Becoming a New Yorker
They say you’re not a New Yorker until you’ve cried your eyes out in public.
If that’s all it takes, then I’ve been a New Yorker since 2008, the year of my very first internship here. Back in college, I packed my bags with a subset of my journalism class to spend a quarter away, living the big city life while spending our days working for glossy magazines. Five of us crammed into a three-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen that smelled like cat piss for the entire three months we lived there. I shared a room and claimed the air mattress as my bed for the duration. I didn’t mind. I’d left behind a boy back on campus and was starting to feel a little sad about it. Being on the air mattress meant sleeping closer to the ground and therefore a reduced risk that, should I wake up in tears from the experience, my roommate might be less likely to overhear it.
I honestly can’t even remember the details at this point, but all I know is, when I left, there was a veiled hope of reconnecting as boyfriend-girlfriend upon my return, but then, two weeks later, he changed his mind. I found out by phone (as in, an actual phone call) and promptly burst into tears on the corner of 44th and 9th. Dreading the thought of returning to my apartment and facing the music among my four roommates, I scanned the street and tucked myself away in a booth at the closest place I could find, the Westway Diner. I ordered a plate of grape leaves, a glass of wine, and sobbed silently to myself for the next 45 minutes. One day, I thought, you’ll look back on this as one of those romantic New York moments. That day couldn’t come soon enough.
I’ve certainly had a lot of good New York cries since then. A few places that come to mind include: Fort Tryon Park, Yum Yum II, Hi-Life Diner, the benches in Central Park leading up to the Delacorte Theatre, and of course, the subway.
My most memorable subway cry probably took place eight years later, on my second-to-last day after four years of working at Stack Overflow. In those four years, I held four different roles at the organization, and the sales team, where I’d began, always held a special place in my heart. I couldn’t sell anything when I joined. That job was the first time in my life where I did not see a direct line of effort-to-success after a hard day’s work. It seemed that no matter how many phone calls I made or emails I sent, I could never quite close business. After six months of selling, I distributed my accounts among my colleagues and moved over to the marketing team. Nearly ⅓ of those accounts closed business within 60 days. Suffice it to say that I was a great warm-up act.
Oddly enough, by the end of my time at Stack Overflow, after years spent getting to know our customers and researching their behaviors and interviewing them to create buyer personas, I started getting invited back on sales calls again. I joined calls with our highest valued clients as “the subject matter expert” on developer hiring. I co-led onboarding presentations for new strategic customers and even team up with sales leadership to pitch our products to C-level executives as enterprise organizations all over the world. Sales reps started referring to me as “their secret weapon” on calls, and it was really fun to tag-team accounts together. It was one of the things I knew I’d miss the most when I left the company. Four years is a long time in a place. Needless to say, my final days at Stack were a bit of a black hole for me as I tried to cram three months’ worth of work into three weeks. (I mostly succeeded — but at the cost of barely eating, barely sleeping, and losing almost 10 pounds.)
Two days before my final farewell, I joined the sales team happy hour at The Irish American in lower Manhattan — for old times’ sake. I can’t even tell you how many drinks they bought me. But after some blend of multiple beers (and at least one fireball shot), the drunk sad farewells started to happen, and all of the reminiscing and goodbyes and thank you’s just got to me. I’d eaten a total of three carrots for lunch that day, which didn’t help the effect of the alcohol, and while I held it together at the pub, as soon as I boarded the uptown 2/3 train at Wall Street, I burst into tears and basically bawled the whole way home. It was the kind of cry you can only do after you’ve lived in New York long enough to have seen many dozens before you do the same. You know you’re doing it right when people don’t even bother asking if you’re okay; they just take one look at you and they know you’re doing what needs to be done.
I was feeling a little bit better by the time I got to our apartment uptown, until I walked in the door and realized with horror that in my hastiness to leave that morning, I’d left an entire bag of cat food on the counter… which had been torn open by our cat and dumped all over the kitchen floor. I rushed for the dustpan and desperately tried to clean it all up before our cat could eat herself sick, but it was no use. I collapsed on the floor in a heap of emotions and tears and cat food and beer, which is exactly how my fiancé found me when he arrived home 15 minutes later.
“How much have you had to eat today?” he asked me, kindly.
“About three carrots,” I sniffled back at him.
We made some mac and cheese together, and then I went to bed. We now refer to this as The Great Cat Food Fiasco of 2016.
But aside from the solo sobbing and all-out bawling, there’s a third type of city crying. It’s perhaps the most elusive of all of them, but if you look close enough, you may see a slight twinkle in the eyes of the crier. It’s when all of the sudden you have one of those reality check moments to realize how lucky you are to be a part of the fabric of this city. It’s a moment when you pause just long enough to clock your pace: “Holy shit,” your mind whispers to your running inner monologue. “I’m actually here. I’m actually doing it. I’m making it in New York City.” Of course, you never want to express this thought out loud, lest the city finds a reason to steamroll your perfect moment faster than you can lose out on the apartment of your dreams. So what happens instead are tears. Quiet, glistening, “Is this real life?” tears.
I first recognized these kind of tears last year on January 2 as my plane landed from Paris into JFK airport. On that flight, I’d shared a row with an Indian family — a husband, a wife, and a small child — and I learned that they had never before been to New York City. In fact, they had never even been to the United States. But he recently accepted a job on a three-year term, and so, the family set off for new adventures with their young child. They had been traveling for 30 hours or more, and they were flat-out exhausted. They were anxious about their arrival, a new country, a new job, and leaving family behind. I felt honored to be a small part of their arrival story.
As our 747 plane banked a turn around Manhattan, I leaned back and pointed, encouraging them to peer over me out the window.
“Is that the Empire State Building?” they asked, breathless with wonder, tears glistening in their eyes.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “Yeah, it is. Welcome to New York.”
Originally published at Dry Erase, my personal blog and digital whiteboard.