I remember the first time I visited New York City as a child. I made the trip with my mother and a group of other young, aspiring dancers. We were attending a summer dance convention with classes in all genres – ballet, tap, jazz, even belly dancing. We stayed at the Doral Inn on Lexington between 49th and 50th Streets. We also experienced the Big Bad Apple, and all the city had to offer in 1979.
I can visualize that trip as if it happened last year – stepping off the Bieber bus overwhelmed and smitten at the same time. Without pause, I said the words so many have said before me, “I’m going to live here one day.” How I felt, knew, or even imagined that I wanted to live in New York within 24 hours of arriving, I couldn’t begin to say. But I knew. Seeing the original production of A Chorus Line certainly didn’t hurt the experience either, even though my mom covered my ears for half the show.
I guess I can compare knowing that I’d live here eventually to a person feeling sure about anything important in life – a child knowing what he wants to be when he grows up, or having that deep, in-your-gut feeling when you have finally found your life partner. You see, throughout my teens 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. It was always New York. 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.
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 years when my plan to move to the city fell apart. 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’d become a New Yorker. That night, I slept with my head on a kitchen table in a filthy apartment that was supposed to be my sublet with another dancer. Live here? No way. I scoured the city that day and searched for a cleaner albeit 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.
About a year or so later, I got a call, and my friend and almost roommate had found another apartment. I could pack my bags and move to the city. But, I didn’t. That last experience had left a bad taste in my mouth. As hungry as I once was, I was now scared and confused. 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 gave up on New York and didn’t return, 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 as a thirty-something. Life was good.
The outside of my house in Atlanta…
My living room in Atlanta…
Then, 9-11 happened, and I was devastated. I remember thinking that this horrific tragedy had happened to my city. New York was a place that I’d not visited in years, and still, I felt a strong connection. I yearned to be there despite the tragedy and chaos.
In 2002, 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. My nostalgia returned, but more intense than in my early years. I looked for every opportunity to come back to the city, again and again, sometimes several times in one year. I would 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.
Without warning, my life changed course in 2007. The financial crisis hit, the housing market crashed, and my husband Mike 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 entirely different than 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.
Destiny took over. Somehow, all my questions were answered, and all of the pieces fell into place.
Thirty 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 like a tiny needle in a huge haystack, but an individual at the same time. I felt a sense of belonging and comfort that I’d never felt before. The thrill, energy and beat of NYC 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.