It started her first Saturday night in Brooklyn, when they walked along the East River and stopped occasionally to gawk at the Manhattan skyline, the way at sunset it shimmered with an Oz-like magic and at dark sucked up all the electricity to compete with the night sky. It was the awe of “Am I really here?” It was the dream state, the waking dream, sleepwalking through the hordes of people, past the picnic tables, wedding parties, towards the Brooklyn Bridge lording industry over the surprising pockets of wildlife, tall grass swaying in the summer breeze. It was the way it was so perfect, like it had been designed this way, less like a city park than an attraction at Disneyland. Less like a city than the ornamental city inside a snow globe.
No, it was earlier.
It was her first day of work, sharing with her co-workers that she had stepped off the plane only days earlier. It was the response from one who said, “Why does everybody keep moving to Brooklyn?” She had been here forever; she lived in Manhattan. It was trying to explain without it sounding like an insult that of course she had moved to Brooklyn; that’s where people go now. Don’t you know that if you live anywhere else in the country, especially the West Coast, the talk is of Brooklyn? You move to Brooklyn because it’s like home only more expensive. You move out here because things are happening here and you want things to happen for you too, you want to be a part of it.
No, before that.
It was the first day, navigating the subways in the end-of-summer swelter, realizing the heat above ground intensifies in the sauna of the subway tunnels. It was the frustration of taking six hours to go to two stops, desperately trying to find the places that would give her some semblance of home. It was the sweat and exhaustion at the end of the day, up three flights of stairs into your tiny apartment where you won’t sleep from jetlag. It was the wanting to give up already, less than twenty-four hours in this city and you miss home already, want to look up a plane ticket, want to admit this whole dream was crazy, wasn’t it?
It was the night spent in the Minneapolis airport, a nine-hour layover between old home and new home, between where are you going where have you been? It was the lethargy while sitting near the baggage claim, the wanting to sleep but not being able to. It was the fluorescent light blinding her as she stared at the other zombie-like people waiting to get to their destinations, rubbing her eyes to see better, but only wanting to close them because she just wanted to sleep and for it to all be over. It was how sore her eyes were from day after day of goodbye, of crying on her mother’s shoulder, holding her nephew in her arms, pressing her thumb and forefinger to her eyes to stop the tears while riding in the truck with her ex. It was goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. So long. I’ve got to go.
But it wasn’t any of these. Beginnings happen long before you think they happen.
It was when she was seventeen and she convinced her parents to take her to New York during the summer. It was that first glimpse of Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty. It was the bags of garbage piled on the streets, that awful smell, but not caring—how can you waste your time complaining about that when you’re here? It was that energy, that collective human buzz powering the city, radiating out to the rest of the world like it was the source of everything. It was the source for her, the destination/dream, the seed planted so recklessly, it grew sideways in her, pulling her away from where she came. Everybody she knew stayed here. Why would she go there? It was desire like a disease, spreading and consuming until nearly a decade later she let go and gave in. For what? A beginning. This city is full of them.