Three months ago, when our twins were nine months old, my husband and I moved away from New York City in search of an easier life. This weekend I went back for a friends’ wedding, which was my first time away from the babies and also my first time back in New York. Following are a few of my thoughts, not on being away from the babies (more on that later), but on returning to New York where I lived for fourteen years.
After driving for hours in the dark, I first realized I was approaching the New York metropolitan area because of the sky. It wasn’t black anymore but a sort of wan maroon. The pavement was suddenly full of potholes, too, and I struggled to stay on I-95 as I looped over and below interchanges. The thought occurred to me that it felt like entering a rat’s nest.
The next day, at Grand Central, I made my way to the subway and caught the 4 train. It was dank and the lighting made everyone look greasy. People bumped into me as passengers jostled for a spot to hold on. The whole visit, people would continuously bump into me, brush past me, nudge me as they went by, and I’d realized how my sense of personal space had expanded in just a few months away.
At Fulton I switched to the C train, which flew through the tunnel, rattling as if it might fly apart. Everything seemed worn down to a germ-ridden nub. Two women, one with slicked-down bangs and wearing bright lipstick, the other very large and with a beautiful smile, laughed together about something and I found it amazing that until recently riding underground had felt normal to me, too. When I got out of the train I passed a couple lugging their stroller with toddler up the subway steps and it struck me as a sad place to see a baby. The walls were covered in soot.
Then I made my way to a small restaurant for my friends’ wedding. The restaurant was just perfect. A restaurant like you can only find in New York. Cozy, bustling, full of sparkling, intimate conversation and interesting people elbow to elbow, waiters who are also Independent movie buffs. The ceremony was beautiful and made me cry.
As I left I walked by one of my favorite bookstores, still open at that late hour and brightly lit. In the subway, two men were playing lively music. I walked by and stopped halfway down the platform. The music was really, really good–so good I made my way slowly back toward them. The singer wore a black vest, he had a fresh-looking face with a scruff of beard. The other man was playing percussion by hitting his hands on the hollow wood box he was sitting on, controlling a tambourine with his foot. They were singing love songs, rocking out, hitting everything exactly right. People up and down the platform crept closer and closer. Three young men started dancing to the beat. A woman in hospital scrubs got out her cell phone and started filming. An older woman in a flowered blouse and a young hispanic man threw in a dollar, both smiling. The growing crowd formed a circle, everyone bobbing their heads. When they finished there was applause. “Thanks for your good vibes,” the singer told the three dancing men. The subway came, and everyone boarded with a smile.
And then I remembered why I love New York City. There amidst the grime and unpleasantness was this moment among strangers of all backgrounds and walks of life, people who had no reason to know each other, brought together for a magic moment by art. I felt lucky to have been just at that place at that time.
I’m sorry I doubted you, New York.