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  • Lindsay S. Wheeler

An Ode to New York

New York City, I met you when I was too young to like you. In fact, I kind of hated you. You gave me so much anxiety that I wouldn’t eat leading up to our encounter. With an hour train ride between us, it was easy to take you for granted. But now I know you more personally and see you're just misunderstood. These days, it seems as though the rain will never stop, and black puddle water has ruined my shoes. But you always make up for it with your sunsets and the silhouette of the Freedom Tower from the east side. The life will soon run back into a place that loses its pulse as holiday cheer fades to melancholia.

When I’m having a bad day, I know I can go outside at any hour and feel I’m not alone. This place can be one of two things for a person with mental illness: a nightmare or a dream. But the support of my neighbors is tangible even on empty streets. When one person I love doesn’t come through, I still have a family here. It’s a huge place, but my coffee shop still asks about Tubs and knows I like 2%. I love that I still get on the subway the wrong way sometimes, or that I miss my stop because I’m buried in the pages of a good book. I love that, without fail, my city friends will show up to my dog parties and celebrate my antidepressant anniversaries. I smile at those stickers people plaster all over curbs on Second Avenue and at vibrant graffiti art. New York is a landscape shaped by millions of people trying to affect culture at once. When given permission to paint a wall mural, the New York artist will make a poignant statement about humankind. That is beautiful.

I love the seasons in New York, as confusing as they can be. I love being a silent observer, watching as the FDR closes on the Fourth of July. People flow out onto the highway from every direction, carrying lawn chairs and sparklers. I grew up thinking that small towns are the best places to watch fireworks, but to see hundreds of thousands of windows reflect such color and light is something else. I cherish the way Madison Square Garden turns into a constellation when the lights go down; how sound reverberates off the walls and into space. I hate that someone destroyed this feeling last week with a single bomb.

In October, thousands of dogs congregate in Tompkins Square Park for a Halloween parade. Their humans plan costumes for a year leading up to it. I love that at least fifteen people send me the same Gothamist article covering best costumes every year, just because they know me that well. There are six dogs named Macaroni in New York City, but just one dog named Tubs, and it’s perfect that way. I love that I would forget altogether what fall is without going to the park, and that coffee shops and tiny stores try so hard to remind me. I love that my allergies are worse here than they were in Vermont, despite the fact that I thought they’d go away completely ‘cause, well, no trees… I love that every year in November, over fifty thousand people run twenty-six miles across the five boroughs; that over a million people watch in admiration. There is nothing quite like having the privilege of seeing runners as they fall to their knees at the finish line, overwhelmed by the journey.

I adore New York City snowstorms and how the Plaza can sweep you right into the pages of a children’s book when it’s dusted in snow. I love carrying Tubs 10 blocks home after he falls over because salt gets between his webbed toes. When the snow stops, I walk through the park alone and revel in the paradox of peaceful discord. And I’d love to have been the guy who broke every law snowboarding behind a car through the streets. The video was just so magical that the NYPD couldn’t help but forgive him.

I love that some people are crazy enough to stand outside at two in the morning to try one of your new pastries, that you've made churned-up-milk-from-a-bowl-of-soggy-cornflakes-ice-cream famous, and that guacamole sundaes exist. I can find a cookie the size of my head on the UWS, but also a cupcake the size of a quarter, and they both cost $3 each. This is a long overdue ode to the ridiculousness of that. You’ve made me question the order of things: why in the world would a pharmacy ever close? If I need ice cream at 3 a.m. it shouldn’t be a problem because Seamless is always there. I love the sound of jazz and the way it mingles on street corners with garlic butter leaving tiny French kitchens. I find the dozen homeless bagels in the alley by my building fascinating and wonder where they came from. And to the guy that called me stupid at Vive la Crêpe because I grabbed the wrong water bottle off the counter, I even love you.

New York, you tell it’s okay that I want to scream at the top of my lungs or wear my PJs on the subway. That it’s okay to cover my whole body in neon glitter because there’s a swirly-mustached man downstairs wearing eight-inch wedges and a top hat. There is a woman in Manhattan who will curse in my face if she sees me wearing a rainbow shirt. But seconds after it happens, you teach me that ten strangers will be at my defense next time; that they won’t hesitate in telling her there’s no place for that in our city. You've given me just the dose of mean I’ve always needed. You’ve exposed biases around me I once failed to question; made me tougher and more protective, but also more open and empathetic. When that man called me something awful at the dog park, I didn’t even cry this time. I had to grow up when I met you – had to be a better me.

New York, when I see your cobblestone streets, I am humbled by your history; my chest fills with fuzziness. In forbidding plant life, you’ve made an oasis of every shady tree beyond the island. I realize I haven’t witnessed true darkness in two years but I don’t care because the warmth of your lights is the safest thing I know. I never fully understood the ‘small world’ concept until I moved here – of course it’s a small world when you live in a small town and travel in small circles. But among almost nine million people, I sometimes bump into the same woman three times in a day.

You’ve allowed me to cry in public and feel okay about it. If I’m on the train looking at old pictures of Hammy or watching a particularly rough episode of Grey’s, I can unleash all the feelings. I tell at least two people a day about my lifelong struggle with depression. That I can even do this at all is huge privilege afforded by living here. You’ve shown me that while I’m just one tiny speck, I am still a part of what makes you, you. When that man tripped me up the stairs at the Wall Street station, stepping on my arm and legs at once, he never looked back. Still, I couldn’t not laugh. And there’s always that one person with something nice to say right afterward. I love that I can come upon my favorite artist playing piano on the street casually - drawn by the allure of New York - just looking to fill people with hope.

#newyorkcity #community #love #urban #art #music

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