I ❤ NY (and it’s mutual)
The first time I went to New York, I was 22 years old, adventurous and bored. I took all the money I had — about 5,000 reais, which resulted in approximately 2,000 dollars — and spent each dime in a 30-day trip to the United States. I had bought, a few months prior, a 4-day trip to Las Vegas with a friend on Groupon. She eventually gave up, but I already had the passport and visa issued. In the end, I couldn’t book the Vegas trip, but I was too excited and went anyways, alone, on my first international trip. My first stop was New York, a city I didn’t even intend to go, but a friend lived there and talked me into it. Thankfully — it was a week that changed my life, everything I knew and everything I felt. Like a crazy, impulsive love affair, I knew the city and I had met at the wrong time, but it was meant to be. On the plane heading to my second destination, I looked out the window at the shrinking city beneath my feet thinking I had found my place in the world. And I was coming back for her someday.
One year later, I went to New York for the second time, on a business trip. When I knew that it was happening, I screamed with joy — there hadn’t been a single day, since May 13th 2012, I hadn’t spent at least some minutes wondering what I would have to do to go back. I was determined, I even had deadlines, plans of such illegality that I never found the nerve to complete — my love affair with New York and my attempts of coming back are a long sequence of self-boycott episodes, but I still don’t think it’s the best idea to move illegally to any country if you have another option. And I thought I did; it was a matter of time. When the trip came, which led me on my second time in New York, I felt at home. The way that the breeze would touch my face was caring like a dear friend; the sound of my steps resembled music, my theme song walking around the city; the sweat rolling down my back, because it was the summer, made me feel every inch of my body belonging; the vibrant motion of people walking in and out of the coffee shops in which I worked at were like a dance, complemented by the dog walkers, Wall Street interns, fashion lovers and people who would never notice I was there, staring at them out the window, imagining what their lives were like and whether they felt the same way I did for being in the city. I was one with New York. I had the clothes, the accent, the Metrocard. I also had a ticket back. I ate a large piece of red velvet cake sitting on the toilet of the hotel lobby waiting for the transfer to JFK because it was my taste of the city and I didn’t want to share it with anyone. On the way to the airport, I took a horrible photograph of the Empire State Building on a grey day, thinking New York is always just as sad to see me go as I am to leave her.
It took me five years to get back there. In the meantime, I met cities on the West Coast, flirted with living in Barcelona, had a very serious relationship with São Paulo, to the point I thought I would always live there. But cheap plane tickets sometimes show up unannounced, and in a few impulsive minutes I had booked a 10-day trip back to my favorite city, New York. From the moment my credit card was accepted, I knew that this trip would change everything. I just didn’t know how, or how much.
Instead of the warm touch of August, I was greeted with cold gusts of March and a clear blue sky. Both of us had changed, and were happy to be reunited again. The first time, I let her surprise me; the second time, I let her impress me; this time, New York wanted to introduce me to her friends.
I already knew Bia, who lived in New York and told me to go there for the first time. Every time I go there, I stay at her place. We are very close friends; we meet almost every year in Brazil and talk every week. This time, her New York home was larger than it’s ever been, and she was apartment hunting for a three-bedroom on the West Side, to sublet the other two rooms. When I arrived, her boyfriend, whom I hadn’t met yet, had left me a piece of cake for my birthday on the fridge of the empty house — he was at work and Bia was in Portugal, due to arrive three days later. She had left the sofa bed ready for me, with a folded towel and a small soap in a flowery box. Bia arrived on a Saturday night and went to bed before I got home; she woke me up on Sunday morning to help her move their car and I gave her the tightest embrace, half loving, half stretching. Bia is smart, brave, independent, with a heart of gold and a taste for all that glitters. I am hardcore, she is fierce. I am ripped jeans, she is tight leggings. I drink $2 draft beer, she drinks fancy cocktails for free because she knows people. I am full drama, she is pure chill. We don’t always agree, but she manages to be always right in her way.
While Bia was away, I contacted an acquaintance who was living in Manhattan. His name is André and we studied musical theater together for about a month. We met in the audition for the class and he seemed distracted, impatient, even disdainful. No wonder — we were all tired from the 10-hour wait and his phone was stolen earlier that day. We got into the same class and his presence was always a delight. He was fun, charming, smart, amazingly talented and impossibly handsome, but he soon left to pursue whatever else. A few months later, he moved to New York with his boyfriend and we never got the chance to become friends, but I had this feeling that maybe we could. Or this wish, because he was so cool. When I texted him saying that I was going to be in New York and he said we should meet, I didn’t insist on it because I didn’t think he actually wanted to. We exchanged numbers and, on St. Patrick’s Day, I woke up at about 9 p.m. in a boy’s bed with my phone ringing and André’s picture showing. I had been updating him all day long about my whereabouts on the pubcrawl, until I eventually ended up wasted at this guy’s apartment. André sounded very excited to talk to me, asking very loudly and slight drunkenly where I was, because he had gone to the bar I was before and didn’t see me there.
