Walks Through the East Village

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.

Don’t Give Up On Me, New York

Like any love affair that builds your hope while simultaneously drowning your dreams, New York City and I have recently hit a rough spot in our long-term relationship.

We’ve been serious for nearly four years now, though we’ve wildly flirted and dated off-and-on for more than a decade. It’s always had this magical, mystical aura about it, always so comfortable and yet, so unattainable, nearly close enough to capture, but far enough to feel more illusionary than realistic. Many of my memories of Manhattan, even while living and paying taxes here, have felt warm and distant, something that I know happened to me but still unbelievable, too. In ways that I could never describe in words that make any sense to anyone but to me, this city and the way it’s moved me, pushed me, challenged me and disappointed me has changed my opinions and my beliefs. I’ve loved and hated New York, every day, all day, each and every single fast-paced, sleepless second I’ve called it home.

Until this year. Until this difficult, stationary year, I felt different. Somehow, this city has felt so tainted, so tawdry, so not a place I want to live.

And I’ve not wanted to write it here, in these pages and pages of love letters not only to the men I’ve met (and loved and hated, as well), or to the friends that have made me grow into a better person with every Gchat and champagne-induced confession in the darkness of a crowded, loud bar, but to the Big Apple itself. Himself? Herself? Whatever it might be to you or to me – it’s been a place I’ve loved so fiercely it’s always felt like a part of me. A piece I’ve carried with me since I was a gap-toothed 7-year-old staring at the Statue of Liberty in total awe, in complete fascination that someone, someone like me, could live underneath her beauty.

But the ugly truth I haven’t wanted to admit has been so true: I’ve been bored in 2013.

My relationship with New York became stale. The same grocery store, the same deli. The same walk to Dunkin Donuts on the weekends where they know my order (and my dog), the same Starbucks by my work where I don’t have to say a word and have my unsweetened-grande-iced-coffee-in-a-venti cup waiting for me. The same address, the same hours at the dog park, the same bars and the same restaurants with the same meal I always order, and always love. The same loop around Central Park, the same Burger and Beer at Toast on Wednesdays for $5. The same commute, the same inverted pyramid, the same blog, the same, the same, the same, the same.

And with the routine, I’ve taken my love affair for granted. I’ve cursed it for boring me, for not giving me those things that I wanted to shake up the same-ole’, same-ole’. For not granting my every last single wish, though it’s given me more and then some. I’ve been angry that while my friends are getting married or moving in together or getting big, beautiful apartments or big, beautiful trips, or big, beautiful paychecks, I’m sitting pretty in the exact same place I was two years ago. Though I often count my blessings (for I have many, I know), I’ve found myself wondering when the next grand thing will arrive. When something — anything — will change. When New York would step up to the plate, answer my demands, give me something new to tackle, some new Mr. to love again, some new reasonably-priced apartment in a new part of town. Because if something didn’t give, if the city didn’t try again, if it didn’t woe or entice me, then I’d have no choice but to call it quits.

To pack my bags and move overseas. Or to a new city. To tell New York that it just wasn’t quite what I wanted, that I needed more, that it wasn’t meeting my needs, emotional and physical, magical and practical. That something just felt off and wrong, that the streets that once glittered with possibility, now seemed stained with the bitter boredom of convention. That because it wasn’t getting me laid or filling my heart with that love I so badly ached for, it would have to let me go. That it was totally New York and definitely not me.

But as the summer faded into fall, I felt a weight lift away, just as I was Googling ways to spend a year in Europe away from everything and everyone I worked so hard to find. I felt myself lingering more on the sidewalks, admiring what was around me, seeing the beauty that I forgot about all year long.

And I realized that it isn’t New York. It’s me.

It’s not New York’s job to keep me satisfied and happy. It’s not supposed to always give me everything I want or I wouldn’t see them for the treasures they are when I finally reach that goal, that job, that man, that warmth. That if I want change in my life, I can’t expect it to just take the train in to Grand Central and sweep me away into a whole new chapter that I haven’t written, that’s not available for eager, reading eyes, yet. Change happens so gradually, so painfully slow sometimes it can be hard to see just how much has changed already.

Like how 2013 brought me a cancer-scared with my dad, but it also made me call him way more than I used to. Or how I went from running three miles last year to my first half-marathon in October. Or how after too many tears and far too much wasted time, I peacefully slammed the door shut on Mr. Possibility, once and for all. Or how I didn’t travel as much as I would have liked, but I did book my first trip to Paris and Rome for April 2014. Or how I might not have moved apartments, but I spent a blissful 10 days in the East Village, realizing I could love another neighborhood just as much as I love the UWS. Or how I might not have met the man I’ll marry (or at least I don’t think so), but my friendships have never been stronger, more loving or more open.

