balance being off due to my sinuses but I crumbled straight down as if my body just gave up mid-step. Immediately I feel more than one set of hands on each arm. Without knowing what is going on, I am back on my feet. A small crowd is now assembled around me asking me if I was OK. I was completely shocked by the show of kindness on the part of total strangers in my newly adopted city. Dressed in jeans and a light blue big puffy coat and must have looked like a college student, so I guess I didn’t look like much of a threat to anyone. I thank those who have helped me and tell them I am fine, I just have a bad cold. When I arrive at work, my manager takes one look at me and sends me home. I must have looked like death, because that never happened again. I could chalk that incident up with the post 9-11 kindness that swept the city, but there have been so many other random acts of kindness.
Like the time I was on the subway and was crying uncontrollably after the relationship I know call Rebound #2 ended abruptly. I was trying to control myself but I had just left his apartment and couldn’t get it together. A lovely African American woman about my age, simply came over to me and put her arm on my shoulder and said.
“I am sorry, are you OK?”
I was worried she would try to start preaching to me, or hit on me or try to sell me something…but I was such a mess it was so nice to have another human being care that I simply said.
“I am fine, I just broke up with someone, he can’t handle my divorce…my divorce wasn’t my fault”
I had only left my husband less than a year prior to this and my entire story came tumbling out of my mouth. This total stranger listened and calmly said.
“That happens to a lot of people, it wasn’t your fault…but you are going to be OK”
And then she calmly gave me some books that she loved about divorce and told me about her own story of being bisexual for a few years until she decided that she really wanted a relationship with a man and now considered herself straight and was currently very happy her male partner. I had just met her moments before, and then her stop came up and she got off the train and wished me luck.
Then there was the time that for whatever reason I was obsessing about not being able to have a baby when I met a Jewish man in his mid-forties with an infant strapped to his chest. It was obvious this man was completely obsessed with his son, as he kept touching his legs and arms and kissing him on the top of his head. The baby’s name was Ben, and immediately became my best friend staring and smiling at me with his sweet baby face. The man explained to me that he and his wife had Ben later in life as they were both in their mid-forties. And without knowing any of my story, at this point I was getting better at not telling everyone on the planet, he said simply.
“You have plenty of time to still have one”
And at the exact moment he said that little Ben kicked both legs and gave a huge giggle. I explained that I was older than I looked to which he responded.
“My wife and I both thought that but I am 45 and here is, he’ll probably be our only one but you really never know. My wife is 44″
When I got home I cried. I felt like it was the universe letting me know that everything was going to be all right. Even if I don’t get lucky enough to have a baby at age 44, that someone else had and that was enough to make feel good for them and for baby Ben.
When I first moved to New York, everyone said it was going to be a mean city, and of course I have seen some brutality and cruelty while I have lived here. Fights on the subway, fights in apartment buildings, muggings, and shootings after the fact on the street. Just yesterday a large African American man blew up at a tiny East Indian man screaming
“Why are you touching me, what are you some kind of Faggot?”
To which I replied,
“It’s a crowded subway, I think you are reading this the wrong way, he didn’t do anything.”
“Why are you paying attention in the first place?”
“Because I am sitting right here and I saw the whole thing, you need to calm down man”
“Well I have a problem with this…I have a problem with faggots”
“You are right you do have a problem”
And luckily for my safety he didn’t get my sarcasm although I kind of wish he had. The East Indian man got off the train and the monster sized man got off the train and everything returned to normal.
On a relatively small series of islands with a population of eight million people we are bound to interconnect and cross into each others lives. The collective energy of eight million souls spreads out over everyone on any given day people are born and others die. Lives changed for better or worse, and dreams realized and destroyed. Hearts broken beyond repair and hope in love renewed. Proud parents sending their kids off to school and disgraced parents picking up their children from the police station. Marriages beginning with huge elaborate weddings and marriages ending by picking up paperwork at the courthouse. Diseases overcome and people succumbing to the inevitable.
People come here from every part of the country and from every nation on the planet. Some are dancers, models, musicians, actors, sculptors, poets, comedians, writers, chefs and painters. While others are titans of industry, traders, bankers, scientists, doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, athletes, intellectuals and accountants. Some were born here and live here because this is what they know, and others move here to pursue a dream however unrealistic or improbable that dream is to realize. If any of us thought long enough about the odds against us, we would surely move back to wherever we came from, but somehow we keep some faith and carry on.
It doesn’t matter how long you live here, or how you got here once you have been here a while New York leaves it mark. This city changes you in ways that you don’t realize until you leave. You understand that whether you know it or not, that human beings are not islands. We are all interconnected and we are all affecting each other for better or for worse every time we interact. I think it is why dating is such a challenge, as so many people are so terrified of “the hurt” that they just put up a wall 10 feet thick. The longer I have been single the more the wall is up all around me, everyone is suspect everyone is a potential enemy or someone who might cause harm. But, I have to remember we are all just people who basically want the same things comfort, love, companionship, stability, humor and friendship. We have been hurt and we will all hurt others some intentionally, some out of a sense of self-defense and other accidentally, but we will also spread kindness, love and healing before we leave this world. And I can’t help but love this city with the energy of 8 million souls all radiating outward into the collective spirit that is New York. With our unrealistic goals and our undying ambition and belief that everything is basically going to work out. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t live here. And it is why I never want to move, or if I do…I want the same qualities in wherever I end up. Thank you New York for eleven of the most difficult but rewarding years of my life.