New York, have I told you that I love you? – Ani Elizaveta
New York, have I told you that I love you?
We first met from the window of a DC bus headed your way. I saw the way you flaunted your tall, stately stature — skyscrapers making no room for the afternoon sunlit sky, dignified people dotting and decorating the hem of your concrete streets and avenues. You had no time for me. You were busy being anything but the mental image I had of you when I first saw that quiet, wistful scene where Sally drops off Harry under the arch of Washington Square Park.
I had just turned 22 when we first met. And I had my doubts about you, especially when I got scolded over the phone by a heavy-handed woman from an apartment rental ad who chided me for asking too many questions and then, in true New Yorker fashion, proceeded to hang up on me mid-sentence. On the receiving end of that call, I cried. And for the first time questioned whether it was stupid of me to think New York would ever be home to a girl who had never left home before. But no matter. My soft-spoken, fragile self had to develop thick skin, I was sure of it. And, on my first night in New York, I thought hopping from a Manhattan rooftop bar to a Brooklyn cemetery with friends at 2am in the morning would be a good way to start. Followed shortly by a food truck detour and a 4am subway ride to Washington Heights. I had to confirm first-hand that Sinatra was right when he said New York never sleeps. He was.
He was also right when he said he’d rather do it his way. Tiny streaks of adolescent independence were developing into beautiful brushstrokes. Thanks to you, New York, I learned how to enjoy my own company. The memory I have of the first morning in my apartment is in the third-person. I close my eyes right now. And that gracious morning light comes back to me. There she is, a girl of 22, alone but blissful. Sitting on the floor of a bare New York apartment on 49th and Lex. Happy to have put her mind on grad school straight through from college. Happy to have taken a chance on herself in a new city with no familiar faces to make the landing soft. Happy to have applied to only one master’s program and hit the target with just that one shot. And, above all, happy to have not allowed anywhere near her— not even for a fleeting moment — others’ unsolicited remarks and opinions and suggestions and advice and worries. She did it her way.
And that’s when your light, New York, greeted me for the first time. That light from the sunlit sky I thought you were too good for to entertain. Those warm morning rays that caressed the old, dusty pre-war moldings in all the right places. The sunny rays that gently made their way along the parquet floor to my morning bowl of cereal. That cereal bowl and a few other kitchen essentials were all I had in the apartment. There was no furniture yet to clutter the playful dance between the morning light and the sun-kissed walls of yellow that welcomed me home. Just me, on the floor with a bowl of cereal, and Sinatra’s songs echoing in the room. No bed, no couch, no table. Bare. Bliss.
You steadied your pace for me, New York. It’s ironic, I know. Especially since everyone calls you fast-paced, too quick, too much. But I’ve seldom felt rushed by you. Not rushed, but deeply felt. And the times I was rushed — say, for instance, those times when there is no escaping being sardined into a rush-hour L-train — you still managed to give me glimpses of things to ponder, to reflect on, to hold on to. To catch a stranger’s gaze of appreciation for a book I was reading on the subway. Or to let each quick stop for coffee at the neighborhood cafe suddenly turn into a keen observation of all the habits and funny quirks and insecurities we all inhabit. You let me enjoy the feeling of unadulterated respite each time I couldn’t save my ballet flats from getting soaked in your surprise summer rainstorms. My feet would then become well aware of what it meant to really feel, no questions asked, what it felt like to be present in the moment. Just the soles of my shoes acquainting themselves with the streets that would guide me through nature’s seasons.
Speaking of seasons, and as the city of nearly all my “firsts,” that beautiful show you put on for me, New York, right outside Lincoln Center may have even outdone the best of Broadway’s. That evening, you blurred all the lines between reality and art and life and play as you had me walk out from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin where the last thing on set was snowfall onto the scene of reality where the first thing I saw outside was snowfall. My first snowfall in New York, with the cold snowflakes tickling my overheated indoor cheeks and melting alongside my own quiet tears of joy for an evening so serene and so lovely and so utterly unforgettable.
Unforgettable, too, were those post-dinner evening strolls in the dimly-lit West Village and that time I walked from 1st Ave to Smalls for some jazz and that other time where four hour conversations over Georgian food and wine in LES were matched only by the beauty of another set of coffee conversations in Midtown — lost in time and found in time.
You didn’t help me develop thick skin, New York. Instead, you made me comfortable in my own, ever-evolving, ever-boundless.
New York, I have so much more to say about you. I’ll start by saying I love you. Deeply.