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.

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The Bird on the Subway

Without much warning at all, Spring has arrived in New York.

This season is so full of life: my favorite flower is in bloom, colorful raincoats and a bright spectrum are bursting from the back of makeshift-closets in makeshift-apartments, and the air just feels crisp. Even in the city, there is an undeniable freshness in the air, and as if New Yorkers are coming out of hibernation, everyone seems enlightened. Though it is a time of transition between the cold and the blistering hot, fellow inhabitants have been more inclined to make conversation about the changing temperatures, probably because weather is always an easy topic of interest to lead with or make meaningless conversation about. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier about the onset of a new season, apart from one thing this particular one brings:

Rain.

I’m lucky my hair is naturally pretty wavy if I let it air dry – but with the city humidity somehow doesn’t even compare to the sticky stench in the South, causing my locks to frizz and curl in embarrassing directions as soon as one drop hits the pavement. And then there are the careless cars and trucks that speed through intersections right past women like me who are silly enough to stand as close as possible to the other street before they cross it, causing splashes that actually drench you, unlike Carrie Bradshaw’s opening scene where she’s simply drizzled on.

But worse than the rest, the problem with a place already saturated with a high population is when the sky revels in rain, everyone thinks they need an umbrella. Even when it is merely misting, everyone will pay whatever they have to pay to find protection- what went for $3.50 will go for $10, and the merchants get excited to sell out when the clouds turn gray. So walking down the street, with or without a personal overhang becomes a nightmare of dodging and lifting, nodding to the person coming at you to see if they will go above or under, and praying you don’t lose an eye before heading underground.

Not rain’s greatest fan, I was more than happy to descend the subway steps into a passageway that would protect me from the soon-to-be-passerngers unsuccessfully managing their rain-only accessories. Standing near the doors, reading this week’s New York mag, I attempted to flatten my hair and stand somewhat tall for the ten stops uptown to my gym. Leaving Times Square, the indicating sound of doors closing and opening ended and as if I was driving the curvy roads in my hometown, I heard a bird chirping. The sweet song caught me off guard – I can’t remember the last time I could hear a feathery-friend’s lyrics– I looked up from reading and met the eye of a mid-aged woman sitting across from me. Her expression, much like mine was of stunned delight paired with frank confusion, and we both turned our ears toward the sound, where we noticed we were not the only ones who noticed this unfamiliar voice.

Before I had a moment to examine the cart, near the ceiling, a little wren flew past me. Everyone on the subway, except for those drowned by their iPods, noticed this unusual straphanger and watched it go. Aware I didn’t know the first thing about capturing a bird or luring it out of anything, much less a moving train, I sat still intently observing, and hoped someone would help free it. As we approached 50th street, a few red-line riders stopped people from getting in and within a few seconds that felt like hours, the wren discovered an opening and made its escape.

It was difficult to go back to reading about Wall Street after semi-meeting the wren – as MTA doesn’t usually allow birds to have Metro cards. Because it was so unexpected, yet such a lovely thing to behold, I found myself identifying with the bird on the subway. This sounds as crazy to me to type as it does for you to read, but like a fish out of water, a bird in a subway just doesn’t quite go with the status quo or nature’s way.

And while I’ve finally mastered the transit system without having to Google (much) and I’m able to get recommendations to restaurants and unknown gems I’ve actually been entertained at (a few anyways), a lot of the time, I feel like a bird in the subway – still unsure of how this city is growing on me. I have friends who have been here for a handful of years, some who have never known any other address, and a couple who are ready to leave – and they each remind me that I’ll come to learn things about this place the longer I’m here. I’m told I’ll be jaded, I’ll discover why New York is notorious for its difficult mating , eh – I mean dating scene, I’ll figure out the parts to avoid, and I’ll stop doing things in the Southern tradition or with the same uninhabited optimism that I still mainly lead my life with.

I do get asked for directions on the street, but I wouldn’t say I look the part of a New Yorker, and I know I don’t play it. My friend and co-worker J, encourages me to buy more black every time we go shopping at lunch; my friend E’s famous words are “wait until you’ve been here five years, then we’ll talk“; and my friend K continues to amaze me with her endless knowledge and experiences of dining and dating – both things I’m discovering I have a lot to learn about. Manhattan isn’t on a pedestal anymore – it is a real, physical place, that feels much more like home than North Carolina – though I’ve always thought the term “home” consists of where the people you love the most are. Luckily for me, I follow e.e. cumming’s advice and I carry all the hearts I need in my own heart, so I can make a home anywhere.

And this city is home but maybe it hasn’t made a home with me yet. Maybe it’s still letting me fly through the carts, discovering what I can, determining which stop is my stop, and finding my way out of places that don’t suit me – with a little assistance from those who can open doors I can’t. Maybe time isn’t a measure of adapting or accepting where you are in your life, emotionally or determined by the U.S. Census, but sometimes it takes a few rainfalls to free yourself from all that was holding you back, and sing your own sweet song on the streets.

And not politely as a Southerner would do, but at whatever pitch and tempo you preferred, at whatever hour of the night, regardless of who was or wasn’t watching, like a New Yorker who’s more concerned with the stride of the city than those who think she’s out-of-place. When in fact, she’s exactly where she needs to be…for now.

