Tuesday, September 4, 2012
This City, My City
The New York City skyline loomed menacingly in the distance as I approached the Holland Tunnel.
It looked angry. Certainly unwelcoming. All cold steel and grey and big. The urge to turn around and head straight back to the warm embrace of my college campus was overwhelming.
I wasn't ready. I needed another week. Two at the most. Maybe three to be safe. Three weeks would give me time to buy all the things I probably forgot. Because no way would a skyline as scary as that have places to buy something as ordinary as toothpaste.
But soon I was in the tunnel, and there was no turning back.
Then I was staring up at the building that housed my apartment. My first post-college apartment. The apartment where I was to spend my first year of law school. My first city apartment. I looked up and down the dusty Manhattan street, taking in my surroundings.
"I live here. On this street. In New York City" The thought made me vaguely sick to my stomach. I didn't belong here. I was no city girl. And anyway, I wasn't quite sure where "here" was.
"Three years and out," was the mantra playing over and over in my head. Framed in a finite period of time, my move to the city didn't seem quite as overwhelming.
For weeks after the move, I carried a subway map wherever I went. I bought it on my first day in the city from a tacky souvenir shop in the East Village. It was big, and laminated, and it lived in the front pocket of the bag I carried to and from school. Except most of the time, it actually lived in my hands. Nary a subway ride went by where I didn't unfold and consult my map before descending the concrete stairs. That map was my security blanket in those early days. I might not have known exactly where I was, but at least the map could tell me where I was going.
Each day during those first weeks when I came home after doing battle with Manhattan, subway map in hand, I would close my eyes and pretend, for a moment, that I was not where I was. Then a siren would break my reverie, and I was plunged once more into the frenetic pace of city life.
But then. I can't quite remember how it happened, but one day I stopped carrying my subway map. I became one of the commuters instead of someone just trying to keep up. I had a corner deli where the cashier knew my name and how I took my coffee. I found a place to buy toothpaste. The sounds of sirens and cars rushing by stopped waking me up in the middle of the night.
But most of all, I stopped hearing the voice in my head. The one that whispered "three years and out."
Three years passed. And then four more. Seven years, four apartments, one law degree, countless friendships and one marriage later, I am still here, in this city. This city where I lived, and loved, and lost. Where I learned, and laughed, and cried. Where I grew up, where I became this person. This person I am, dare I say, proud to be.
I am forever grateful to this city.
And soon it will be time to say good-bye. I will still be close by, but I won't live here. This city won't be mine anymore.
As I drive north in a few weeks towards my new house, towards my new life, I know that at just the right time, I will glance in the rear-view mirror.
And I know that there, framed in that tiny space, will be the New York City skyline.