Ruby Slippers

The end of this week will mark the end of my seventh year in New York City.  Has it really been that long?  I’ve spent fully a third of the last twelve months — July-to-June — outside of the City: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Madrid, Los Cabos, Los Angeles — just to name a few.

This is to say nothing of San Francisco; Shanghai.  Hong Kong.

I’ve seen Cupid at the Rijksmuseum; I’ve seen Hockney at the Royal Academy — that photo-collage of the sign on Pearblossom Highway always gets me.  But it was shocking the way it got me this year — a non-native daughter of California; a New Yorker; staring at the work in London; remembering why she left Los Angeles and its shimmering, heat-soaked cul-de-sacs.

I’ve run (literally) the Silverado Trail in Napa, and I have driven to the top of the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 as the sun was setting; as I was headed into the Valley from LAX and I have marvelled at how even such ticky-tacky tract-house nonsense could at once be so ludicrous and so breathtaking.

I’ve been caught without an umbrella in a downpour in Hong Kong — in all honesty, I should’ve expected that rain — and I trashed a pair of beloved heels.  I laughed it off because I was Cinderella with both shoes on and my spell had been broken.

My seventh year in New York was riots and shingles and travel and sickness and health, and learning to live on my own at the edge of the unexpected.

And it was lived most profoundly; vividly ex Manhattan.  How peculiar.

So I was sitting at dinner in London on Friday night with my friend R, and everything was perfect.  We were laughing and catching up when “Empire State of Mind” came on the stereo.  I smiled, because I remembered the feeling I’d had the first time I’d heard the song — driving over the Verrazano Bridge late one night coming from Washington to New York.  The opening shot of my divorce had just been fired; my belongings were scattered up and down the Eastern Seaboard; I was to run my very first New York City Marathon, then within 48 hours, go out to California to help a client with the dirty work of a fairly unpalatable transaction.

Nothing was right.

But every time I hear that song, I remember that one desperate moment when everything was wrong, and I was crossing back into the pea soup of my life, but I knew that the next time I crossed the Verrazano into Brooklyn, it would be on foot.  And I would run through the streets of New York.  Even if I had nothing else in the world — the City wasn’t going to leave me.

But the song ended, and my dinner with R continued, and I was in present-day London, and not 2009 New York where I was once upon a time so homesick for a life that I would never again live that I could’ve died on the spot.  We finished our dinner, hugged and kissed, and retired to our respective homes.  And I was to leave London mid-day on the following day, so I went in for a good night’s sleep.

The next day, after a car service snafu and my own lack of hurry to leave, I barely made it to Heathrow in time for my flight.  Once I finally got on the plane and was settled in, I pulled out my iPad to watch Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.”  I’d resolved to do this a long time ago, but it seemed particularly appropriate now.

I was lukewarm on the movie.  But the scenes of the City!  The shots of the 59th Street Bridge, like the film was made just for me!  And then it ended, and the camera pulled back to show the skyline, and “Rhapsody in Blue” played, and I gasped with a sob because it was that moment when you remember how much you love something.

Have you ever loved something irrationally; wholly; sincerely, and forgotten that you loved it in the first place?  And after the forgetting, time goes by, and you think you’ll maybe never feel the same way again, but then there it is, smacking you in the face, glittering and beautiful, and…brand new.

That was my New York.

The flight eventually landed at JFK, and the experience was unremarkable.  But as the driver took me back into Manhattan, with the sun starting to sink a little behind the skyline as we headed for the Midtown Tunnel, there it was:  the gorgeous, unique view unlike any other I’d seen in the world.

It took my breath away.

And as we entered the tunnel and I glanced down, I noticed that I had, that morning, put on my silly red patent leather heels  — something to motivate me to get ready to leave London.

I had spent the last year racing ’round the world only to find that there was no place like home.

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