And Then I Was There
I don’t really know when it started, my belief not just that New York would be a nice place to visit one day but that I simply had to be there, that a part of me was there already, and that it might – if I was really lucky – even belong in my life at least in some small part. I don’t know, because the surprising thing – if you know me now – is that in junior high and high school you practically had to drag me out of my hometown to actually go anywhere.
Then one day in college, it hit me. I may never see the Eiffel Tower or New York City streets. There was no reason to believe I ever would. I had taken it for granted as something that would happen someday and suddenly woke up to the fact that there was nothing in my life to make me think that.
It wasn’t as tragic as it sounds. Just a realization really, that stuff doesn’t happen just because you kind of hope maybe it will.
It was sometime after getting married though that I really started dreaming. And eventually New York became so real to me I could feel my feet on its streets.
Fast forward to me on a bus, riding from Washington DC to New York next to a woman perusing the catalog for her jewelry business and talking to people on her phone in a language I didn’t understand. I felt like a real live city girl already, sitting by a stranger, putting in the earphones to my iPod and shutting out everything but my beating heart. I dozed a bit – after all, we’d been out late and up early for days in DC, walking long distances in short amounts of time each day. But between the dozing I heard the songs, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Someday Baby, The Climb, even my own song, Lived, and they played in my ears as the soundtrack to the completely amazing feeling of the beautiful day and the familiar trees and the city ahead that was only familiar because I’d seen it in so many movies and imagined myself in it so many times.
When I first saw the skyline, I wasn’t even sure I was seeing it. It was far away and in a haze and it came more suddenly than I had expected, and I could have definitely been dreaming. And then I knew that’s what it was, and I cried. Not the ugly cry, just the happy tears that well up and barely fall.
We drove in from the New Jersey side, through a tunnel, and then slipped onto its streets anticlimactically like we were just pulling onto the streets of any old city at all. And then we just kept driving into it and it grew up around us more like my fantasies and less like any ol’ with every passing famous Avenue. We stopped smack dab in the middle of it all, and I expected the entire city to screech to a halt, because surely you couldn’t just drive in and join the daily rhythm like that.
But that’s what we did. We stepped off the bus – I never put my foot on any pavement so deliberately and with such feeling – heaved our suitcases from the space beneath it, and stood. On New York. Streets. I turned around immediately and snapped a picture. You can see it in the thumbnails below. It’s a picture of Macy’s. THE Macy’s. I was on the 34th Street in New York City, New York.
Now, I’ll try – I’ll try – not to describe every single foot-planting on New York City sidewalks from this moment forward. But you have to know I’ll be thinking it. Because every footstep from that moment on was a DREAM. And yet not. Because I wouldn’t let it be. I lived it and breathed it and took it in with every single part of me.
I’m reading Belong to Me now by Marisa de los Santos, and as this is only a “brief quotation” and if you can call the words in these ellipses a review (the writing in this book is amazing, and you should read it), I’m going to copy one of its first paragraphs which so beautifully describes how I felt each morning in this city.
I loved the noise, opening my window to let a confetti of sound fly in. I loved how leaving my apartment, in pursuit of newspapers or bags of apricots or bagels so perfect they were not so much bagels as odes to gloss and chewiness, never just felt like going out, but like setting out, adrenaline singing in my veins, the unexpected glancing off storefronts, simmering in grates and ledges, pooling in stairwells, awaiting me around every corner, down every alleyway.
That’s how I felt in New York.