New York is the world’s biggest small town.
In a city of eight million people, one is constantly bumping up against friends of friends of friends; people from one’s one-stoplight, map-dot hometown; etc. And everyone knows everyone, and everyone else’s business. In my building, at least, I know everyone. I know the dogs, and the kids, and I say good morning to Tony in 7B, and Abby in 6H, and Ham the Bulldog, and Maggie the Boston Terrier, and did you know that Elvis the French Bulldog moved across the street because his parents needed more space after they had the baby?
Despite living about 20 blocks from my ex-husband, I have never run into him. Our lives are lived in opposite directions — I work in midtown, he works in the Financial District. I am a morning person; he is not. Our dogs go to the same daycare, on the rare occasion that I take Roo there, but he has a driver or handler transport Maisy and Julius and, well, Roo is a dog. He can get there on his own four legs.
So imagine my surprise when I was leaving a fitness class a few blocks from my apartment and I spotted a man in canary yellow slacks, a peculiarly crisp oxford, an ill-fitting seersucker blazer, and what appeared to be a gorgeous silk tie crossing the street. I nearly laughed out-loud, because the outfit was so ridiculous.
It was something someone might wear to a fancy-dress party if the theme were “Preppies” or something an old man in the South might wear with a straw hat to church on Sunday. But on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a Friday night, the get-up looked utterly ridiculous. In fact, I was entertaining the rather uncharitable thought of: Who is that freak and who does he think he is kidding?
It was at that moment that the gentleman made it across Second Avenue, and gave me the universal sign of greeting, and I realised: Oh my goodness. I used to be married to that freak.
Andrew, what the hell are you wearing? I blurted, as he gave me a perfunctory, arm’s-length embrace. I was post-Refine Method sweaty, and he was not one to soil a good outfit.
He pulled back, smiled, and lifted his trouser hem to show off the argyle socks that complemented his look.
I shook my head.
We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me of a trip to Scotland that he’d like to plan for the near future, wanting to know nothing about my recent travels there. Then we parted ways, with him heading off to the Second Avenue Deli, which was now on First Avenue, and me heading home.
I immediately texted my best friend, describing the incident.
You know he always dressed like that, right? she replied.
My life was so different now. I had come to New York engaged to that man, and had lived my entire life as a married and divorced woman in this City. Seeing him on the street corner, with him in those ridiculous trousers was like seeing him for the first time — not as I had always wanted to see him, but as he actually was.
I went home, showered, and opened the box where I was still stashing my framed wedding invitation, and rehearsal dinner invitations, along with the evidence of those years of having been married. Without hesitation, I gathered it all up and threw it away.
What I realised, as I took out the trash, is that I think some people need the Bigness of the world to encourage them to move on, and to tell them that it’s okay to take in all the hope and possibility the world has to offer. I suppose that, for me, what I had to remember is that the small stuff matters, even in New York City, where the big stuff will eat you alive.
(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)