“Tô na casa de um cara.” — I’m at a guy’s place.
“Você mal chegou em Nova York e já tá na casa de um cara?! Vem pra cá agora!” — You have barely arrived in New York and you’re already at a guy’s place? Get over here now!
So I went to meet him, from Alphabet City to the Two Door Tavern between 88th and 89th streets. I had barely arrived and he had me set with a pint of beer, a birthday dessert and a compliment from the barman, who allegedly said I was a “muse”. He also had me meet his American family — his friends Kaitlyn and Rachel, two girls who have known each other for life, and his boyfriend Sam, who I met in Brazil the year before during Carnaval but none of us really remembered that. Kaitlyn has gorgeous, thick platinum blonde hair with perfect curls on the ends and some sparkly extensions that makes her head mesmerizing. Rachel was wearing a full St. Patrick’s costume, with a short orange wig and Leprechaun socks. She has charming small wrinkles on the side of her eyes when she laughs, and she is always laughing. Sam has an effortless charm and eyes that are either hazel or dark green, maybe both. He is quite a sight, like André — what a couple. Their love is so genuine; the way they enjoy each other’s company and look at each other like it’s the first time they met made me behave like a child watching a TV ad for a new toy: I want that!
The next days, me and André grew together very quickly, enjoying each other’s company as if we were friends from long before. André loves New York like me, but he has lived all four seasons there and has a story to tell about something that happened there every few blocks. We could, I’m certain, walk all Manhattan and a good portion of Brooklyn without getting bored. From shopping for new shoes as my boots got soaking wet in the surprise snow storm of mid-March 2018 to facing the freezing cold wind of East River Park and watching the sunset after trying the crowded Westlight rooftop, from laughing at the improv show at the Magnet Theatre to eating cheesecake on the stairs of Union Square, from picking the smallest and most symmetrical snowflakes on each other’s clothes while waiting for any cancellation tickets in four different Broadway shows in one night to running down the stairs to enter the train on the platform as it said “stand clear of the closing doors, please”, we formed a very good pair. So good it would be a shame separating. So much André started to talk me into staying. He said he’d help me get a job, find a room and it would be only for a few months anyways. It’s something everybody does, New York would barely exist without people like us. The extra money for these first weeks can be sent from my checking account in Brazil, the São Paulo apartment can be sublet, someone knows someone who is coming in April and can bring a suitcase of my clothes. It was possible, maybe risky, but a temptation and definitely an adventure. But would it work out for me as it did for him and does everyday to thousands of people or was I staring deportation in the eyes without realizing?
I asked New York for a sign, and she replied with a few. I confess, I’m inclined to calling coincidences signs, searching for the holy approval for the things I have my mind set on doing. But this was a big deal and I needed more people on the task. So, while I was sitting at Greely Square drinking some coffee before the improv class at Magnet Theatre and texted an American friend who was regretting being in Africa while I was in his country, I asked my homie Jesus Christ to give me a clear, undoubted sign. A few minutes later, a man crossed the park holding a sign that said “Jesus lives”. Literal.
The next day, I was still unsure, as André ate a weirdly soft burger at a McDonald’s after an audition and said he was done trying to convince me. I opened my Facebook and someone I knew from my teen years said he was moving to São Paulo and looking for a furnished apartment in the same region where mine is. I told him about my current uncertainty and we started arranging a visit — my keys were in São Paulo and I just had to text the concierge authorizing the guy to visit the apartment without me there. Sitting in the train, I took a deep breath inhaling the dirty rushing wind from the subway and felt like home. I asked, out loud, for a sign, with André as my witness.
“It must be clear. I’m not staying for a coincidence. And it must be tonight. I won’t be looking any other day”, I specified. Be careful with what you’ll say in New York; she might as well be listening.
That night, André took me to Rudy’s, a renowned dive bar that serves hot dogs for free and 8-dollar pitchers and is easily identifiable because of the large pig in the front, which had some snow mounted on its snout. It was the very first day of Spring, but I said I wanted to see snow in New York and there it was. New York is seductive but tender; she announced a snow storm and delivered gentle balls of snow slowly falling from the sky. That night, the balls had turned into tiny snowflakes, so delicate they’d melt in your gloved fingers if you tried to admire them up close.
