Friday, September 28, 2012


A few Saturday nights ago I went to Hoboken, NJ for Mexican food, conversation and fun with my oldest friend.

I took the ferry back across the river to Manhattan after dinner, and while I was waiting for the boat I snapped this picture of the New York City skyline.

It never ceases to amaze me that a skyline that looks so imposing during the day can look so absolutely stunning when night falls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Transition and Nostalgia

This post has been in my head for weeks now, maybe months. Every time I sit at my computer I think about writing it, and then I don't. Until today that is. I haven't written it yet mostly because I am a little superstitious, and I didn't want to say anything until I was absolutely sure. Until all the details were hammered out, the contracts signed, and the keys ours. But I also haven't written it because, well, this is hard. But today, I think, is a day for hard things.

Big changes are afoot in the Merel household. And yes, we have a household, because yesterday morning, we bought a house. That one up there, in the suburbs of New York City.

After many months of looking, and more months of negotiating, yesterday morning we sat in a room full of people, handed over some big checks, and signed our name to many, many documents. Two hours later we emerged, homeowners.

So right now? Right now I am swirling with emotion. Excitement, to be sure. Some fear, some nerves. But more than I am any of these things, I am nostalgic, and a little bit sad. Because In five short weeks our lives will be packed into boxes, and we will move north. And I know that we have been incredibly lucky to be able to buy this house, and make our mark on it. And I know that in a short time, the house will feel like home. But right now, this is my home. This city. This apartment. This is mine.

This is where I lived, and learned, and lost for seven years. Where I loved, and laughed and cried. Where I soared and where I stumbled. Where I became the person I am. A person I like. A person I am proud of. The person I think I was meant to be. This is where I forged my forever friendships. Where D and I began our life together. All these things happened on these city streets. These streets that have become mine. I will still work here, of course, but I won't live here. This city won't be my home anymore.

I arrived in Manhattan a newly minted college graduate, young and just a little scared. But I am leaving forever changed. Stronger, wiser perhaps, happier.

In a few weeks we are moving on. And I know that we are moving towards something grand. Towards the next phase of our lives, towards a home that we will love, and nurture, and build together. But we are also moving away from something real. Away from the city that built us and made us, and brought us to each other. Away from the city where we started our adult lives, first separate and then together.

I know, without a doubt, that this is a good move. That we are moving in the right direction. That behind this nostalgia there is happiness and excitement ready to break free. In a few weeks one phase of my life comes to an end, melting softly into a beautiful beginning. And I am ready. But before moving day comes, I am happy to have a little more time here, in my city. In my home.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bar Exam Brain

It was the second day of the New York Bar Exam, and I couldn't remember my Social Security Number.

I wrote my name on the test booklet for the final session of the exam, but when I started to write my Social Security Number, I couldn't remember those numbers that the graders would use to match my score to my name. The numbers I needed to become a lawyer. My heart started knocking against my ribs as if it was trying to escape, and I fought to calm my breathing down. I sneaked a look around at the other test-takers who seemed just fine in the memory department. Because honestly, what self-respecting law school graduate forgets a Social Security Number?

Well, I do, apparently.

The harder I pushed through the recesses of my brain to try and uncover the missing information the more elusive it became. I thought maybe there was a 6...and an 8...and a 7. Or maybe not.

I was going to have to tell one of the proctors. I was going to have to confess my utter lack of memory, and suffer the withering stare they gave to any test-taker who would dare upset the delicate balance of the lower level of the Jacob Javitz Convention Center.

But if I told the proctors they would probably have to report it. Then the Board of Law Examiners would find out. Maybe they wouldn't let someone with such an obviously impaired memory become a lawyer. Maybe I would just fail by default. Maybe I would have to come back and take the test again. Maybe the last three years were a waste after all. A good lawyer would remember her Social Security Number. Maybe I shouldn't even be a lawyer.

One hundred multiple choice questions were all that stood between me and the end of this nightmare. But I would never get there if I couldn't remember those eight - no nine - little numbers. God, I couldn't even remember how many numbers I needed to remember.

