While I lived in Japan, my trips home tended to be exhausting marathons of breakfast, lunch and dinner dates. Rush, rush, rush, don’t leave anyone out. Pack every available time slot because the chance won’t come again for another year. Though these visits were always soul-nourishing, I invariably came away feeling somewhat disappointed. The disappointment came from not having had the time to simply soak in the atmosphere of the city I’d desperately yearned to be part of since my childhood.
I seem to be tackling one neighborhood per day in my slow, ambling quest to get reacquainted with my beloved New York City. SoHo and Tribeca with Momo one day, Little Italy with Diego another. Lunch in Chelsea with Koko turns into a langurous walk through the skewed streets of the West Village. Certain subway stops make me nostalgic. The old Georgian architecture makes me swoon. As before, I am back and forth, up and down, but the difference is that with four whole months ahead of me, any pressure is completely gone. I am free to indulge in the little things that, for me, have always made the most impact. I can shop for Mother’s Day cards with Momo and end up with a cunning yellow headband from GirlProps. I can pop over to visit Erma in Sunnyside and look over the sketches for her wedding cake topper. I can run into an old friend in Chelsea and we can make an open plan to “see each other soon.” If I’m not ready for a Gray’s Dog or a Marie’s Crisis night just yet, there’s next week.
The sun sets around 8 p.m these days. There are moments of rain but these give way to bursts of perfect weather. Momo agrees that the foliage in New York City right now is unusually lush. She chalks it up to all of the said rain. I feel surrounded by leaves, as though I am heading into a jungle vortex each time I cross avenues. The effect is dazzling and I remember my first real spring ten years ago. In Florida there are two seasons; Summer and Gray-Slightly-Colder Summer. All of that nonsense about Spring and Fall had never made sense to me until I moved to New York City. It was here that I saw sakura for the first time. My arrival this spring hit just after most of the sakura have fallen and everywhere I see their petals scattered on the sidewalk. It was the same in Japan when I left, and sometimes I half forget where I am.
I scribble, pitch articles, send out resumes, make dates with friends, and take lots of walks. I end up weighing plastic bags of fruit or hair products in each hand, like a horoscope Libra come to life. The savory aromas from the kebab carts beckon towards me in cartoon waves as I pass until I yield for a hot, peppery knish. I peel back the foil and eat it shamelessly on the train. Nobody glares at me. When I leave drugstores, people hold doors for me and I’m not stunned. They tell me to have a nice day instead of congratulating me for working hard. I know where to pay and where to put my money when paying at the store. I know who to tip and how much. I know where to find the magazine I want. I know what will happen if I make eye contact with the raving homeless person on the train. I know that if I chew on my hangnail I won’t horrify onlookers. I know which side of the escalator to stand on. I know what I should say when I receive that lovely wish to have a nice day.
Living abroad is a night at the hip hop club – you flail your junk on the dance floor and hope no one notices that you don’t know any steps, or that your clothes aren’t quite right. Being home is like falling in step with a line dance; like being clasped in the embrace of a trusted tango partner. You know when to pull. You know when to dip. You know when to slide. Somehow, you can trust that it will all turn out fine. Even if you don’t know your partner. Even if you don’t like to dance.