"It couldn't have happened anywhere but in little old New York." --O. Henry
A few weeks ago, I spent a day in New York City, walking around a large portion of lower Manhattan, eating pizza in Little Italy, entering the bizarre underground world of designer handbag sales in Chinatown (knock-off or stolen, I don't know), exploring local neighborhoods of NoHo, SoHo and NoLita--the streets lined with merchants' booths and the air filled with the aroma of meats smoking on grills, having dinner and drinks in the Flatiron District, and even shopping at a church rummage sale. It was a long, rich, and rewarding day, and I went home exhausted, my love of the City firmly in place.
Oddly, some of my most amazing memories and experiences have taken place in New York. At 18, I drove there from Cornell with a car-full of close friends, saw the City for the first time, and fell in love. I spent my 30th birthday there, which marked a turning point in my life, causing me to question all that I had known to that point and setting my future off on a distinctly different path. Mitchell and I spent a couple of days there about a year after we moved to Connecticut, and I was finally able to wake up in the "city that never sleeps." And now, on this trip, New York played the perfect host to a reunion 28 years in the making.
My oldest and dearest childhood friend had told me that she would be coming to New York from Houston in the fall of this year. We hadn't seen each other since my family had left New Orleans in 1982, except for a brief visit some time during our early high school years that neither of us could remember much about. We had stayed in touch over the years mostly thanks to her persistence through annual Christmas cards and family photos. (My terrible history with correspondence should be explored in a future entry.) I was extremely excited to see her after so many years apart. I had "penciled it in" a few months in advance and wondered how our meeting would go--would we know each other, what would we talk about, would it be awkward?
As the weeks ticked by and her visit neared, I began to feel nervous about the reunion. Since I had a medical procedure done in June, I had been dealing with physical symptoms that made it difficult to exercise, or had at least given me an excuse not to. I think the real problem was a depression that I had sunk into when I learned about Alla's fatal illness in July. I hadn't felt much like doing anything since then, and I had gained back a lot of the weight that I lost last year. How could I let her see me like this? I had been a tall and skinny kid. Now I was tall and very far from skinny. I was nervous about being judged, uncomfortable in my own skin, and afraid of "messing up" the whole get-together with my negative mood. I almost hoped for something to come up that would make it impossible to meet up.
The day that my friend arrived in New York, she called me. She had already been to the top of the Empire State Building, and her excitement was audible. When she asked about me coming to the City to see her, I began my reply with something like, "We're gonna try." She snapped back at me, "Try?!" I instantly remembered her incredible tenacity and knew that I would be seeing her come Hell or high water. I also knew that it didn't matter what I looked like or how much I weighed. Something in her voice relaxed and reassured me. I was once again excited about spending time with an old friend.
The day in New York taught me something that I had forgotten, a lesson I had taken for granted in all of my years spent wondering where I fit in, where home was, where I belonged...a symptom, I believe, of moving too many times. I realized that there is a purity about friendships formed when you are very young...before you know what it means to be cool, before the cruel judgments of the outside world tell you who you should be and how you should act, and certainly before it matters how much money you have, how thin your are, or what you do for a living. She had known me during the years that I was most authentically myself, so she knew me on a level that others who had only known me as an adult may never know me. She already knew that I was a good person, goofy-yes, but sincere. And, she carried with her the ultimate token of our enduring friendship in the form of the handmade construction paper card that I made for her just before my family moved away. (Seriously! It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen!)
I had at one point thought about spending my 40th birthday in New York. I now realize that she's already given me a gift that I can carry into the next year of my life. I've made a conscious decision to end the depression that I've been in. I've begun exercising and following my diet again. I'm looking forward to redefining the word "home" and to continuing to create a home for myself with those who mean the most to me, regardless of geography. I remember who I was as a child and no longer feel alien from her. I am still that little girl. I will always be that little girl.
Thanks, New York. I owe you one!