When I think back on my time in New York I can’t help but think about falling in love. First I fell in love with the city itself. With the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the fall trees lining Central Park, with the buckets of carnations in front of bodegas, with my crazy Irish boss, with boxes of fresh fish on the streets of Chinatown, and, of course, the frequent nose-to-armpit intimacy of strangers on subways. I could go on and on. (The Chrysler Building at night! Cupcake Cafe! The Strand!)
Clearly there is something about New York that is completely intoxicating to me. Perhaps it is because of that intoxication, because of the sounds, the smells, the sights, that great heightening of the senses that I became receptive to falling in love again.
It happened quickly, when I was still in that dazed, semi-touristy, walk-with-your head-up-while-looking-at-the-tall-shiny-buildings stage. My new coworkers decided to take me out for drinks a few days after I began my first job in publishing, just a week or so after my move to the city. As is sometimes the case in New York City, a bar can look pretty unimpressive from the street, but then you walk in and find a cozy fireplace inside and a spectacular little garden in the back. I remember sitting down with my new friends at a long oak table and hearing from someone at the other end call, “Hey, Jen, didn’t you go to school in California?” Before I knew it I was sitting next to the man with whom I would experience the best (and at times hardest) moments of the next four years of my life.
D., as I will call him, was über blond and adorable and I remember thinking My mom will love this…I move all the way across the country only to meet another California guy who from the looks of it is far from Jewish. But he made me laugh immediately and at that moment my mom’s arguments for keeping Judaism alive and well went right down the toilet. D. took me to the back garden of the bar. It was lit with tiny white lights, and, most memorable to me, fireflies. I hadn’t seen fireflies since I was a kid living in Pennsylvania. I was hooked. Hooked by his smile, by the lights, by the fireflies. (And it didn’t hurt that he actually was Jewish. I could hear my mom kvelling across the miles….)
I have a hazy memory of D. making sure I got back to my apartment in Little Italy that night. We shared a long, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes kiss on the corner of Mott & Hester before he took a cab back uptown to his place. And so it began. In those first few months D. took me to see the lions at the New York Public Library. We rode a ferry on the Hudson and saw the Statue of Liberty. We had picnics in the park and watched roller skating dancers. We scarfed down fresh from the oven everything bagels with obscene amounts of cream cheese, and were regulars at Pug Brothers for their caramel popcorn. We looked at old books in dusty, labyrinthine bookstores that filled me with such joy that D. would have to coax me out lest I’d set up a tent and stay all night.
Our growing affection for one another was woven with the threads of our mutual love of the city. D. had grown up spending time in New York with his grandparents, so he had an ease with city life that soon rubbed off on me. He taught me how to navigate the subways, the buses, crazy taxi drivers, even how to survive a ride with his tiny grandfather at the wheel of a huge cruiser (buckle up and close your eyes, Jen).
After a year or so we moved in together. We slept in a tiny loft you had to climb a ladder to get into. Directly below the loft was the common area of the apartment that was often inhabited by our other roommates. As I recall, we couldn’t stand up in the loft. But it was dark and cozy and felt very Manhattan. Not Carrie Bradshaw Manhattan. It was young love in a sweaty coat closet Manhattan minus the glamorous collection of high heels.
Months led to years, to a short wonderful phase of getting high and eating injera and beriberi infused dishes at our favorite Ethiopian food place night after night, to spending hours going from movie to movie and then collapsing in the loft only to repeat it all again the next weekend. To all of this we added a tiny black cat who inhabited another love story (Falling in Love With a Tiny Black Cat While Falling in Love With a Guy While Falling in Love With New York City).
It goes without saying that sometimes good things have to come to an end. D. and I struggled through breakups, coming together and breaking apart a few times until we were both able to be resolute. In New York City, you can’t easily move out and find a new apartment to live in quickly. It takes time, hustle, and money to move. So when D. and I finally agreed to call it quits, we continued to live together while searching for new housing. He lived in the living room and I lived in the bedroom. Our cat bridged the divide. After a while I took my coworker up on a bet to try Match.com for a free trial week. (Me: Are you kidding me?, Me: Hey, this guy is really cool, Me: I can’t believe I’m dating again.) It was D. who heard his voice on the answering machine and said, “You are going to marry this guy!” He was right, and he knew it before me. And so began the next part of Falling in Love While Falling In Love With New York City.
In reading this over, I think this is really a thank you letter to D. and a love letter to NYC. If it wasn’t for D., I would never have grown enough to be open to the relationship that came next, the one that was to be lifelong. And if it wasn’t for the intoxication of New York, for the romance of bridges, and strangers, and tiny restaurants, I may have missed out on love altogether.