Being in love and being in a relationship with anyone or even a city isn’t always easy. It comes with complications and ups-and-downs, times when you want nothing more than to scream at the top of your lungs out of mere frustration. Or times when you stop in the middle of the park after the end of a perfect run, and feel the crisp Autumn leaves fall around you, wedging themselves in your hair, and you feel at home again, after many, many months of distance. Relationships never turn out just how we picture them in our heads, when we describe them in bright colors and vivid plot lines, but they do in fact, turn into something.

Something better. Something hard and often bittersweet, but more than anything, something completely worth it. If you can just hold on, just believe, just know that after a big fight, a mild separation, you can let go of your anger (and fear), and crawl into bed or look out at the city keepin’ on below you and fall in love again. Over and over, always. To the Brooklyn Bridge to the top of the park, and back.

I know the best is yet to come, little love of mine, Manhattan. Even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Just don’t give up on me New York, my darling, and I won’t give up on you. Promise.

This is Your Life

Right now, in this fleeting second, as you read this blog and drink your morning coffee and wish for the weekend to return, you’re living. You’re breathing and thinking, worrying and wishing, dreaming and desiring, imagining and realizing — all at the same time, without trying, without considering. Your thoughts are spiraling and vivid, wild and without condition — and here, in this short time that it’s taken you to click this link and read this paragraph, you have existed.

This is your life.

On Saturday night when you put on that tight blue dress that hugs in places you want to be hugged, with a scarf to hide your tan lines and with the summery-smooth taste of a Blue Moon to hide your hesitations, you danced. You let yourself be awkward and offbeat, you shook and you smiled at the man in the checkered shirt with just a little bit of chest hair peeking at the top. You let him kiss you and maybe — well, definitely — you kissed him back. You felt the music float you through the night, the sweet words of lyrics dated fifty years ago that you still believe in, carry your hopes high again. You twirled with your friends as you did when you were a little girl, and even though you’re not as carefree and naive as you used to be, for those few hours that poured past midnight, you enjoyed yourself. You didn’t worry about being called the next day or being interested enough past a few free drinks or a dip in the middle of a crowded bar in the West Village. Instead, you just went with it. You accepted that…

This is your life.

Last week when you watched the 200+ emails pile in your inbox over the weekend, you carefully pined through them all, giving responses when needed, happily deleting the rest. You felt the rush and the push of news, relishing that you get paid to pen, paid to delegate, paid to express your creativity every single hour of every single day. You thought of those pages behind you, those stories you wrote and you published, including the ones you cared about and ones you can’t remember enough about to Google. You looked at your byline and considered your business card, the one you worked so hard to achieve (and figure out how to order) and though you might not know what’s next — or really what you even want to be next — you took pride that this 9-6er that’s never actually 9-6, is your reality. It’s the means of your existence and that thing you needed so badly to seek. This, this career that’s every bit as intriguing as it’s demanding…

This is your life.

The past few months as you’ve watched your friends pair up and shack up, lose and find new loves, question everything and value it all — you’ve wondered what you’re doing wrong. You’ve felt the anxiety that only comes from possibility, of something unplanned and scary, and yet, so exhilarating. You’ve seen — and felt — the ups and the downs, and tried desperately to not be desperate, but more importantly, jealous of the happy, smiling, coupled faces on Facebook. Or the new addresses that come with two names instead of one. You’ve tried to not resent the apartment that keeps you safe that’s often covered in the dust of the past and the dog fur of the present, even if you dream of a little place of your own that your little wallet can’t currently sustain. Instead of closing your eyes to paint what the next three or five or ten years will be, you’ve tried to open — and full-heartedly embrace that…

This is your life.

This body, that skin, those eyes, those runner’s legs and that big ol’ booty – they all belong to you. They’re parts of your whole and part of what makes you beautiful, though what exudes from inside will always attract more than anything else. This body, that’s full of flaws and scars, curves and freckles, it’s imperfectly perfect in a way that was designed just for you, just in a way that makes you radiate. You might not have the whitest teeth, the flattest stomach or stand the tallest in the crowd, but you’re proud. You work hard to keep your head held high and your weight at a comfortable rate that’s fit for you. That’s good for you. You take care of this body — mostly, anyway — that one day will do way more than turn heads or get you from uptown to downtown on a hot, humid summer day. This body will make and deliver babies, it’ll stretch and it’ll grow wider than smaller, it’ll sag and it’ll wrinkle, but it’ll always be yours. It’ll be part of how the world sees you, it’s bare reminders of what you’ve been through so that you remember that…

This is your life.

