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.

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Thank You, Mr. Wrong

As it usually is on Monday mornings, yesterday the downtown train to Chelsea was packed. I’m one to stand near the door and let others grab a seat, a gracious tactic that usually results in a quicker exit and entrance. This quarter past eight in the morning decision landed me squished between an elderly man reading The Times and a pair of matching tourists, complete with fanny packs and “I love NY” shirts and all.

Nearing my stop, my cart started to disperse and as I turned to catch a spot closest to the parting doors, I caught a whiff of an old familiar smell. Unable to keep myself from turning away, I subtly followed the scent to find the trail. A few mini steps clockwise, I came face-to-face with a 15-year-old with shouting headphones, who was not amused by how uncomfortably close I was to his sideways-cap.

Embarrassed, I grinned at him (he didn’t return one to me) and left the subway quickly as I couldn’t keep my head from buzzing with memories Axe Deodorant Spray. Scent is, after all, the strongest sense tied to memory, and for me, that scent will never represent anything or anyone but Mr. Faithful. My very first boyfriend, my puppy love, the man whose heart I shattered, and the dude who I lost my virginity to.

And that same fragrance takes me back to all of those things – laying with belly buttons touching as I wondered if sex would get better; if he was the man I would marry, if I would be the one who ended up with her high school sweetheart; if this was what real love felt like; if I would ever meet anyone I felt as strongly about. If it got better than this.

But if I could have reassured  my 15-year-old self about how much I had to look forward to and how much love I was actually capable of giving and receiving, I would have never worried. I would have enjoyed those moments of innocence, toes dipping into the warm lake at twilight, gleaming into the eyes of a guy, who three years later, would be far removed from my life.

Because in those hot summer nights and the cold winter evenings we spent together as two kids, feeling what we thought was love for the first time –we were each other’s right person. If you would have asked me a few months into our relationship – maybe up to the first year, even – I would have told you I’d go the rest of my life smelling that Axe spray every morning and be perfectly content.

Or when Mr. Fire introduced me to gnocchi – something that always reminds me of him when I see it at the grocery store – in his tiny kitchen in our tiny college town. Dancing  (and sliding) in our socks to Dave Matthews, laughing, sipping wine we were too young to buy, and our hearts racing in anticipation of the love we hadn’t made yet. With those wild eyes that always seemed to get me – he rubbed his nose against mine, scooped me into his arms, spun me around, and dipped me toward the ground, playfully asking: “Do you trust me?” In that instant – I would have proclaimed to the whole world I would trust him with my everything, would have given him anything, and would have said whatever I needed to say to stay in his grasp forever.

In thinking about this ever-elusive Mr. Right character – I’ve thought about all the guys who didn’t fit the bill. All of the ones I loved or the dudes he didn’t fall for me as fiercely as I intended them too, and all of the suckers in between.

Because while Mr. Curls, Mr. Faithful, Mr. Fling, Mr. Idea, Mr. Disappear, Mr. Unavailable, and Mr. Rebound all have names specific to my experience with them – their ultimate titles are all the same: Mr. Wrong. Even if at one time, they had the opportunity be Mr. Right or were Mr. Right Now when they stood by my side.

I’m not convinced there is only one right companion for every person, but I do think it’s important to remember the guys who weren’t right. The Mr. Wrongs, after all, will never be completely gone – because if they were, then what would have we gained from their love – or lack of? Would we be able to understand what works for us and what doesn’t? What it takes for someone to be what we need and what will never measure up to fulfill us?

How can we know when it’s right if we don’t know what it feels like when it’s not?

The Mr. Wrongs ended up not to be the men I decided to lead with, but they all served their purpose. I’ve learned the lessons I’ve decided they’ve taught me and with all of them, I’ve released the “what could have been” thoughts that always attach themselves when love goes astray. I’m not interested in rekindling any flame that’s burnt out, bur rather excited about what’s next.

