everything has changed.
i’m sitting outside on the porch six floors up looking out over the vast expanse of a city built on culture, passion and diversity.
south: money, sky-blocking buildings, blinking lights, empire state, concrete soup, it almost looks like a 3-dimensional painting.
north: condemned buildings, a few high-rises of gentrification, helicopters, the Bronx, low-dim lights, the rumble of music from open car windows.
right here, I am listening tot he 14th hour of the Mr. Softee melody, gazing out over catholic cathedrals, watching planes in the distance glide into queens, listening to the last-standing street vendors pack up for the day letting the puerto rican rhythms play loudly to keep the party going, sipping spiced chai tea with purple paint splotched all down my legs. I wish I could leave it there.
The moon looks like it belongs in the country. I can see it now in this stillness, We can see the sky. finally, the buildings become more humble here. Here in East Harlem.
I can see the orange of the sunset. The place where it looks as though its yearning so hard to resist the depth of the night sky, but mother nature is asking it to succumb one more day. And then right before it vanishes completely, it gets bright enough to light up the sky one more time.
For the first time in Manhattan, my soul knows I’m home. Everything about this is home. Because it’s absolutely a disaster. But, it’s okay. Home isn’t just given. It’s more precious than that. Home is what refines you, home is what feels so right and wrong at the same time. Because every time you doubt that the roof will not cave in, you wake up in the morning… and it doesn’t. A peculiar mess. A mess that day-by-day becomes more perfect.
It’s perfect because love is here. We have been in tears about our home… and we have been drunk with laughter in the next moment. Just when it feels like the microwave sitting on the living room floor is going to cause you to keel over dead from panic, I sit outside in the pitch black and drink wine out of coffee mugs by candlelight with my best friend, my husband, and realize we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
I lived in the Upper East Side for almost 3 years. It’s funny how the city can be so expansive and overwhelming… but your little four block radius can feel so small, so quaint, so familiar. You know the sounds, know the people wash the sidewalks, wave to the doormen at those buildings even though you never go in just because you pass them and make eye contact through the window every day, and smile. You know the delis that have the real bagels and you know the ones that well…. don’t have the real deal. You know the best stoops to occupy and you can request for the manager of Gristede’s to order your favorite yogurt.
I moved to the Upper East Side, because I was a single, little college girl who had no sense of city life and still said sorry for everything. The Upper East Side is the safest area of Manhattan, by far… the only danger zones are construction men areas and walking too close to a little yippy, biting dog. The worst things you have to worry about are catcalls, ridiculously long starbucks lines and being mowed over by a triple-wide stroller. Yes, those are a thing. And quite common. And deadly. shiver.
Josiah and I got married and moved only a block away from where I began, it was comfortable and logical. The apartment was precious, a dream, very cozy and filled with love.
When I tell people we moved to East Harlem. Spanish Harlem. El Barrio. Whathaveyou… I typically receive either a strained, “oh wow, that’s nice…. pause to recover from shock… why did you move?” Or a, “…. do you miss the upper east side? what’s it like up there? do you feel safe?”
Moving from the Upper East Side to East Harlem in Yankee culture is equivalent to selling your Lamborghini so that you can buy a Honda Civic for almost the same price as you paid for the Lamborghini. It’s kind of bizarre.
It’s the easy answer to say we did it entirely for more space for less money. That’s absolutely true. But more importantly, we realize that many years proceed the now. New York culture is so obsessed with doing all that you can with what you have now. Progress, progress, progress. If you are making more, get a better apartment, find a “better” neighborhood, buy nicer things. We decided we were not going to buy into that current of now, of spend-what-you-have, of showing “you’re moving up in life”. The worst feeling in the world would be entering the next season of life with nothing. To not have anything to support a huge change, a sabbatical or respond to an immediate calling. We don’t buy it New York. Not for a hot second, our hope is that now is not the only time. We have more to live, struggle, succeed, grow and journey.
This uprooting was far beyond ourselves. We had gotten too comfortable. We fit in too much. And, at the same time, we didn’t fit in at all. We looked like everyone else except the nannies. We talked like everyone else except for the few times I would pull out my Madea-esque-alter-ego. We were surrounded by people who, in general, thought they needed nothing, had it altogether, didn’t have neighbors, because they didn’t know them. From the moment I stepped off the 6 train at 116th, I knew East Harlem is one big family. Impromptu dance parties in the street. People shouting from their windows at their amigos.
This was a family that we could be a part of. That we wanted to learn from. That we wanted to serve. That we wanted to experience by living alongside them. A community spirit we wanted to prove has no color and no race. A community that helps one another and knows their neighbors. Not a community that defines itself by crime statistics, instead we saw a people of hope. A people that care for one another. A people that don’t live entirely by a schedule. A people that stop and talk. Who take their time. Who walk a little slower. Who sing no matter who is listening.
We have so much to learn for our neighbors. So much to learn from this little pocket of culture in a vast city.
We are right where we should be. Home.
and we are serious about building up that street cred.
te amamos amigos.