It just dawned on me that 2012 is ending, which means that I’ve spent a full year living as a [[probationary] New Yorker.
As I’m marrying a life-long New Yorker who tends to take the title of “New Yorker” seriously, he said that I’ve got stripes to earn before I can even watch the throne, let alone wear the crown. Mini-me, however, is “a New Yorker by default,” since she’s being raised here.
If you’ve been reading long enough, you’ll know that I struggled terribly with going from my cozy, lazy little locales to a fast-paced metropolis like New York City. I mean, it’s literally almost the stuff of Mid-western teenaged dreams – leaving high school AND glee club behind, skipping college and going straight to Broadway to perform in a show worth bragging about to friends. Except, I didn’t go to Broadway… unless walking on the street counts.
It’s also the stuff of Midwestern parental nightmares. As grown as I am, my mother is STILL trying to enforce some semblance of a curfew.
“Erika, you’re not out there with my baby in that city after dark, are you?”
“Mom, it starts getting dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. What kind of life is that?”
But, in traditional Mom fashion, she had the right premise… just worded it wrong. I did need to worry about my safety, and I needed to figure it out fast – I have a little girl, and I have to teach how to survive the city.
I’m also pretty sure that, though I shared the story of how Eddy showed up at my door with an engagement ring, I never shared the moment we moved. One week I was blogging about taking my first vacation in years to NYC to meet my fiancé’s family, and then before I knew it I was blogging about how I thought NYC was going to swallow me whole.
The truth of the matter is, I still don’t know how he pulled it off. I knew he hated Miami, I knew the job market was trash, and I knew I wasn’t bound to it in any meaningful way other than thinking that I couldn’t live without the beach. I don’t know how he convinced me to give up the sand for… the subway. But he did.
During those 10 days in NYC, he took me every place he thought I’d love. We went to Dizzy’s. We went to Garage. We went to Bareburger. We went to the farmer’s markets. We went to the Brooklyn Museum… especially since he knew it was a sore spot of mine that I’d never actually gone to a museum as an adult. He took me on the tram, and even faux-re-proposed to me in air. We dined with friends – his, mine, ours – and every time he turned his back, those jerks– I’m sorry, friends were tearing me a new asshole.
“Are you seriously going to make Eddy leave Brooklyn?”
“Don’t you know that Ed is the quintessential Brooklyn Boy? You’d make him leave his home?”
Of course I share this in jest, but by the final night of being wined and dined, I’d hit my breaking point. Ed got up from the table, and that last friend hit me with just a stare. A stare, a sigh, and a “So… you’re really not going to move here?”
And that was all it took. I burst into tears. His life was here… and – though I joke about this all being a set up – everyone knew it. I knew it. He’d laid roots in New York that I could only dream about laying in a city like that. Miami doesn’t treat… or pay… chefs the way they do in NYC, and he struggled with the reality that he may have to settle. I could just as easily pack up the house, and we move up north. Quickly.
And we did. Literally. Two weeks later, we were back in the city… for good. Found an amazing school for Mini, found a great job for him… it was me that was struggling. Nasty little lesson, that is.
It wasn’t that I’d had my safety concerns in the forefront of my mind; I’d simply forgotten that they were real concerns, and if I was ever going to survive long enough to be an Actual New Yorker and not one with an asterisk forever, I’d have to learn to deal with them.
But while I learned, I loved… and I loved everything. I loved watching the subway trains while we were underground, and I loved the sound of them speeding past underwater. I loved the first time I hailed a cab – mmhmm, ‘fro and all! – and I loved the first time someone actually asked me for help in understanding the subway. I loved the first time we wandered Brooklyn, on foot, and discovered an ice cream shop that makes something called “salted crack caramel ice cream.” (Dude. I couldn’t even handle more than a couple bites of it.)
I loved the first time I stood at Union Square and protested something – because someone’s always protesting or representing some cause at Union Square, and I loved the time I spent laughing and celebrating National No Pants Day (no, not sans pants, though I did think about it.) I loved being able to watch an SVU episode, and laugh because I “know what Midtown is, Mom. That’s a real area.”
I loved learning that walking 5 miles an hour isn’t a sport in the city; it’s an expectation. I loved all the time I spent looking up at the tops of buildings, and enjoying all the detail in the architecture. I loved the moment when I stopped looking up, because it wasn’t novel anymore. I even loved the fact that I started to get annoyed by tourists or other [probationary] New Yorkers who couldn’t stop looking up long enough to stop interrupting the flow of foot traffic.
But, when I step onto Broadway and Vesey…I still look up. And I loved, and will never forget, the first time I saw a fire truck with a full-sized American flag attached to the back. I actually had to catch my breath because I fought back tears. I love the extra jolt of patriotism I got from that moment, too.
I loved the look of sympathy I got from other New York parents as we talked about how to prepare our “little New Yorkers” for being able to succeed in this big city, because there’s no place where disparities of income and opportunity is more prevalent than NYC; your million-dollar condos are within a 1/2 mile radius of the projects, and – if you do ride the subway – your subway ride to your $200 lunch will likely be interrupted by a panhandler sharing the same “woe is me” story he’s been sharing for the past 3 months straight…and you know this because he always does it during your $200 lunch break.
Most importantly, I loved the look in Eddy’s eyes when I curled up to him on a subway seat, sighed and said “I really couldn’t see myself living anywhere else.” As much as my Midwestern side rolls my eyes at the exceptionalism, I have to keep it 100: being a New Yorker is a thing… a brand… something that clearly means a lot to people who’ve spent their entire lives here… people like him. Things that, clearly, mean far more to him than the sand and the sea meant to me. And, in learning to deal with the individual shortcomings, I’ve found so many little things to fall in love with. I’ve been made a better woman, a better mother, a better partner and a better lover because of it.
So, in the meantime, I’m finding little things to love about my new home. I’m learning how to weave through tourists at 5 miles an hour. I’m learning how to drive when I see cabbies nearby. I’m finding my safe havens, and avoiding places that make me uncomfortable… but, because you can never completely avoid discomfort, I’m learning how to keep my hands free, my pockets zipped, and my fists clenched.
I mean… it’s like that, sometimes. That’s life. And I’m learning that, too.
I haven’t learned how to work on my road rage, though… and um, it might be a while on that one.
I’m looking forward to what 2013 is going to bring me. According to Ed, it’s not going to bring me my full-fledged New Yorker title just yet, but I’m okay with that. As long as I get to enjoy the pleasures of the city with the people I love the most, I’ll gladly accept my spot as a [probationary] New Yorker…
…but I’m still mad that I’ve been in the New York Times TWICE and STILL can’t get no love.
“You could’ve been in the Times if you lived in Miami, too. That moves the needle…none.”