A guest post by my friend Denise Railey:
My first memory of New York City may not even be my memory, but one that has been part of my life for so long, it feels like mine.
I was in a hospital, in the NICU, to visit my dying infant brother. My mother and step-father were emotionally spent and deep in their grief, yet they managed to convey that this would be the only time I’d ever see my brother. After so many months of waiting for my mom to have him, and after all the excitement, I had a hard time wrapping my 3-year-old head around this news. They followed the hospital visit up with a trip to a toy store to have me pick out a male baby doll – its eyes opened when he was picked up, and closed when he was laid down. I still have it. I named him “Chris” and he was to replace the infant who never made it home from the hospital.
The day they told me my brother had died, I was sitting on the side of my bed. I remember watching my teardrops fall and hit the parquet floor which seemed terribly far away. I remember thinking I should clean up the puddle which had become illuminated by sunlight as the clouds outside the window broke apart. My step-dad said, “When you see rays of sun like that, it means the angels are saying hi to you and taking someone up to heaven. That’s Danny telling you not to cry and that he’s in a better place.” I often think of that when I see sun rays.
Other memories are there of the city from my youth, but they’re vague, as we lived upstate – and these memories may just be the stuff of fantasies.
My times in the city range from the best moments of my life, to some of the worst – of ecstatic heights to searing lows. I either always want to return, or swear I never will again.
What is it about that city that proves so magnetic?
In October 2002, I returned to my home state. I had friends I was eager to see, and I wanted very much to head upstate to pay my respects at Danny’s grave. I arrived at LGA at 10:30 PM and was soon brought to The Plaza Hotel – where I’d be staying. I had gotten a deal, and once in my room, understood why. My view – a brick wall. The room itself was so terribly small that once I opened my luggage I couldn’t get to the bathroom (1 foot away…) without using the bed as a thoroughfare.
The following morning as I crossed the lobby, a man at the front desk asked me how I had enjoyed my night. I hesitated to say anything unkind, but he could tell I was unhappy, and he pressed me. I told him I had always dreamt of coming to The Plaza, and I was sad that my view was of a brick wall. He asked me for my key and told me to return at 3 PM. When I returned, he smiled broadly, handed me a new key, and said, “Welcome, once again, Mrs. Railey, to The Plaza Hotel.” When I opened the door to my new room, I gasped. He had given me a Deluxe Queen on the 11th floor with crystal chandeliers and huge windows overlooking Central Park. Even the bathroom had an enormous window! I cried. That was the view I’d always wanted – of the park’s trees in all their autumn glory, of lovely and graceful Gapstow Bridge, and of the east and west side high rises. Magnificent. I spent an hour or so doing a watercolor of my view, a painting I still have somewhere. My memories of this trip are bittersweet, but I always smile recalling the kindness of the front desk at The Plaza.
A year later, I returned. I had been in my best friend’s wedding in Boston, and had come down to the City to visit with friends who were over from the UK. It was a much better trip, and I had fond memories which made the Empire State Building and Gapstow Bridge two of my favorite places in the world. They were my Happy Spots.
In 2008 I traveled back to the City with my older sister to go to the penultimate game at Old Yankee Stadium. The trip was a lot of drama, but I did meet a charming young man from Queens who left quite an impression on me. He was leaving JFK at the same time we were (and though I always take a cab from the airport, my sister insisted we take the train…). I wasn’t sure which train to take, and I had begun to exchange texts with friends, which irritated my sister. I hadn’t noticed that one of my tennis bracelets had fallen off and landed on the platform. The young man saw it at his feet. He looked at my arm, saw one similar, and tapped me on the shoulder. “I think you just dropped your diamond bracelet.” I shook my arm, rather than looking to see because I was busy being shouted at by my bully sister, and said, “No, I have them.” He was rather insistent. He picked it up, tapped me on the shoulder again and said, “I’m pretty sure this is YOURS.” He was right, it was. The kindness has never been forgotten.
Shortly thereafter circumstances changed in my life, and I avoided the city for years. I neither needed nor wanted a reminder of it. Finally, in 2011, I felt strong enough to return. I longed to go to games at the new Yankee Stadium, and to hell with everything else. I picked a hotel with a view of the Empire State Building, and had the time of my life. I was welcomed to the city by friends old and new, and had 3 delightful birthday parties.
In 2012, I had one of the happiest weeks of my life there. My friends took such prodigious care of me, that it’s a year later and I’m still smiling about this trip. I return again this August for my birthday. I know it won’t be better than last year – it’d be very hard to top that trip! – But I’m sure the city will find some way to welcome me with more kindness from its citizens; it always does.
Denise Railey: Award-winning Pessimist. World-renowned Neurotic. Author. Artist. Anglophile. Bibliophage. Yankee fan. Denise lives in Del Mar, California, with her husband and 2 sons. You may follow her on Twitter: @SunnySoCal (and I strongly recommend that you do!), and you can find her work at http://www.deniserailey.com
(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.)