This is My Stop

After living in the city for a while, there are certain tricks you seem to master when it comes to public transportation. As an avid train rider (buses kind of scare me), I’ve learned exactly which part of the track to wait at, so when I get off at my stop, I’ll be the closest to the exit. I’ve grown accustomed to standing, without holding the rails, unless I absolutely have to. If I’m lucky, I always try to sneak a seat at the edge of the bench for more room and to make it easier to weave through a crowd of people to leave.

And, like every New Yorker you’ll see passing time before their ride arrives, I stare down the tracks, waiting impatiently for the train. Somehow, we’re all convinced that if we keep glaring down the dark passageway as we pace in our little areas or bravely lean up against something we probably shouldn’t – not only a train, but our train, will appear faster. Some people, who are far less afraid of falling than I am, basically project themselves to the very edge, just hoping to see a glimpse of the headlights. I’m not sure why this is necessary but no matter how long between swiping my Metro and stepping off the platform, I spend the majority of the time just gazing down the tracks.

Admitting the nature of my wrongs – I must confess that though I’m meant to be a leading lady, I’ve mostly been a lady in waiting. A woman who though she had a good head on her shoulders, her feet planted confidently in the ground, and all of the hope in the world bursting inside of her – she still felt like she was waiting for the pieces to fall together. I was glaring down at my own darkness and emptiness, unsure of when the next great thing or life-altering adventure would come pick me up and take me to my final stop.

Really, I was waiting for my love train to arrive.

This attitude made me an active observer of my life, instead of a participant. Though I was alive, I was not living because I felt like something was missing. And that if only I could catch the sight of the one thing I thought would fulfill all of my desolation, then I’d see the light at the end of the tunnel. That even if I couldn’t actually see the man, if I could rest assured that he was in fact coming, I wouldn’t have to keep waiting for him to get here. I could sit down, relax, and know that within at least an hour, he’d be by my side, and I wouldn’t have to fear falling in love, or to the ground, because he’d be there, no matter what.

But now, as a woman who is less afraid to stand on the brink of tomorrow – I realize there is no need to wait. Haven’t I been more than capable of finding, boarding, riding, and exiting all of the many transitions I’ve experienced? Haven’t I enjoyed the company of myself and content from the buzzing streets of Manhattan? Haven’t I found joy in the laughter of my friends, the surge of inspiration that comes from simply seeing my own byline, or the bravery that blooms from taking chances you know you’d regret if you never did? And even though it is scary and it makes vulnerability necessary, haven’t I been secure enough to open myself up to possibilities and my own desires, regardless of the outcome?

Haven’t I been using my $100+ a month subway pass to ride the love train for a while now? I mean, don’t I love my life? And aren’t I learning to love myself? Haven’t I been at my own stop in my own life?  I’ve never needed a man to show me how to get myself from point A to point B – so why would I put on hold all of those things I want to do, places I want to see, and opportunities I want to take, for fear that if I do, I’ll miss the next train to happily ever after?

I don’t want to feel like I’m waiting for my ducks to be in a row, for a ring to be on my finger, for security to be in my heart because I can trust it with someone else – but instead, I want to celebrate the freedom I have to just be me. To simply, selfishly, live my life.

I want to go. I want to see the world. I want to move and run and travel and do. I want to speak Italian fluently. I want to have enough money to give it away. I want to volunteer for months. I want to learn to meditate. I want to go to a restaurant and not look at the prices before anything else. I want to take a cooking class. I want to take dance lessons. I want to have a foreign affair. I want to order an entire meal in another language. I want a puppy. I want French toast.  I want to go to JFK and ask where the next flight is going and hop on it. I want to own pretty things. I want my name to be recognizable to the women who think they are not good enough, pretty enough, or interesting enough to have a man. I want them to know they don’t need one. I want them to realize, from me, there is no need to worry, no need to hurry, but to just trust the process. I want them to trust themselves. I want the city to beat me up a couple times, just so I can come back and prove my honor. I want to fulfill all of those things on my bucket list. I want to move from this damn apartment. I want to go to some smoky jazz club and drink champagne. I want to stand on the top of a mountain hundreds of thousands of miles away. I want so much more than I ever thought I wanted.

I want more than simply what the presence, the arrival, of a man can give me. And I know now that I don’t need to anticipate him or prepare for him to come into my life. I can and what’s more, I want, to do so many things…utterly on my own.

Because we all know, somewhere in the deepest corners and hidden crevices of our hearts, that our train will eventually come. Even when it is 3 in the morning and we’ve been waiting for thirty minutes, and our patience is growing weary – when we are busy focusing on other things and least expect it, we see the lights reflecting against the tracks, and feel the relief come over us.

And sometimes, that train happens to be a local one, when we need the express. Or it is going uptown, instead of downtown. Or maybe it is even out of service and passes our stop completely, and we glare at it as it disappears into the night. Nevertheless, we remember, that when in doubt, when we’re exhausted of the lingering, if we need to or if we just want to, we can forget about the next arrival, go above ground, throw our hand in the air, hail a cab, and go wherever we want.

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