In December 2015, when I was 21-years-old, I graduated from college in Western Pennsylvania. Two weeks later, I caught a flight to Europe to intern with a travel company that, if I’m honest, I think I always knew wasn’t going to be the right fit. On January 15, 2016, I flew back to the United States, into JFK International Airport, and bit my tongue as I paid what was, at the time, the $60 flat rate cab to anywhere in Manhattan.
Destination: my brother’s apartment. Jet-lagged and beyond uncertain about what would come next, I crashed on the sofa after profusely thanking his roommates. A few days later, I wheeled my suitcase to the other side of Central Park and to a five-floor walk-up unit I found courtesy of Craigslist.
I remember the cafe I was sitting in when I realized I would be able to combine two part-time nonprofit gigs with evening temp jobs and a commitment to eating only rice and beans and peanut butter toast and make this work—at least for a little while. I remember living on the B/C train line and only taking the One train because that’s the line I knew. I remember not expecting to stay.
But more than all of this, I remember the kindness. My early years in New York City are a happy, chaotic, distorted, euphoric, stressful, messy, beautiful blur. But what stands out the most is those simple moments of people looking after people. And boy, did I have a lot of people looking out for me. And not just in the places you’d expect.
I remember the pizza place by my second apartment that did dollar slice between 4:00 – 6:00 if you had a student ID and the way the owner accepted my college ID even though I’m sure I wasn’t the intended demographic. I remember the librarian who gave me a library card even though I was subletting an apartment and didn’t really show up with any proof of residence.
I remember the man at the bodega who, when I walked in one night wearing sweatpants and puffy eyes, genuinely and in a completely non-condescending way, smiled and said, “the ice cream is over there.”
I remember, a year and a half ago, the New Yorkers who physically grabbed my body on the subway platform as I was convulsing and passing out and stopped me from falling onto the tracks.
And I thought about all these people whose faces are foggy in my memory. I thought about my roommates and my colleagues and the first friends I made. Invitations to free poetry readings and exercise classes and concerts. Adventures and simple celebrations and laughter and love. But it’s the kindness of strangers that particularly stops me in my tracks this evening.
Every Sunday morning, one of my current neighbors gets the print edition of the New York Times. And every Sunday morning, if it’s still outside when I leave the building, I pick it up and place it inside the lobby next to the door. I wonder if this is like ice cream directions. Like library cards.
Maybe this is what it is to be molded by a place. To have little ghosts that flicker by when you pass a park bench or a laundromat or a “Chinese restaurant that was once a bakery that was once a soul food spot.”
Maybe this is what it means to let a city love you.
To be open to infinite goodness and inherent kindness.