I flew to NY one spring to get an abortion. It was a child I wanted but could not keep. Ambulance sirens are to NY what the sound of running water is to a river: constant and inevitable. But this one was coming for me, the child having decided to leave on his (or her) own terms, and thinking she might take me with her. The dirty streets of the lower east side, with their chick boutiques and the overwhelming smell of left over food from the previous night’s dinners, will for ever be intertwined with that ambulance and the events that followed.
Whenever I return to New York the first thing I recognize is the thick humid air. Not the hot dogs from the vendor stands. Not the pretzels. Not event the bright yellow taxis sliding through the fog. Just the air, so thick and wet it has it’s own smell.
New York and I have a history. Some of it I was too young to remember, but I have proof in the shape of aged photographs of myself posing in front of landmarks like the oversized number nine on West 57th Street, or on top of the empire state building, with a foggy Manhattan acting as backdrop. This was the first big move. The first time my world was turned upside down and sideways. The first time I was old enough to know I was being uprooted and to feel the cold air on my exposed roots. While my siblings were old enough to hang out in Washington Square Park trying to look like Sid Vicious, I was still too young, and that backdrop remained a mystery filled with secrets. NY was but a stepping stone, and we left before I could get to know it.
I came back years later to train for my first job. I lived with a group of strangers brought together by a large corporate firm. The bubble was shiny and those populating Wall Street still felt like semi-gods. Long walks on warm summer nights through crowded streets, the thick humid air embracing us and the sounds of heavy traffic together. We ate from the salad bar at corner stores, with plastic white forks that would inevitably break in our hands. Finally we had our own money, so weekends were spent in SOHO shops wondering if our butt looked big, or buying perfumes at Macys. Cheap and readily available taxis could take us anywhere. All we had to do was raise our hand and the world was ours. It was but a whisper and soon I’d fly away, certain that I would return.
Which I did, briefly, to that downtown hospital.
Still some years later, and straight from the Rift Valley, I returned to the concrete jungle. This time I came as a wife, a dreamer and an aid worker. I lived in the East Village surrounded by shops with names and foods from Eastern Europe I could barely pronounce. Every morning I took the bus up second avenue to the UN buildings. I relished my Cheese cake at Veniero’s and spent lazy afternoons having coffee at Mud, before it became a motorized franchise. We danced under the open sky on an old ship at Chelsea piers. Late at night came the Cosmopolitans at Simones. The night was young and so were we.
Another hospital, this time in mid town, gave me my first child. I welcomed a loud and demanding baby in the arms of this city. It was spring. I had planted tulips in the hope that they would bloom for her birth, which they did. The heavy air embraced her under the shade of overgrown trees that muffled the street noise for her slumber. And when she couldn’t sleep, like the city, we walked the streets surrounded by students from NYU or Parsons, eager to taste the forbidden fruit. Soon after we left.
We’ve been back for seven months now. The same humid air hits me as spring draws near, and with it all the memories. There are tulips in my garden, their bulbs undecided about their new home, or maybe they’re just waiting for her birthday. We live in Brooklyn now. The streets are wider and quieter. I work from home and can see from my desk the bulbs, the stray cats we took in for the winter, and my children hanging from the monkey bars. Going into the city sometimes it strikes me how far away it feels from this new piece of NY we are in the process of discovering. Strolling down the cobbled Meatpacking district feels like I’m walking in a distant memory.
I’m a mother now and my personal compass searches for parks to have picnics and water fountains to cool us off when the sun burns bright. A good Sunday afternoon includes a walk to the butcher on Smith street and falafel on the Corner of Atlantic. Inevitably ice cream. I go to yoga by donation and have traded my Starbucks for a soya latte. And then there is jazz. Music which I learned to love here, and can only love here.
We are now searching for a house we can call our own. Where I will no longer have to dig up the bulbs up when we migrate. It’s only right that it should finally happen in this city.
other posts on NY"
'does NY make my butt look big?'
'first impressions:NY & Brooklyn' photo post