10/02/2009 (5:19 pm)

At the dawn of my 45th year

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growing up and liking it

Today I turn 44. As a younger woman, I never imagined I’d someday find myself living in rural upstate New York, not even in an off-beat little town like Rosendale. I don’t think I knew there were little offbeat towns filled with downtown and Brooklyn expats straddling rural and urban sensibilities – hipster deejays who happen to raise chickens, for example.

No, I thought I’d spend the rest of my days on the Island of Manhattan. At one point I was certain it would be in my small, mouse-infested rent-stabilized East 13th Street slum. After meeting and moving in with Brian, I believed we’d live happily ever after in his killer loft. Well, shit happens.

In The Cruise – a favorite documentary – writer, philosopher and one time New York City tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch quotes Greta Garbo on what she loved about New York City. She said, “It’s the only place where I can be truly alone.” Imagine that – surrounded by 8 million people. For me, it was about the ability to be alone among people – to spend time by myself without feeling lonely, or self-conscious about people worrying that I was lonely.

As someone who often preferred imaginary friends to real ones as a child, who later passed up hanging out with other teens in favor of solitary, contemplative walks around the perimeter of the little island-within-Long Island I grew up on, I was clearly made for metropolitan New York living. After that second time I was out with my Manhattanite grandparents and noticed a woman dining alone, I became fascinated with the idea of spending time by myself there.

I tried it out for the first time at 15, during Christmas vacation. I lied to my mother about my plans. At a time when other girls were constructing alibis about going to so-and-so’s house so they could secretly meet up with boys, I made one up so I could rendez-vous with a future serious companion: the island of Manhattan. I told her I was meeting my camp friend Lisa Cingiser and we were going skating at Wollman Rink. Lisa wasn’t allowed to go to the city then, but my mother didn’t know that. I told her that she’d be meeting me on the LIRR, getting on at the Lynbrook stop.

Misbehaving didn’t come naturally to me, a goody-two-shoes. Buzzing with a mix of fear and possibility, I boarded the train at Island Park, and watched out the window as we left the south shore of Long Island and then Queens behind.

When the train pulled into Penn Station, I already felt a little more grown up. I walked east from Seventh Avenue and found my way to Fifth, then headed north. I wasn’t yet familiar with much of the city beyond the bounds of mid-town, where my grandfather had a clothing manufacturing business and my father was a cantor in a synagogue.

Bundled in my bulky wool winter coat, I took myself to see the holiday windows at Lord & Taylor, and then the tree at Rockefeller Center. I remember standing there, steaming cup of hot chocolate in hand, watching the skaters down below, and experiencing a certain peace I had never felt before. I was surrounded by people, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in a crowd of countless tourists. Yet I was alone with my thoughts, an observer simultaneously connected and detached. This was a feeling, and independence, I knew I’d want to experience often when I got older.

Here in Rosendale, I still spend a good deal of time by myself. I work alone all day, and become a social butterfly at lunch, in the evenings, on weekends. But to really achieve that very particular peacefulness, I need to hop a Trailways bus to Manhattan. Sometimes I travel in for an appointment, and allow time on either side of it for just walking and observing. Other times, it’s simply an appointment with myself, and that old companion of mine.


October 3, 2009 @ 7:10 am #

I love this story! What a great image — a kid going into Manhattan just to wander & be by herself. True love!

October 3, 2009 @ 11:43 am #

Thank you, Marta!

October 6, 2009 @ 4:32 pm #

[…] flying solo hasn’t been limited to meals and kicking around New York City. I have literally flown solo. First there was the trip to the cities in Greece and Turkey that my […]

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