It’s 27 degrees in New York right now. I hate the cold, but I still want to move back there. Well, “move back there” is not exactly the right term. It’s not like I just left. I haven’t lived in New York since 1998, when I left for Washington, D.C. to take a reporting job. My first husband and I had just broken up, and Washington was the start of my new life. And it was. I set out on my own, made lots of friends, met my husband, and, by the time we moved, left lots behind.
I wouldn’t mind going back to D.C. either, but right now I’m focused on New York and this is why: I’ve got a brand-new family there who loves us and wants to get to know us. To them I’m not just the baby my birth mother gave up, I’m a long-lost member of the family. They’re all in New York and with them there, New York is a warm, inviting place.
My best friend lives there too, and I have always wanted to live closer to her, but we’ve always been able to visit pretty regularly and my plan was for her to move closer to me. The tongue in cheek plan was for us both to move to Hawaii and live next door to each other, as we did growing up.
My BFF lives fairly close to my hometown and when we’d visit her, I’d see the landscape and feel the old ghosts there. I felt the pall of my slattern reputatiuon in high school, the fights with my parents, the drug use and the rest of the self-destruction. When I went back there, I was still that girl, and everyone knew. I didn’t stay in New York long enough to outlive that reputation. Once I graduated from college, I left for Florida, then four years later, I moved back to New York, but to Queens, then New Rochelle – different worlds than my hometown — then to D.C. and now Seattle.
It’s different now. Before, all I had in New York were my best friend, my dad and my real family – cousins and aunts and uncles. We really stopped seeing the extended family when I was in college. There was some resurgence – phone calls from my aunts to my dad – when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but I haven’t seen my mother’s side of the family since her funeral three years ago.
My dad and I fought most of the time, until my mother got sick and we were forced to get along. My extended family was never that close. Even when we did see them regularly – once a quarter – they’d keep each other at a distance by sticking to the same topics of conversation. Gambling in Las Vegas, Atlantic City or the Bahamas was one, depending on who brought it up. My dad discussed Las Vegas, my uncle gambled in Atlantic City and my mother’s brother told us about the Bahamas. “Ya like this shirt? I know a guy,” was Mom’s brother’s favorite topic. He had the Garment District hookup. He really is a dapper guy. The third topic of conversation was alwyays Mavri (black people), Itali (Italians), Spagnoli (Hispanics), or Evrei (Jews) – all inferior races to the Greeks and backwards because they did not do things the Greek way.
Every time we sat down to dinner with my relatives, they’d start the same conversation. “You know the Europeans cut with the knife in their left hand and the fork in their right,” my aunt would say.
“The Americans cut with the knife in the right and the fork in the left and then they switch to eat,” my mother would say.
“Are you sure that the Europeans use their left for the knife?” another aunt would say. “I thought it was the other way around.”
Before every visit, my mother would warn me not to talk about anything real. Everything was great at home and at school. Dance class was great, softball was great. “Don’t tell them anything” was the basic warning.
My husband and I and our daughter did visit the cousins once by ourselves four years ago, and family relations are different now. We didn’t play the games that the “grownups” did. We were honest and we shared and we laughed and had a wonderful time, but there are only a few that stay in touch and we’re scattered across country so it’s hard for us to see each other.
When we see my new family, the first thing they say is, “Would you like a drink?” We never served drinks at home. And then they’ll ask about you – How’s your job? How’s Seattle? How’s parenthood? How are your friends? And they tell you about their lives. And they’re honest. Visiting them is a whole new experience of New York for me. It’s warm, it’s inviting, and nobody cares who I was. They care about who I am, sincerely, and who wouldn’t want more of that? It doesn’t hurt that they’re in the city, worlds away from where I grew up, but during our last visit, when my best friend came down to see us, being in that house with all of that love was one of the best experiences of my life.
New York is different now. Yes, I hate the weather, but I hate three seasons of the year in Seattle and only one in New York. Yes, it’s expensive. It’s definitely more expensive than Seattle. Yes, there are a lot of bad memories. But I have to get over them, right? Now’s my chance to make good memories in New York. Now’s my chance to give my children a warm, loving extended family, including my best friend. I’m ready. I’m ready to go back, and I think I can make it work this time.