Leave New York for a few years and things change. The M train becomes a legitimate, viable option. Bridges are renamed, bike lanes birthed, favorite restaurants shut down. Young muscled men on the subway sell fruit snacks and granola bars instead of candy and batteries.
But some things never change. The silhouette of a saxophonist in Central Park. The off-tune vocalist singing for change on the N train. The grandeur of Grand Central Station, the way the Chrysler Building catches the afternoon sun, the sky scraping spire of the Empire State Building reaching out toward its new sibling in the almost finished One World Trade. The robin’s egg blue of a swinging Tiffany’s bag on a young woman’s arm. Energy, visible like heat, shimmering in waves above the pavement.
Most of my early New York years, I was too hung over to even contemplate grabbing a cup of coffee and a bagel and breakfasting at Tiffany’s. But the idea of it, of anything being possible, of re-creating yourself to be whoever you want, to fit in, to be a part of it–-that is part of the consciousness of the city. Whether you land at JFK with a dollar and a dream or fight your way through the swampy current of Penn Station to jump on that downtown train, it is why so many people are enchanted with New York.
Admittedly, I have a rather bizarre relationship with the Big Apple. Over the years, and especially since leaving, the city has become larger than life to me. Like fuzzy, little Disney animals singing and dancing through the forest, I have imbued the city with personality, with opinions, with a presence and a soul. In my head and my memory, it’s not just a place, but a living, breathing entity.
Each summer since we moved, we come back to the Mother Ship for a few days. When we approached the bridge that would take us into the city that first summer back, I welled up with emotion. My skyline, my city, my home, my heart. But last year I had almost an allergic reaction to Brooklyn. After a year in Denmark, I had forgotten just how hard a hot summer in the city can smack you in the face. Fighting through a wall of humidity and humanity, through crowded unrecognizable streets, I panicked. I wanted to get out. And that reaction surprised me, bewildered me, and saddened me. This year, I came prepared. I sat on the 7 train, as meditative as one can be on a 7 train from Queens with two kids and a husband anxious to make sure I didn’t have some sort of PTSD breakdown. We went to the Highline, a park that didn’t exist before we left. We took them to Central Park for ice cream and playgrounds and rock climbing. We rode the 7 train, the L, the E, the N, the Q. The children whined and pouted and dragged their feet, complaining of being too hot, too thirsty, too tired. They wanted to go back and play with their friends, go swimming, do other non NYC things that you can do ANYWHERE.
What?? These, my NYC babies. Surely the city is in their blood, part of their genetics. Their gestation was a lullaby of sirens and traffic. A taxi-cab and M14 soundtrack. My eldest spent his toddler years in city parks and museums, cafes geared toward kids growing up in tiny apartments. My youngest was almost born at the corner of 1st Avenue and 23rd Street. I have always considered them city kids. NYC kids. Cooler than cool, heirs to the best city in the world. They didn’t need to make it there because they were born there–it should be part of their DNA. But it’s not.
What I realized this trip is that NYC is part of my identity, my self of sense. And that sense is entwined and tangled with my feelings about the city. Knotted and re-knotted to the point where trying to figure out where one ends and the other begins is almost impossible. I hitched my wagon to that star that shines bright in the Manhattan sky and over the years, the reins got so tight when it came time to leave, I had to cut myself free, excising a fair amount of myself in the process.
New York is a magical place to live–a twinkling skyline where anything is possible. Where Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not only do-able, but encouraged. But it’s not always an easy place to live. There is something very true in the lyrics. I did make it there, and there is a part of me that feels like I can make it anywhere. And at the risk of sounding snotty and cooler than thou, I like that. I like the 20 years of hardcore city living I have under my belt. It is part of who I am, part of how I see myself and other people see me. My reflection, the one I see in the mirror and the one I project to the world, is that of a New York City gal–it is apparent in the way I speak, the way I walk, the clothes I wear. It is written on my body, evident in my carriage, audible in my words. My speech is peppered with city slang, there is a quickness in my gait that comes from years of avenue ambling and street strolling. It is a part of me, and I am a part of it.
This year I had, as I mentioned to a friend, those vagabond blues. The day after my kids forced my hand, I met a friend on my own. We walked through Central Park. We had twin tower sized ice-coffees across from Sheep Meadow. And, much to my surprise, I was followed around by little chirping birds, like I was starring in my very own version of a Disney movie. One that involved cigarettes and alcohol as opposed to tulips and tiaras. And bandying ideas about with a similar soul, on a park bench in the dripping humidity, surrounded by a little bit of nature in that concrete jungle, I had a moment of peace with my feelings about New York.
As we said good-bye and I walked back to the train, I briefly thought about going a few blocks out of my way to stop by Tiffany’s. It was too hot, starting to rain, I had been gone for too long. But I wasn’t sad. Tiffany’s, like New York itself, will be there next year.
As will I.