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  • Rest assured, this is not a love letter to NYC. Love letters are disillusioned saccharine things bursting with passionate but temporary fervor. No, this is more of an introspection. It does not however, mean that I do not love New York.

    I am not sure exactly when it happened, the realization that I was not just a New Yorker but that I loved it, too. I fought against it for a long time. But I am European! I come from a great and old city which is also bursting at the seams with its millions of people. One old and powerful Queen handing off the children it can no longer to take care of to another powerful and new Queen to rear as her own, all the way across the Atlantic.

    This new Queen powerful and rich as she was, did not roll out the welcome mat. The same day we arrived and all our paperwork was processed at the airport we asked our immigration assistant in our native language where do we go now? This is America, she said, anywhere the hell you want! I thought I would find comfort in those from the same old cities but such was not the case. There we might have been friends, but here we were enemies, competitors, rivals. It was a game really, of who can assimilate the fastest. We spoke no English, knew no fashion, had no friends, no income and no clue. But if there is anything New York City knows how it do, its ascend.

    It was over the past 20 years that New York city has taught me English, educated me, clothed me, employed me, sheltered me. All this was not done with mutual love, but with mutual need. New York overwhelmed me, mocked me, pushed me around a bit. A quality that New York and I do share is brutal honesty and all new immigrants who came after me from the old cities got the same replies to their wide-eyed questions. No, you will most likely not like your new school. Yes, they will mock you. No, its not easy. Like most things however, with time it does get better.

    As often heard of arranged marriages, love and mutual respect can grow over time. New York for me was an arranged city, its not a place I would choose to live on my own, even now that I love it. Every chance I had, I tired to leave. To study abroad and failing to do so in high school, college and graduate school either due to poor timing or finances. With every job, I tried to be transferred abroad back in the arms of my beloved Europe and failing again. And so, I recklessly charge my credit cards and book flights just to run back across the Atlantic every chance I get. When the soles of my shoes hit those old cobblestone streets and the clack clack clack noises are in rhythm with my heartbeat, I know that I am where I am meant to be. New York may be my love, but it is not and never was my soulmate.

    But man oh man, do I respect and revere it. It gave me language and career and love and heartbreak and art and walkups and sidewalks and fire hydrants and the whole ocean. It took me years to see it through the eyes of a small-town student, a young couple or tourist. It took me years to understand and to become a part of the rhythm and the people. We were all in it together on 911. I stood down the street from the World Trade Center and watched it burn with my own eyes. I remember the soot and the powder and how it covered everything downtown like apocalyptic snow and how I must have breathed it all in. It became a part of my being, of my cells, of my very DNA that day, and I became a New Yorker for life. I carry the city within me with all its beauty and heartbreak and resilience wherever I go.

    It was New York City that was there for me when I had to live in the suburbs for a few years so someone else can follow their dreams. Oh, how suddenly I missed the brick and the proximity and the sidewalks and the streetlights. I would wander the streets alone in the evenings avoiding the train ride back. I would find quiet nooks and crannies, hidden gems in Manhattan while making my way towards or away from Grand Central station. I would watch the lights go on inside of the walkups and fantasize it was my life inside those walls. It was Manhattan that I dreamed about then, not Europe. I didn't like being forced to leave the city at night to a life I despised and a soul-less suburban sprawl. Once a city girl, always a city girl even if that original city was in Europe.

    It was New York that pushed my to my limits, robbed me of sleep and frustrated me as I finally became a tenant inside one of those walkups. It was New York that aided my misery, concealed my pain behind red brick walls and sometimes even threatened my safety. It was New York that dehydrated me and froze me and pushed out some of my friends to more hospitable places. It was New York that can't bore me, has taught me and has assisted in my professional ascend. It was New York that embraced me as I emerged from the darkness of mostly my own creation, as it fed me, connected me and introduced me to those who helped heal me. It was New York that pulled my friends or loves across continents and states or reared them from birth and connected them all within its arms.

    I didn't love New York until years and years passed within its grasp. And while Europe might be my ultimate destination, when I do go there and they ask me where I am from, I say without hesitation, New York City! This, until a few more spoken words or my real name betray an accent of the old world from which I never fully separated and they may ask again, where I'm originally from. So I tell them this with pride as well, but I do make sure to add "Yeah, but you know what, I think I'm really a New Yorker."

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    Story 36 of 52 - Random Stories in 2014 and 2015
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