“I’m going to live here one day,” I announced, stepping off the Bieber Bus, overwhelmed and smitten with a city larger than life. I can visualize that trip as if it happened last year. How I felt, knew, or even imagined that I wanted to live in New York City within 24 hours of arrival, I couldn’t say. But I knew. Seeing the original production of A Chorus Line certainly didn’t hurt either, even though my mom covered my ears for half the show.
That first visit to New York City was in 1979 when I made the trip with my mother and a group of other young aspiring dancers. We attended a summer dance convention with classes in all genres – ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and even belly dancing. We stayed at what was then the Doral Inn on Lexington Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. During that intense week of classes, I got my introduction to the Big Bad Apple and all the city had to offer. I was learning dance by day and exploring NYC by night. It was the best of two worlds and the best education I could’ve asked for, especially coming from a small city and a sheltered childhood.
Forty years ago, the streets of NYC were dark and dirty. Crime was as regular as traffic, so riding the subways after dark was a no-no. Cabs were cheap. Many things were cheap. But rent wasn’t. And certain parts of Manhattan that are now the hippest and priciest were off limits – there were streets that you wouldn’t even drive down, let alone walk.
And yet, I LOVED it. Yes, of course I was young, but I knew then that New York was a unique place––like no other in the world, even though I hadn’t been anywhere beyond the East Coast of the US :). And so I claimed it as mine. I said that I would one day live here and call the city home. I was determined.
I guess I can compare knowing that I’d live here eventually to a person experiencing anything in life that rattles their core. When I arrived in the filthy, crime-infested Port Authority on that hot summer day, something clicked. I overlooked the grit and grime, the hookers and pimps. None of that mattered. I saw bright lights. Big buildings. Inspiration. Promise.
Throughout my teen years and also into my young adult years, dance in New York was the love of my life. As corny as it sounds, all the meaningless dates and imaginary boyfriends never quite cut it. Although I had searched, I never found the type of love that lasts a lifetime.
I thought my first true love was classical ballet, but of course, my desire to dance in the ballet was in New York City. In the early 1980s, I made as many trips to the city as my parents would allow and could afford. I took dance classes; walked the streets; rode the bus; ate in diners. At 14 years old, I felt like a New Yorker, or at least a wanna-be. And at just 15, I wanted to quit school and move to New York to attend the High School of Performing Arts. I guess I watched the movie Fame one too many times.
When I turned 18, I made the decision to move and start my life here. But, just as moving to New York City isn’t easy now, it wasn’t easy then. I can think of at least four separate occasions when my plan to move to the city crumbled. After those multiple attempts, I finally put the dream behind me and tried to forget about my love affair with New York.
I failed for the final time in the mid-1980s. I remember thinking that I’d finally done it. At last I would live here! A friend called and said she had a dance colleague who was performing out of town for the summer and needed someone to sublet his apartment. It was on the Upper East Side! I called my ballet friend and made arrangements for her to meet me there. I arrived, and the first night, I slept with my head on a wood kitchen table because the apartment was that disgusting. It wasn’t even cleanable. Live here? I couldn’t. I scoured the city that day and searched for a tidier and affordable alternative with no luck. A large Upper East Side one-bedroom at $700 a month sounded too good to be true, and it was. So I went back home to Reading, PA. Defeated.
About a year or so later, I got a call. My friend and almost roommate had found another New York apartment. I could pack my bags and move to the city. But, I wasn’t interested. That last experience had left a bad taste in my mouth. As hungry as I once was, I was now scared and confused. I had given up on New York. I wanted to stay in Pennsylvania with my friends and my retail job working at a makeup counter. I felt like a grown-up and I liked it. I didn’t return to the city, even as a tourist, for six or seven years. Just like a dead-end relationship, I thought New York and I were over for good.
And so, I moved on. I relocated to Philadelphia and attended art school for several years. After graduation and a brief stint back home in PA, I considered giving New York City another shot, but something stopped me. Perhaps I knew that I couldn’t bear the rejection again. Or, maybe it was my acceptance that some things are just not meant to be.
A few years passed, and in 1995, I had an opportunity to migrate to the South, and Atlanta became my home for 12 years. I met my husband, started a business, owned a big house, had more friends than I could count, and accomplished all that is expected of a thirty-something. Life was good.
Then 9-11 happened, and I was devastated. I remember thinking that this horrific tragedy happened to my city. New York was a place that I hadn’t visited in years, and still, my connection was undeniable. I yearned to be there.
In 2002, I came back. I began visiting Manhattan again, and not to my surprise, I fell in love like the first time. I began to dream the dream more than 20 years later. I looked for every opportunity to travel to the city again and again, sometimes several times in one year. While living in Atlanta, I would kick back on my screened porch, listen to Sinatra and daydream on almost a daily basis. I thought that I’d never be in New York permanently, but I could fantasize about what living in the city would be like.
Then without warning, my life changed course in 2007. The financial crisis hit, the housing market crashed, and my husband lost his job. After many applications and interviews in various cities, he had multiple offers in Manhattan. My dream could now become reality. Could I actually leave my familiar life behind and make the move to New York City?
Questions raced through my mind. Could I take this chance once again? My lifestyle would be the polar opposite of what it had been. I’d downsize from my 2,800 square foot Victorian bungalow to a 950 square foot apartment. I’d ride the subway every day instead of driving. I’d have to give up what I thought was an easier way of living. Could I handle such a drastic change?
I didn’t know if moving to New York was the right decision, but destiny took over. Somehow, all my questions were answered, and all the pieces fell into place.
Forty years after that very first visit to Manhattan, as I walk many of the same streets that I walked so many years ago, I pause, and I think. I think about my time here when I was young, inexperienced, and naive. I think about the way the city has changed, mostly for the better. I think about the blood, sweat, and tears, and all the emotion through my years of training and aspiration to dance professionally. I also think that perhaps my love of loves was never really ballet to begin with.
What I adored was the adventure and excitement of coming to this city to be a part of it all. I was a tiny needle in a huge haystack, but an individual at the same time. I felt a sense of belonging that I’d never felt before. I felt at home on the streets of New York, the concrete jungle, the cold harsh, rough-and-tumble city that so many people run from. The thrill, energy and beat of New York that no other place can even begin to touch were an addiction for me, and always will be.
In 2007, I discovered that my home is here, and probably has been since my heart arrived in 1979.
It was always New York.
Now that I’m a New Yorker and proud to be one, I have to coin the phrase – “True love never dies.” And after all, any love that enduring deserves another chance.