As we said our good-byes at the airport when I returned back to the city, my mom said she watched me “Put my New York on.” Meaning she noticed me shift gears in a single instance – from relaxing and being off guard in the sweetness of the South to prepare for the toughness of the North. I’m not sure if my disposition or attitude altered or if I somehow flipped the intensity of my brow – but my mom’s right, being in New York is unlike being anywhere else.
The city’s pace can be exhausting at times, but it is also exhilarating. It challenges your spirit, your ego, your skills and your failures, your audacity and your ambition. It isn’t a place where excuses are accepted, but an island where business gets done. And not done, but done big or not at all. As much as I adore Ole Blue Eyes, I’m not convinced anyone can ever claim they’ve made it in New York. I think the city makes you instead.
I won’t confess how long I’ve been here (I’ll let you make your own assumption), but in the span I’ve been able to truthfully claim New York as home, I’ve changed. According to my mother’s remark, it is a noticeable change. It’s the difference between the comfort that comes from not being alone and the bravery necessary to take a chance on a city that’ll push you to your limits while bringing you to your knees.
New York ain’t no joke, y’all.
The inhabitants and transplants I’ve encountered here have told time and time again that I’m tougher than what I seem. It continues to surprise me to hear it, but then again, it’s a natural theory that someone is pretty delicate if they are blue-eyed and pint-sized.
In other words, I don’t exactly elude a “stay the hell away from me” energy, but I’d like to think I do pretty well on my own. And half-a-year of daily blog posts later, I don’t just think I’m okay by myself – I know it.
Regardless of how much effort I put into keeping my spirits high or getting to a point where I don’t care if the man I’m ga-ga over thinks I’m so-so –the thing that makes me more independent and self-assured than anything else isn’t a post. It’s not encouragement from others. It’s not having a someone who could be a something. It’s not feeling like a knock-out or knocking out competitors for a gig.
Rather, it’s putting my New York on.
It’s the satisfaction that after years of dreaming and never having the chance to dwell in the place I adored, I finally grew some roots. It’s the constant ups and downs that city living presents; those things you’ll never understand unless you actually spend more than a month or so drenched in the culture. Like having your dress fly way past your head, in a torrential downpour on Fifth Avenue, while pieces of trash wrap their way around your calves. And while the applause of the gawkers was well-intended, I didn’t appreciate it – especially when this was a day I decided to go commando. Or when the one night you don’t make plans, thinking no one else made plans, everyone you know actually did make plans, and you are left to plan with greasy Chinese takeout. Or when in the middle of Times Square, with ten minutes left to make it to fourth-row tickets at the theater that were given to you for free, your cab driver’s credit card machine bites the dust. And you’re without cash, causing you to pull out some words and exchanges you never would have deemed appropriate six states down.
But then there are the splendors of being a slicker that are only appreciated by those of us who have seen the good, the bad, and the superbly New York. Like the sense of accomplishment when you get to the station and the train is there within seconds. Or when someone asks you for directions because you look like you belong, or you don’t need to use Google maps or HopStop to meet your friends for drinks – instead, you just know. Or if you don’t, you’re finally not afraid of getting lost to find your way. Or when you’re walking in beat with your iPod and the street changes precisely when you would have had to come to a stop, allowing you to just keep strutting down the avenue. Or when you don’t feel the need to have a rolodex of friends or go to the hippest parties in meatpacking. You know – when you have an actual life, with actual people who you care about, and you finally feel like you’re living, not just working your way up the ladder or the social calendar?
It’s a good feeling.
Putting my New York on means I’ve learned not only how to adapt to my surroundings but to become them. To allow myself to shed some old ideologies and ways of life that may have worked for me in the past, but now would never fulfill me. It means I’ve reached the point where instead of feeling a little inadequate and out-of-place in a city of people who seem to be obsessed with black, I feel comfortable in all the bright and grey shades I cascade. It’s realizing that a city, a man, a dress – may hug my curves just right at certain points, but like my body will eventually sag and wrinkle in places I’d rather not mention, life will change too.
And though I always have an eye on tomorrow and a mirror within reach to glance back at who I once was, I’m more attracted to the person I’m becoming each and every single day. A girl, that while she puts on her New York when she wakes up, there is always a little North Carolina in the choices she makes.
The world may be my oyster – but I’d like to think I’m some sort of a peal in this city that’s anything but pure.