This, right this very moment, is your life. And you’re wasting it. You’re wasting these moments worrying and fretting, drowning and  holding on way too tight. Beating yourself up over the ways you don’t fit in or you’re not on the right track. How you’re single and don’t want to be, when you’re texting your ex and you’re trying so hard to lose five pounds that you’re missing everything. You’re not seeing any of it. You’re not experiencing any of it.

In all of it’s beauty, to the depths of it’s spirit and the harshness of the bad and the confusing. This life that’s everything and nothing like you expected and will continue to move and to change, to bloom and to crumble all around you, all the time, every single day, for so many years to come. So many memories that you haven’t made yet, so many people you’ve yet to meet. Or fall in love with. Or have to let go of. This is your life and it’s worth more than anything you face or all the scary parts you’ll have to overcome. Especially the ones when you’re having to get over yourself. Because before you can have all of those things that are undeniably yours, all of the things that you want so badly you can squeeze your eyes so tight and barely see them, you have to accept that this.

This is your life. And it’s just getting started.

The Five Year Scam

As part of our final grade my senior year in high school, my English teacher had us write a five-and ten-year plan for how we envisioned our future life. Already quite deep into my love affair for this sparkling city, my cinco-de viva plan (or however you say that in Spanish?) — for 22 — went something like this:

Living in a luxury apartment in the heart of midtown, hustling and bustling with the best of ’em. Working as an editor at a big magazine, going to fancy parties and wearing fancy things, but writing about important topics — other than accessories and blow jobs. Dating a handsome man who would fall magically in love with me and propose at the top of the Empire State building.

What my life actually looked like at 22:

Living in a rundown brownstone that consistently reeked of reefer, sharing a communal bathroom with strangers. In, um, Harlem (but told my parents it was the Upper West Side so they could sleep at night). Working at a small trade business magazine, writing about tax benefits, sales, marketing and entrepreneurial success stories. My paycheck didn’t afford fancy things and my title didn’t offer fancy parties, but I did master the fine art of making Ramen delicacies. I started this blog a day past the big 2-2, and started my tumultuous relationship with Mr Unavailable/Possibility a month later.

Funny how things don’t really go according to plan, right?

As I (gulp) approach my 10 year out of that Southern high school and my (gulp) five year out of college, I find myself thinking about how I once pictured my life and how it really is, and maybe more interesting, how much of what I thought I wanted at this age, I don’t anymore.

I can blame it a little on conforming to the ways of the city that never sleeps, of how it tricks you into seeing endless options for as far as you see skyscrapers radiating in the distance. The city makes you believe in anything you set out to do, anyone you hope to find and any chance you dare to take. It doesn’t swallow you up for giving something a shot, instead it encourages you to take another leap, have another date, spend a little more money, buy that plane ticket, try something new again.

And so I have been.

I’ve been busy learning and soaking up just about as much as I can from my job. I’m coming up with excuses and finding opportunities to travel. I’m signing up for races I’m not convinced I should run, but fully dedicated to trying. I’m dating when it feels right and stopping when it doesn’t. I’m coming and going, quickly and slowly, just as I want, just as the mood strikes, just how it should have always been.

Because five year plans never turn out in the sweet little ways you think they will. Your illusions of how things are supposed to work out are just that, illusions. They are beautiful pictures crafted with the best-intentioned hand, but ripe with ideas of what life looks like, not what it actually feels like. Not what it actually means to live.

Because living doesn’t include plans and it doesn’t go on a pre-determined schedule or a course or events. It doesn’t follow rules and it refuses to make them. It doesn’t fit into a box of certain size or fit itself underneath a sweetly tied bow.

Instead, it surprises you.

Your five and ten year plan seem silly in comparison to your actual existence. What you dreamt for yourself still rhymes in the some sort of way, but those plans feels more like a scam. If everything worked out just as we hoped, just as we mapped it out, we would miss all the fun. All the good stuff. All the anger, the disappointment, the fear, the love, the passion, the struggle, the conquering, the battle, the success, the failure, the romance, the roughness. The shine after it all.

You’d miss the best parts of your 20-something years.

Especially the part where you look back on your life and those choices you made, out of spite, out of intrigue, and you find yourself smiling at the experience. Thankful you didn’t always pick the easiest road, but the one that seemed the best, and maybe the hardest, at the time. You would miss the part where something hits you — probably in the middle of an ordinary day — and you realize that blueprint doesn’t fit you anymore.

And that no plan really does at all. Maybe it never did to begin with.

Because finally, after fighting the should-be’s and the could-be’s and the supposed-to’s and all the pressuring words that did nothing but haunt you, you have found yourself released from the language. You’ve found yourself free from the scam — I mean, the plan — and happily ever after without a clue of what’s next.

