Photos & words by Emma
This is the story of how I ended up in New York City, in a railroad style apartment that I pay for, between a gelato store that serves olive green colored pistachio ice cream and a used bookstore with weathered spines perpendicular to each other.
I should probably start way, way back. I’m talking back to a time where I could barely write, but wanted to be a writer. My mom read me books every night, and I memorized the words and which pictures they go with. I can still recite “Pigs a Plenty, Pigs Galore!” by memory and did so drunken, walking down the street last week. Books, words, pictures, all fascinated me. Combined in a way that put a completely different world into your head, one that didn’t exist before. Words were magic, and I wanted to learn every trick.
I wrote books growing up, and would share them with my elementary school classes. In second grade I made a newspaper for my class, featuring interviews from one boy and one girl each issue, detailing their favorite animals and colors. Crossword puzzles or mazes on the back in theme with the next holiday approaching, upcoming school events, recipes, and “hard-hitting” articles. I remember heavily researching a piece I wrote about the moon landing, picking the perfect clip art image to go above it. One that was realistic but not too realistic. I would get done with my assignments early, ask to go to the computer lab, and work on my newspaper. I passed them out to class, my teacher was super supportive, grabbing the fall edition of my stapled together ‘newspaper’ saying, “This is just like the New York Times!”
In High School I lugged my mom’s DSLR to football games, rallies, student events, and shot the red white and blue painted faces and cheering fans. I got moments of homecoming queens being crowned, promposals at the assemblies, and picnics out on the bleachers. I put them all on an instagram and website and kept it anonymous. Soon over 800 students were regularly checking the platform to see if a photo of them had been posted. My counselor looked at my sheet of extra curricular activities and suggested that I apply to NYU.
I did. I got in. I got a scholarship. My dream was realized and crushed in the same day. I couldn’t afford the leftover tuition, plus living expenses.
I went somewhere else, somewhere I got more money at, but was ultimately unhappy. I don’t want to talk about this part of my story, I prefer to leave this chapter closed because it seems so uncharacteristic of me, or at least the me that I now know. She was unhappy, quiet, rude to friends and family, and spent most of the day in bed.
I tapped back into my younger self during this lost period. What did she do? What did she like? Creating, photographing, feeling, dancing and spinning until she was dizzy. Writing for hours and making up stories. So I started behaving like that again. I saved up money, moved to LA and got on my feet. One day, sitting in my favorite coffee shop beside my best friend, out of the complete blue I turned to her and said,
“I think I want to move to New York.”
Except it wasn’t out of the blue, it was years and years in the making.
I bought my plane ticket for the following week. My mom left a worried voicemail, “Have you found somewhere to live? Do you have enough money?” No, and I really, really hope so.
I flew over the city, touching down and nose pressed up against the window. In the cab, the driver asked me, “are you visiting or going home?”
“Going home,” I whispered, almost to myself.
My first morning I woke up, put in my headphones and went for a walk in Lower East Side. It was hot, end of July. I walked by a busted fire hydrant with two little girls dancing in it’s mist and moms on folding chairs watching and drinking beers. I passed friends on stoops listening to music and bopping along. I passed boys dribbling basketballs and a couple making out so ferociously against a fence I couldn’t help but smile. The city really showed off for me that first morning.
I spent days trying to find my official residence, though. I walked for blocks, into corners of unsafe streets and in apartments not big enough to fit a bed in. The real estate agents showing me the spaces always seemed painfully optimistic, “Hey! You can just have your bed fold up into the wall! And your table! And who needs chairs? Oh, that stain? It adds character!” I narrowed my wishlist of “exposed brick, big windows, and wood floors,” to “an affordable apartment.” Finally I found it, a long railroad style two bedroom apartment with one window going out to the fire escape. I found a mouse in the pantry last week and the floor is too uneven in places to put furniture there. Theres also a giant yellowing goopy stain coming from the skirts of the refrigerator that I scrub away at every Sunday, but it just keeps growing.
It’s filled with plants, my friends, candles, and lavender lighting. And it’s mine.
There’s a bagel place a couple blocks down where I get everything bagels double toasted with hummus. This morning I sat in my local coffee shop with the intent of working, but a man tapped me on my shoulder and gestured towards some underlined words in his newspaper, asking what they meant. For about an hour I explained what “dislodged,” “hedge fund,” “beef up,” and a whole slew of other idioms and headlines meant. In an article about the defacing of Donald Trump’s Hollywood star, I had to explain why he even had a star at all. In exchange he taught me some Cantonese, and laughed at how I pronounced the words.
In the morning I run through central park and marvel at the light streaming through the leaves. I come home to one of my roommates or whoever slept over the previous night at our small table sipping a black coffee and I cozy up to them and talk about what we might get up to that day. I ride the subway often, in the morning I sit and read a book or listen to a new episode of “This American Life,” or “Love and Radio.” At night, I dance around with my friends, laughing and spinning around the silvery poles. We have glitter around our eyes and over-the-top jackets, heading to a concert in Brooklyn or a dance party at a friends. Last night we got out the paints and drank a bottle of wine, each feigning an art curator’s fervor, explaining the colors and juxtaposition of lines and what they mean. We paint mostly in silence, besides the record and occasional strumming of whoever picks up the guitar or ukulele. Inevitably we end up singing “You and I” by Ingrid Michaelson- it’s tradition.
And even last week when I was in Paris I was thinking about skating in Lower East Side, couples kissing in Washington Square Park, bagels and bad black coffee. I was looking forward to coming back to a place where you don’t pay attention to cross walks and I can meet my friends at a diner for vegan chocolate chip pancakes.
When I landed from my flight, I felt butterflies all over again.
My driver asked if I wanted to go over the bridge or through the tunnel.
We were zooming over the bridge, the city scape sprawled out in front of me in the darkness with lights reflecting into the river and the giant, gaudy pepsi-cola sign. I saw peeks of the Chrysler building and Empire State building. I grabbed the aux and put on “17” by Youth Lagoon.
When I was 17, my mother said to me, don’t stop imagining
the day that you do is the day that you die.
If you are not where you are supposed to be right now, one day you will be.