Because if history truly does repeat itself, then I’m lucky. I’m blessed to be strong enough to overcome heartache, to choose what I need over what I want, and to be loved by a few incredible men. And though at the time, I didn’t always realize what was waiting for me is better than what I’ve felt before – I know it now. And without dating, loving, losing, and leaving the Mr. Wrongs, I would never have the confidence that a Mr. Right – or maybe a few Mr. Rights – await for me in the days, the months, and the years to come.

It is sometimes those unanswered prayers that are answered against what we thought we longed for, those memories that were once bittersweet but are not just fond, and those men who were right at one time – that teach us more than the one who ends up being right, right now. They may have broken our hearts or steered us in the wrong direction or we could have stepped all over them on the way to our own happiness and personal gains – but without them, we wouldn’t be one step closer to finding the love that doesn’t bite the dust.

So, thank you Mr. Wrongs – for a lot of things, but mainly, for being wrong.

The Anonymous Dater

The ironic truth about living in a densely populated city is though you are surrounded by people, it is easier to go unnoticed than residing in a small Southern town just West of the Tennessee line. You see, unlike those tiny towns I grew up in, in New York, people realize they could know your business if they asked, but most of the time,they  just don’t care.

Though we may never realize it – any place we decide to go and grow roots – there will always be more strangers than friends. There will always be people coming and people leaving, and even if we travel the same route or road the same way, every single day, there will always be someone new who shows their face. And the reality of it is, if we’d like to not display ours for the world – we don’t have to. Especially here.

If you want to be anonymous, the second you take a step out of your apartment, you can put iPod buds in your ear, raise the volume on a song with a beat to wake you up, and off you go. To the subway, of course, if you’re trying to lay low – after all, if you ask the monetarily blessed of Manhattan, they feel sorry for the “poor people” who have to take the train. Down the stairs you’ll ascend into the darkened transit and there you will sit alone, with a very rare chance you’ll recognize anyone at your stop. After bravely leaning against a pillar or walking the track to pass the time, your chariot will eventually arrive, but there will be no Prince to lend his hand as you step up. (You don’t need his help anyways). As you ride uptown or downtown (the direction never quite matters), you’ll sit to yourself, music still playing (but probably lowered), as you read the latest magazine or yet another Vampire-inspired novel that I still can’t jump on the bandwagon for. When the doors open to your destination, you’ll exit, without slipping a word to anyone or touching anything. Out onto the street you’ll rush, walking past people eying an underground performer, a foreign family unsure of which colored-line to take, and a man who thought your blue scarf looked stunning on you. But did you notice? No, you were lost away in whatever playlist you picked, thinking about getting to instead of living in. And then, just as one could predict, your feet touched the glimmering pavement and you blended into the crowds, bumping your way through elbows, and mumbling “excuse me” only when absolutely necessary.

It is one thing to be an anonymous New Yorker – the city is actually quite ripe with them. They are those people who’d rather not be bothered by the things you can’t predict or the chance conversations that can actually be the very thoughts hat turn your perspective. They are the ones who simply don’t want to be interrupted as they go from point A to point B, they just want to leave and arrive, without experiencing anything between.

But what they don’t realize is so much of the best of life is in the in between. And like one of my friends always says, “If I’m going to pay this much to live here, I’m going to get my money’s worth!” She’s right – if you’re ignoring the characters and the connections that  your address entertains, what’s the point?

After all, if you’re anonymous on the streets, do you really expect to meet anyone captivating? As much as we all complain about our single status and how we are never noticed by the type of guys we like, are we making ourselves available for someone to approach us? As lovely as it sounds that a man was so astonished with our beauty, that from across a crowded subway cart, he battled the straphangers to simply ask our name, and then vowed he’d find us again (maybe through Craigslist’s Missed Connections) – don’t you think that’s a little far-fetched?

Worse than being an anonymous resident is being an anonymous dater – but more often than not, they are one in the same. I’m lucky to not be a shy type of person, but even with as outgoing and normally fearless as I am in the dating market, I have to push myself. I don’t always feel my very best or my most attractive, but I also know that confidence is more important than anything – zits and bloated tummies aside. Anyone, man or female, is intrigued by someone who is intrigued by themselves. And if your eyes are peering toward the pages of a book for ten stops or at your drink for thirty minutes, how will anyone see that fire that only belongs to you?