My heart was beating approximately four thousand times per minute and for a second I thought I might pass out. But I figured that wouldn't be such a bad thing after all because maybe when I woke up I would remember my Social Security Number.

Somehow I made it through all of the questions, and walked my sadly Social Security Number-less exam book up to the proctors.

But then, as if by divine intervention, nine numbers crashed through my head. The right order? Who could know? I bent down over the nearest available surface and wrote the numbers as fast as I could, before they could fall out of my head yet again. I threw my test at the proctor and booked it out of the Convention Center.

A few times over the months until I got my results, I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering if I wrote down the right numbers. Only, in an ironic twist of fate, I could remember my actual Social Security Number, but not the numbers that I wrote down on the test. So I started planning for an alternative career.

But as it turns out, the numbers were right.

I passed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Special Friday

More NYC memories on this Friday...

The first fall that D and I were dating, I had just started my third year of law school. I didn't have class on Friday, so he would take the mornings off to be with me. We would meet at the bagel store to pick up breakfast and we took it to this gazebo on the lake in Central Park, where we would sit for hours. It was on those benches that we really got to know each other and, dare I say, got to know ourselves.

We called it Special Friday.

I passed the gazebo this morning on my run in the Park. It is unusual for those benches to be empty, even so early in the morning, but today they were. When I stopped to take this picture, for a moment I could see us as we were five years ago. And with that picture in my head, I continued on towards home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Once a Runner

She was already awake when her alarm went off. She kissed her still sleeping husband and swung her legs out of bed. Shuffling slowly to the bathroom, she thought of how many mornings had started just like this over the years. Hundreds; no, thousands for sure. She chuckled as she reached for her toothbrush and looked into the mirror.

A few more wrinkles now than on that first morning, she thought. Lord I'm getting old.

As she dressed, she caught a glimpse of a picture that none of her protests could convince her darling husband belonged in a drawer, not centered on their dresser. The past and present seemed to collapse together and for just a moment she was twenty years old again, filled with the nervous anticipation and restless excitement of her very first race morning.

Then she blinked and she was back in her bedroom, looking at a picture of her twenty year old self after her very first race. The first of many. 

"We certainly had some times didn't we my girl?" she whispered to the picture.

As she made her way through her house, soaked in memories of races past, she could still feel that race day buzz. Oh how she loved that buzz. For sixty years she fed off of it, relished it, and used it to propel herself forward for unreasonable distances. It had been ten years since she hung up her running shoes. She was a spectator now. But she would never forget that buzz.

She wasn't bitter. Far from it actually. She had sixty good years, Far more than most people get to have. At age seventy her knees finally got the better of her, and she was relegated to long walks with her man and her dog. Every evening they walked the streets where she once ran, and she was happy. And every May she set up her chair on the corner by the bridge and watched the runners come streaming by. And if she was a little jealous, she figured that was only natural. Once a runner, always a runner. That's just the way it goes, she knew.

It was eight o'clock and steaming hot outside when she settled into her chair. She knew the starting gun had just gone off, and even though it would be over an hour before she saw any runners pass by, she could picture where the leaders were. She knew every twist and turn of the course. She ran this race seventeen times. Ten Mays before, this race had been her last.

When the police cars came by signaling the leaders were about to pass she stood up to watch. She cheered, but she knew that the leaders didn't hear her. These were not the runners that needed her. They were stunning to watch, but the leaders were not the reason she sat by the bridge, year after year, on this day in May.

As the pack started to thicken, she watched closely, looking for the runners that needed a little boost. She could always spot them, because hundreds of times over the years, she was one of them. Late in the race, energy flagging, wondering if she had enough to finish. And there was always a spectator who helped push her along. Who gave her the confidence to finish. She loved being that spectator now. She thought it was her little way of paying it forward after sixty years of racing.