Rudy’s was crowded that night and we were standing by the bar, waiting for a place to sit. When a group of girls left a booth, I approached it at the same time as two other guys, who asked if we’d like to share it with them. The four of us sat together and, since I was closer to the edge, André told me “pega hot dogs para nós” [get hot dogs for us], to which one of the guys answered “vocês são brasileiros também?!” [are you Brazilian too?!]. So there we were, four Brazilians who entered in a bar in New York. The two guys had given up whatever they had in Brazil to make some many digits of dollars in the city. One of them was living there since January, and it was the second time he was doing that, so he had a confidence speaking about the whole process that, to me, made clear how terrified he was. The other had arrived that day with only 400 dollars — minus the Metrocard and other expenses for settling in New York which I should not detail — only, to start from almost scratch in one of the most expensive cities in the world. André considered that to be my sign. I did not. As the conversation went on, the first guy said he would move to Italy by the end of the year to have his dual citizenship recognized because his great-grandfather was Italian, just like me, just like mine and just like the plan I had for the few thousand dollars I’d make in New York. That, I considered more of a sign.
André had to leave early, so I stayed with the other two guys until we ran out of cash and I had already withdrawn 20 dollars from my credit card to buy more beer, which ended up costing over 90 reais on a very unfair exchange rate. It was around midnight and we went walking towards the Times Square subway station. It was very cold and we were quite drunk, so we hugged each other as we walked and it made sense. The most visited place in the world was empty, with a very thin snow showering our heads, sparkling like crystals reflecting the lights of the billboards. I stopped to look around. We all did. I had a feeling in that moment that I would never see these guys again, but I was grateful for being there, for the people I had been living with, for the thin snow and the cold wind making my hair wet and messy, for witnessing the arrival of two good fellow countrymen in my city, not the one I had my address in, but the one I had found my home in.
In that moment, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and love. All the love the city had been saving for me, for all these years, hit me like an avalanche in that unexpected March weather. I know it was love because I had felt it before; I just hadn’t felt it in a long time, and I didn’t think it would be possible to feel something so strong for something as abstract as a moment or a place. Everything I have done in my life led me to that night, and I was sure that there was a reason I could not stay in New York the first time, or the second, or that all of my plans to live there didn’t work. I was supposed to be there now, not before. In that moment, all the doubt was gone: I was staying.
I cried in the subway that night, as I did in other nights earlier and after, especially in the night I realized I couldn’t afford cancelling the flight back to Brazil, the fines for not showing up, rent in New York or even a new Metrocard. Honestly, in two more days, I wouldn’t be able to afford a pint of beer at Crocodile Lounge to get a free pizza.
On my last day in New York, I left Bia’s apartment with some advance, to get to JFK in time without having to rush through the subway on a Sunday night. But the Q train didn’t leave the platform for some good 10 minutes, I got lost on the way to Penn Station and again inside the station, because the E train was on a different platform and I couldn’t get to it, and all of that cost some other 30 minutes. Eventually, I did get on the E train to Jamaica, but I wasn’t sure I would make it to JFK in time, because the train was taking long stops on each station. I was hoping that I wouldn’t, so missing the flight would not be my fault and I wouldn’t be crushed with the guilt of doing something crazy like that; I would be a victim of poorly advised changes in the subway, like any other new yorker. Everytime the “stand clear of the closing doors, please” recording played, it meant that I was closer to saying goodbye to my city for the 3rd time and it broke my heart, leaving me in tears on the corner of the train. It was almost empty, with many seats available, but I chose to sit on my backpack while I cried listening to Thoroughly Modern Millie’s Only In New York, begging that it would not go fast enough and I could sing along to “that’s why I’m staying right here as planned, only in New York” with a secret pride and repressed smile while going back to Bia’s. But that never happened.
I believe the delays and difficulties were New York’s way of asking me to stay, like Bia, André, the two Brazilians from Rudy’s, the bartender at Vinus & Marc who joked — or maybe not — that he would marry me if I stayed, the 25-year-old Tinder date who found it funny that I was so excited to eat artichoke pizza at Artichoke Pizza, the girl from the improv class who said she would be uncomfortable with the hug another girl gave me during a scene but gave me a very tight hug when we parted ways in the 34th street, the roommate I never had who I met in Brazil but never really talked until we arrived in New York on the same day, my off-Broadway idols who were kind enough to laugh when I mentioned I was the tallest and oldest attendant that night at Feinstein’s/54 Below, my brother and my sister-in-law who were also visiting the city, took me as their guide on my last Sunday and made me experience the delight it would be to have my family visit me at home.
My whole life, I fantasized about the day someone would ask me to stay, and I always thought that, when that happened, I would know I had found love (I’m a pisces, a hopeless romantic and all that). I just never thought that my soulmate would be a city.