Surprises happen all the time in New York. Aside from its tall buildings, its impressive concentration of bodies, its barely controlled anarchy, one of its most notable features is its function as a major crossroads. It seems like everyone comes here sooner or later. For someone who has spent a lot of her life on the move across the country and around the world, it’s amazing how many people from all segments of my past life combine here. I have friends living here that I’ve known from stays in Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, England, France, and that strangest of all possible countries, the internet. There are friends from elementary school, junior high, several high schools, college, grad school, and jobs I used to have. It’s nice to see them again after all this time and it’s nice to be able to drop back into those parts of my life every now and then. It’s like knitting things back together.
But the biggest surprises are from the people who drop in unexpectedly. Last time I was here, I had a run-in with two people I used to work with, and whom I didn’t even know knew each other. Yesterday morning, my friend B announced on Facebook that she had arrived in NY from her home in Pr@gue, and I knew I had to do something about it.
My senior year in college, there was a group of five of us, who all lived in the same dorm, who used to spend a lot of time together. One of them was Cranky. Another was B, a native New Yorker. One of my favorite memories of B comes from summer after I graduated (B was a year or two behind the rest of us). I was living in Boston at the time and had come to New York to visit Cranky, who was, at the time, living in a tiny apartment with another college friend over a piano bar on the Upper East Side. B, who grew up on the Upper West Side and was staying with her parents for the summer, gave me a walking tour of the city. I’d been here many times. I grew up in New York’s shadow. But this was an entirely new trip. We started in Morningside Heights with breakfast at the Hungarian Pastry shop and then basically walked to Brooklyn, hopping subways occasionally to save our feet. We walked through Williamsburgh long before it was hipster central. We had borscht in Brighton Beach. I believe that was the last time I saw B. B later went to Y@le for a PhD and now teaches literature in Prague, where she lives with her Russian artist husband and not-quite-four-year-old daughter L.
J was another member of the group. J is a botanist. She transferred to our college from elsewhere and, in a bizarre coincidence, she had recently broken up with a boyfriend because he’d cheated on her with and eventually left her for…my friend E, who played in orchestra and chamber orchestra with me at my final high school. I’ve seen J a couple of times since graduation. The first was the summer afterwards when she was B’s roommate in the town where we went to school. The second was at our fifth college reunion, where Cranky, J and I all met and, just like college, bought wine and drank it in the cemetery out of the bottle inside a paper bag. I also saw J when she was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she went to grad school. I was in town for a conference that was making me exceedingly anxious. J’s partner at the time picked me up at the hotel in a beat up old pick-up truck and drove me back to their house. J and I spent the evening in a movie theater watching Priscilla Queen of the Desert and then went back to her house and baked pies. Therapy. A short time later I heard she was pregnant, that she left her partner, that she had a son, that he changed her life. I last saw J at her wedding to the man she met after leaving that partner, outdoors by the Mad River in Vermont under a chuppah made by her family and friends. J is still a botanist. She lives on a farm not far from where she got married that day with her husband and three children and she sends one of the few Christmas letters that I actually look forward to reading each year, not the least because she always sends them in March.
The weekend of J’s wedding, I flew to New York and piled into a rental car with Cranky and the final member of our group, AG. AG is also a native New Yorker, but she’s been trying to get out for years. Despite our overlap in this city, I had not seen her since she came to visit Chicago on business when I was pregnant with AJ more than 11 years ago and we spent the evening at a French restaurant that no longer exists and then came back to my apartment where she crashed on my sofa. After graduation, AG and I both ended up in Boston, where I was temping, playing gigs and applying to graduate school and she was apprenticed to a carpenter and trying to make ends meet. We used to meet on Fridays at Grendel’s bar near Harvard where I worked, nursing a single beer for as long as it took to eat enough of the free happy hour food to substitute for dinner, the classic broke girls’ night out. After that year, I moved to Chicago for grad school and she moved to New Orleans to teach school and write. I remember seeing her profiled in the New York times along with her boyfriend in an article on people who lived off the grid. She eventually moved back to New York, married and bought a house in the now hipsterfied Williamsburgh. A couple of months ago, she and her husband, looking “to get closer to nature,” as she put it, moved to L.A. and recently bought a house on the beach. A whole new life.
So yesterday, when B posted of her arrival in New York, I was feeling nostalgic and replied asking if we could get together. AG saw my reply and said she was here too. Cranky, the only one of us who really lives here, was unfortunately out of town. But we decided the chance to see each other in one room was too good to pass up. We made plans to meet at B’s sister’s apartment near Lincoln Center.
[time to go to work...to be continued!]