She saw the girl coming from five or six blocks away. She was moving slowly, hunched over, and had that look on her face that said she would rather be anywhere than here. She didn't stand up because the girl was looking down. She leaned forward in her chair and didn't take her eyes off the girl as she shuffled down the street. When the girl was a few yards away their eyes finally met. She could see the pain and exhaustion on the girl's face. She looked straight into the girl's bright green eyes and said,

"I'm proud of you, you're almost there."

The girl seemed to stand up a little straighter and the fog cleared from her eyes. She looked at the woman for half a second more before making the turn onto the bridge. Her pace picked up, and the woman watched her until she disappeared into the distance. A wave of affection swept through her for that young girl, fighting like hell to the finish. That was a feeling she understood.

She stayed in her place on the corner as morning became afternoon, until the second set of police cars came by, signaling the final runners in the race. Then she gathered up her chair and headed for home.

She walked in the door of her house, and straight to the computer. She called up the website she needed and typed in the number she had jotted down on her newspaper. The girl's bib number. When the results loaded, her smile reached all the way to her eyes. The girl finished. Her final mile her fastest of the race.

She looked up from the screen as her husband came down the stairs.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Always," she said.

He reached out for her hand, and off they went on their evening walk, along the streets where she once ran.

This, my first attempt at fiction, is dedicated to all the commenters on my post from last week who wondered about that old woman's story. Thanks for helping me wonder too.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New York City Views

72nd Street subway station at sunset. One of my favorite views.

Lately I have been capturing a lot of my favorite Manhattan moments for posterity. Our days living in this city are numbered (more on that later), and I've been feeling more than a little nostalgic about our Upper West Side home.

Look for some more of these views over the next weeks as our life in NYC winds down. There are a lot of moments that happen in seven years, and I have strange urge to capture every one of them before we make our way towards our next adventure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Reading Young

"When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does."

                                      You've Got Mail

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering: Eleven Years

It was a Tuesday so very much like today.

Breathtakingly blue skies, crisp air, and just a hint of fall.

Even more than two hundred miles away in Boston, where I was a freshman in college, the weather was the same. I heard the news in the student center as I stopped there after my early class. It was 9:15am. People were crowded around the big TV, and no one spoke a word as the reports rolled in from New York City. There was a girl next to me furiously trying to make a call on her cell phone. Over and over she dialed, but the call would not go through. I was fixed in place, unable to move. Unable to leave to walk back to my dorm. Unable to do anything except watch the events unfold. I was still standing there when the towers fell. When one collective gasp rose up from the room, from the campus, from the country. When for, perhaps the first time, we understood panic, fear, struggle and loss.

I have made my home in the city I watched on TV eleven Septembers ago. And while I sometimes have complex feelings about Manhattan, I don't today. Never on this day. On this day, I am proud to live here, and to work here. To create memories, and to build a life here. To experience the grit, the boundless energy and the ceaseless exuberance that make this city unlike any other.

This is my city now.

That day eleven years ago is an indelible part of our story, but it's not the whole story. So today. Today, I look back. I look back and I remember a day filled with darkness, and ending, and heartbreaking loss. And I look forward. I look forward towards hopeful beginnings, and happy days, and a bright future for me, for all of us, and for this city.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Words From a Stranger

I heard the words at the end of mile twelve as I struggled to keep on running.

"I'm proud of you, you're almost there."

I had never seen the woman before in my life, but she spoke those words directly to me as if we had been friends forever. The last four miles had been a slow plodding mess and I was giving serious thought to pulling over to the curb and quitting right then and there, but when I heard those words, I kicked up the pace.

It was just after mile eight of my first half-marathon that I decided I would rather be in hell than run five more miles, which was incredibly unfortunate for me, because I really wanted a medal. Which they were giving out at the finish line. Exactly five miles away.

Bands were stationed every half a mile, playing music. Spectators covered every available inch of sidewalk. For eight miles I relished the encouragement. I smiled, waved, and high-fived my way along that glorious distance. After mile eight I hated every last person lining the streets and the chairs they were relaxing in as they shouted at me to "go girl" and "keep running."

"YOU keep running," sneered the petulant toddler who had suddenly taken up residence inside my head.

