In many ways, I know how she feels. Yes, about her daughter but also about myself. For a reason I can’t quite articulate, in my head there is a certain age that I perpetually feel that I am. And regardless of how much time passes and how much father I get from that actual age, I still feel like that girl. I look in the mirror and I see some wrinkles and creases and lumps and bumps – the battle scars of motherhood and aging that I can, on occasion, wear with pride. But in my head I am still that same girl from long ago: I am 24. It is 2001. I have lived in New York City for just a few weeks.I moved there exactly 3 days before 9/11. I had no job, a room in an illegal sublet, and about 6 weeks of money before I had to pack it up and admit defeat to my parents. I was alone and single for the first time in a long time. I dyed my hair and had recently taken up vegetarianism. I knew almost no one including myself.
To say that my first weeks in the City were a bit disorienting would be a bit of an understatement, largely because my first days there were part of such a larger, historic event. Indeed my first experience with NYC would be so different probably from all those who came much before or after me. Instead of the bustling, chaotic, indifference of busy people heading in places you didn’t know to do things you didn’t understand - my first moments with New York were slow. The City that I first met, that I first learned, that I first fell in love with – it felt small. It was bound together in stunned silence and tragedy. Neighbors who knew each other and who didn’t reached out to each other. The typical bustle and business of Amsterdam Avenue that I would later become acquainted with – the constant streak of yellow from cabs and police picking up merry revelers from the Gin Mill across the street –had largely gone quiet. American flags hung outside the windows. The hum of the City and of my neighborhood was replaced with the sounds of heaviness and bagpipes.It was a strange first meeting – me and New York. And it changed me forever. A few weeks after 9/11, I got my first job in the City. I know exactly which street corner I was standing on when I got the call and precisely the feeling surging through me at that moment: that of pride and fear and independence. I had done this – with almost no money and no connections and a City and a girl that barely knew what to make of any of it, I was slowly putting this life together. An apartment, a job: my requisite Sunday New York Times and a cup of coffee as I looked out my kitchen window on the world below.
And those songs from that time, they still bring me back. They were on replay on my Discman (pre-iPod) as I ran around the reservoir at Central Park. Though never much of a runner, the moment I set foot on that path, I was transported into every movie about New York City I had ever watched as a child. I was free. I was actually living some version of a story that I only imagined I’d ever watch. I was Meg Ryan in the Natural History Museum. I was with Hubbell in front of the Plaza in the Way You Were. I have never felt so terrified and small and excited and alive. I was living it.Time, as it has a way of doing, would march on. Many more huge life changing moments would happen well after this point. I would meet and marry my husband, give birth to our children, lose my mother, move and move and move and one day even stay. But through all of it, I knew she was in there, that fighter from all those years ago. This wife and mother and sometimes writer and exhausted barely functioning friend and daughter and sister – she’s the same girl. She may be older and sag in a few more places and sort of but not really be a bit wiser, but that taste of freedom, that spirit of a City and of a girl slowly roaring back to life, if I really squint, I still see her in there.