And you know — or at the very least, you hope — it’s going to work out in a way that no pencil, no high school paper, no fortune teller, no anyone or anything could have ever predicted.

You’d Figure It Out

What if you find yourself 40 years old, single, living alone in a tiny apartment in the West Village?

What if you search high and low, put up with the jerks, the gems — and everything wild and beautiful in between — and somehow, the man of your dreams, is just that? A dream? What if he really is just a figment of your imagination? What if you don’t actually ever cross that finish line to the altar and you spend years waiting for your chance to sprint? What if you watch everyone around you pair up, pair apart and pair up again, while you idly wait for your turn to take a chance? To make a loving mistake you’ll one day cherish? What if you never, ever fall in love again? What if you were meant to only get a taste, not a glass? What if you become one of those women that for whatever reason, don’t end up with a soulmate, or maybe never had one to begin with? What if you aren’t meant for that one, huge, great, amazing big love after all?

You’d figure out how to love yourself even more.

What if you do happen to meet someone kind of amazing? But he doesn’t fit that description that MASH spelled out for you, or the background or the paycheck or the height that you’d hoped for?

What if you meet him and don’t instantly know in that all-telling, fortuitous gut of yours that you were meant to be? What if you don’t meet in a way that’s fun or encouraging to tell your grandchildren? What if it takes more time than you’d like for him to come along? What if it takes even longer for you to get over yourself enough to let yourself love him in return? What if he’s bald? Or divorced? What if he doesn’t have that body that really gets you going, but instead has a heart that lets you finally rest? What if he is perfect for you in every way and though you don’t doubt he’s the one, you find yourself anxious about settling down? What if you aren’t completely sure, even if you actually, kind of are?

You’d figure out how to fall in love with the man, not the idea.

What if that dream job, the one with the fancy corner office, the shiny gold name plate, the cushy salary and the pretty life that comes with it… isn’t an option?

What if everything you’ve always known about yourself and what you’re good at and what brings you happiness, one day, doesn’t anymore? What if those bylines stop meaning as much or they mean so much that the pressure all becomes too heavy to carry? Too difficult to run toward, so you stop? What if you never publish a book, never open a bakery, never have more than enough money, and yet, just enough? What if you don’t get the chance to lead something or someone or some place and spend your life being led by other people? What if all that time spent editing your resume and surviving on next-to-nothing with a side of Ramen doesn’t actually pay off in the end? What if you don’t hear those precious two words — You’re hired! — that sometimes feel more important than the infamous three words? What if you don’t find what you’re looking for, after all?

You’d figure out how to let go of the path you paved so you can be brave enough to lay out a new one.

What if you never fit back into those size two jeans that you did sophomore year of college?

What if you never experience what it’s like to prance the beach in a bikini, fully confident, fully mesmerized by how you great you look? What if your boobs are never big enough, your skin never clear enough, your teeth never white enough, your hair never straight enough, your stomach never flat enough? What if you don’t drop the baby weight right away — or all of it? What if you can never actually run that marathon or even qualify for it? What if you don’t ever get that smokin’ hot bod that you want (and sweat to earn)?

You’d figure out how to feel comfortable and yes, radiate in the beautiful parts that make you gorgeously imperfect.

What if your five year plan takes eight years to complete — or never happens at all?

What if you are set off course by a bump here and a stumble there, keeping you always within arm’s reach of what you want, but never close enough to actually touch? What if you find yourself continuously surprised and effortlessly amused by the decisions you make and ones that are made for you? What if you end up far from where you came from and yet, closer to your heart than you’ve ever been before? What if nothing goes according to the map you mapped out with such care? What if you find yourself so happy with the life you created, even if it’s not carved out just as you thought it would be, but somehow, it’s better?

What if your future is so unpredictable — as amazing things often are — that you can’t figure it out before you get there? Whatever it is, you know you’ll be able to take it as it comes, solve the rhymes and the puzzles as they happen and tangle themselves up into your pretty little pictures of idealism. Because the truth is —  you don’t always get the guy. You don’t always have an incredible marriage. You don’t always get the storybook tale you want to tell. The awesome career comes with sacrifices you might not want to make. You’re always going to get a zit at a bad time. You will probably change your mind one hundred times about what you want and what feels right. You can pick lovers over babies, and babies over freedom. You can try until trying is doing, and do it until you have to try again. There are no guarantees and no way to plan it out. There are no right answers and no way to reassure yourself that it’ll all work out.

No way to actually figure it out with complete certainty.

But what ever life throws at you — or doesn’t — you can figure out how to make it work. How to be happy. And one day, it won’t feel like you’re figuring anything out — it’ll just feel like it’s happening how it was supposed to all along.