With no choice but to keep moving, I slogged my way down streets softening in the blazing heat that was so unseasonable for Pittsburgh in May.

Four miles to go.

My running shorts, so perfectly arranged during the first half of the race, had started to bunch up between my legs, causing an excruciating heat rash that no amount of Vaseline from the medical tent would fix. My beloved running hat felt like a sponge that had reached its capacity. The faithful running shoes that had carried me though endless training miles were giving me a blister on my toe. The cups at the water stations were filled with boiling hot liquid from hours in the sun.

My internal dialogue was an endless string of jerky thoughts.

I really hate this song. I definitely have heat stroke. Why would this band play such a stupid song? I hate running. I think I have a cramp. And shin splints. And probably a stress fracture. I. Hate. Running.

Three miles to go.

I very nearly laid right down on the street and forgot about the rest of the race, but I figured that if I did I would probably just end up trampled by the rest of the runners and with a third degree burn from the heat radiating up from the pavement. Not exactly an improvement to my current situation.

Two miles to go. Might as well be two hundred.

Other runners were passing me by the dozens, and I was moving so slowly it was a wonder I was making any forward progress at all. I was mentally cursing myself, and ruing the day I pressed "submit" on the registration form for this god-forsaken race.

Never again. No way in hell.

I saw the woman as I made the turn onto the bridge that signaled the start of the final mile. She was sitting in a lounge chair right on the corner. Her white hair was ablaze in the sunlight; rivulets of sweat trickled down the maze of wrinkles lining her face. Her gnarled hands gripped the arms of her chair, and her bottomless blue eyes looked straight into mine.

"I'm proud of you, you're almost there."

A wave of affection swept through me for this elderly stranger who sat all morning in the sun, cheering so fervently for runners she didn't even know, and I stood up a little straighter. I could do this. I could finish.

Gritting my teeth, I started to fly. Over the bridge. Up the final hill to the top, where I could see the finish in the distance. The crowds were roaring, and my brain played the woman's words over and over, pushing me down the final stretch.


I don't know who she was, and I don't know her story, which seems strange considering how big a role she played in mine. I hope I see her next year at the start of the final mile, but if I don't, I'll certainly hear her words in my head as I make the final turn towards home.

I'm proud of you, you're almost there.
Joining some amazing writers who blog and bloggers who write over at Yeah Write.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Used Books on Broadway

One of my favorite parts of the Upper West Side of Manhattan is the used book sellers that populate the stretch of Broadway between 72nd and 75th Streets. On Thursday evenings they are out in force, and tables stand nearly end-to-end for the entire three blocks. 

Before my weekly grocery store trip, I always stop for awhile. I love hunting through the stacks of books - sometimes buying, sometimes browsing - somehow seeing the order in the haphazard piles.

Imagine my surprise last Thursday night when I noticed this. Four of my favorite Noras, all piled up. I wished for a second that I didn't already own all four, so I could buy one.

Yesterday I went back to that table to browse, and while three of the Noras remained, Northern Lights had disappeared.

As I write this I am thinking about the anonymous buyer, settling in to the couch, absorbing the love story of Meg and Nate, and the devastating beauty of Lunacy, Alaska.

I hope they enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Unwavering Hope

"If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire...if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores...if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote...if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time...if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream...and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love...then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream. Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country - the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle."

                                       Michelle Obama
                                       2012 Democratic National Convention

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.

Summer Nights

It started with a convertible ride into the night. 

We headed out on our Labor Day weekend getaway with the top down, the starry sky soaring above, and a best of the 90s playlist on the iPad. For two hours our hair blew in the sultry evening breeze, as we chatted about everything and nothing, and laughed as we relived the soundtrack of our high school days. 

As we flew down the open road, it occurred to me that I would remember this night forever. Being young, wild, free, and together. Reveling in the journey, giving little thought to the destination.

It was the kind of perfect summer night that country songs are made of.

And for those few hours, as summer drew to a close, it was our night. 

Our endless summer.