They won’t.

There are times that call for anonymousness. Sometimes it is refreshing to ignore the rest of the world and go at your own pace, without worrying about what someone else prefers. It is a nice cloak that New York offers to its inhabitants – as if it is saying, “I know I’m tough on you, so every once in a while, I’ll let you disappear.” But remember, that robe is only meant to be momentary -not permanent.

Because the longer you engage the anonymous title and make yourself more into a stranger than a person, the more difficult it is for someone to remember youR name. Or even worse, the more you lose touch with who you are, drowning in a sea of people you’ve never seen and have stopped noticing. Take the chance – take the dive – and try looking up, instead of looking away. Remember to love yourself and know that that love will translate into conversation and give you that energy you need to be alluring. Notice the unnoticeables, listen to the city instead of the Biebs, read the lines on someone’s face instead of the WSJ, and give yourself more credit than just a statistic in this city’s census. Make yourself someone who lives in your own life, in this city, or wherever you are- not just someone who is passing by, anonymously.

Baby on the B Train

Yesterday morning, I was completely hung-over on my way to work (hey, we had our Small Business Awards, I was allowed to be) and generally, not in a great mood. I didn’t get any sleep, the buckle on my red coat broke, my head hurt, and I was convinced my ass was looking a little wide in my new black sweater dress –isn’t that supposed to be a slimming color?

I always grab a paper on the way into the subway to read on my ride and as I was turning to page two, I heard the cutest laugh known to man. I looked up and saw a little girl (whom I later learned is named Olivia) bouncing in her stroller as her mother and father smiled down at her.

She looked over to me and giggled and waved, and of course, like any other woman, I waved and giggled back. I was admiring how insanely adorable she was –when suddenly, she looked at her mom and just burst into tears. And then she was screaming and attempting to get out of her stroller. The whole train was watching and her little face turned bright, bright red.

I instantly felt awful for her and felt the need to scoop her up, hold her close, and tell her that everything is going to be alright. Which is exactly what her mom did in one swift movement. Within a matter of seconds, Olivia was back to her beautiful, cooing-self, and was again baby-flirting at me.

For the rest of my train ride, Olivia and I waved and smiled and played peek-a-boo, along with other straphangers sitting near me. She watched me with her big brown eyes as she left the train, and once she was gone, it occurred to me how little we change from the time we’re babies until we’re adults.

I mean, every once in a while, don’t we all feel like bursting into tears in the middle of the subway (or anywhere, really) for no apparent reason, just because we want to?

And when we get ridiculously upset because it feels necessary at the time, don’t we want to get up from where we are, bury ourselves into someone (preferably handsome, tall, and strong) who will tell us that, “Baby, it’ll be okay. I love you.”

Isn’t that kind of why being a single gal is hard?

Say, hypothetically, I did burst into tears while riding from the Upper Upper West Side (Alright, Harlem, fine.) to Chelsea. And before I decided to let the floodgates open, I was just sittin’, smilin’, and gigglin’ at some cute stranger. What would happen?

I’d be considered crazy and someone, probably an older woman of sorts, would come and pat my back and tell me to calm down, that it’s alright, and ask me if I needed help. Someone might even throw some change at my boots.

But somehow, that kind of comfort doesn’t seem liberating. It doesn’t relieve the sadness or stop the tears –it just provides attention. What we really want is just to be held by someone we know loves us.

Part of being single is learning how to comfort yourself. It’s about learning how to stay strong, stay grounded, and have coping mechanisms that don’t involve a love interest. Sure, my friends receive ridiculous text messages randomly at all times of the day or night –but in general, I handle most of my emotions on my own.

What I want to be able to do is surrender all of those feelings: the wanting to cry, the feeling awful, feeling ugly, feeling disheartened, feeling discouraged, and feeling like my days of being a single will last forever. That I will never get my version of a darling little Olivia.

I hope my higher power can just take all of it away. Please, just take it away. Make it not as heavy on my heart and free me.

I can’t burst into tears on the middle of the B train. Just not a great idea.