There’s that underground jazz lounge where the first champagne cocktail is free for blue-eyed girls with bright smiles. It’s where that older Polish man with a boa gave me and my friend A a feather to wear in our hair. My friend A, who is now married, living just a handful of blocks and subway stops away from me. It’s where I became hypnotized the first time by live music – watching the pianist dance across the keys, the saxophonist breathe and move deeply and creatively calculated. It’s where I sat in a Forever 21 dress at 19 years old, pretending I was old enough to split a bottle of wine with a man I didn’t really know, but was paying. It’s where I went when I wanted to feel classier and older than what I really was, where I wasn’t the girl from North Carolina who interned at Cosmo, but I was just a woman. A woman who somehow lived in New York fucking City.
There’s that hookah bar on St. Mark’s that never carded me. I wasn’t sure if I liked hookah all of the times I went and took smaller breaths than everyone else, but I knew I liked the sugary-sweet sangria, long before I knew what good alcohol tasted like. That’s the place where there are couches in the corner, cushions on the floor, where you can sit Indian-style or extend your legs long, far across to the other side of the table. That’s where I took my friends when they visited, to show them a new-something they didn’t know about, something terribly urban (though later I realized it’s not). That’s the place where just a few days ago, I brought a guy from Williamsburg to that very corner and though I didn’t know him, my red wine haze told me to kiss him. Right there, on the first date, with hookah saturating my hair and my breath. The breath that was making his glasses and the cold window behind us steam up.
There’s that movie theater on the east side that’s a hop, skip, Metro card and jump from Brooklyn. It’s where I saw that movie with a name and plot I forget, with Mr. Possibility, summers ago. It’s where we bickered between Sprite and Diet Coke and then snuggled through the movie, his hand on my thigh, my head on his shoulder, sitting awkwardly so we could touch, even though it’s uncomfortable and definitely unromantic. There’s the cheap Thai place a few doors down where we went once the credits started rolling, where we sat in that booth in the back, with polyester seats and fluorescent lighting. It’s where we talked about the future like it was our promise, where he leaned over to me while I was tactfully slurping a noodle I could barely hold with chopstick, and kissed my forehead. It’s where he said he wanted to always take care of me. It’s where maybe somewhere, deep down in his butchered heart, he thought he could mean it.
There’s that frat-tastic bar on Third Avenue that I absolutely hated going to. But I went the night after my birthday, with a terrible cold, barely able to speak and I waited for him. His sister and brother-in-law kept me company, bought me hot tea, tried to ease my worry. M showed up when he didn’t. Until two hours later. That’s where the man I thought I could love forever made me doubt if forever existed, for the first time. That’s where my then-highly-intoxicated boyfriend decided to go home alone instead of going home to work something out with me. That’s the street where I slammed that cab door shut and he didn’t look back. Around that corner, that’s where M promised me that he was just my first New York love, not my last. There’s where I walked myself home, bitterly sober and instantly lonely, wondering if I’d ever believe her.
There’s that bookstore where I curled up with a latte and my computer, writing about love and hoping for it. There’s where I sat for a few hours on late Saturday afternoon in the most brutal days of winter, reading through a book I didn’t intend to buy (but did). There’s the travel section where I met M for a day of shopping in the West Village for my birthday, and ended up bringing home an 8-pound puppy on a Sunday night. There’s the magazine section where I looked eagerly for the tiny engagement magazine I had a print piece in when I first moved to the city, where Mr. Possibility stood at the end of the aisle, smiling at me. There’s where he whispered in my ear as we looked at my bylined spread: “I would know you apart from anyone, just by the way you move so beautifully.” There’s where I listened to Adele while avoiding the self-help section, a year later, wondering if I needed a book about getting over someone or if I could just write the book myself.
There’s the park on Avenue A that I found so terrifying, hidden behind small rooftops and appearing out of nowhere in between the graffiti buildings along the east side. There’s where I stumbled in too-tall high heels in the cold with a friend, trying to hail a cab at 3 a.m. after a night of flirting and boozing, smearing lipstick and turning heads I didn’t care to see again. There’s where I wanted to sit down so badly, just to give some relief to my tired legs, but I didn’t, even more afraid of what lurked on the Manhattan streets I was still getting used to. There’s the address where, three years later, I fell in love with a new part of town while dog sitting for a friend who just signed a lease. There’s where the park felt so different and so much more welcoming, a place for coffee and running, a place that wasn’t so haunted, after all.
There’s just one small part of my home. Just one neighborhood in all of the eccentric zip codes of this island. Just a cluster of streets before Houston, where East Village turns into the Lower East Side, where Stuyvesant Town becomes Union Square. There’s just a few memories, a few local, dates and weekends at local pubs and restaurants, bookstores and theaters, I’ve Google mapped and others I don’t need to look up to find. There’s my walks through the East Village for the past few weeks, remembering the adventures, the love, the disappointment, the fever, the dreaming I’ve experienced in the short time I’ve been able to live where the 7-year-old me always knew I would.
And there’s the older me, the quarter-life-crisis-ing me, reminding myself that if so much can happen in just under four years, so many more beautiful, surprising things are surely still to come.