A Gale of Two Cities

There’s a strong force, like a wind, that keeps trying to toss me back and forth between New York and Washington DC.

Anybody in New York who has known me for more than a couple of years knows one thing about me: Koli loves DC. New York was always “a great place to visit” and, after 9/11/01, it was also my great love (you know, the kind of tender, raw, protective intimacy that results from shared trauma, which you strongly suspect is growing dysfunctionally codependent, but you avoid facing it because, you know, what the hell?) and yet, there was a certain amount of pining I kept doing for DC.

I missed the clean, air-conditioned subway stations, the clean, wide sidewalks, the polite neighbors, and the reliable customer-service ethic of people doing business with you. I preferred the effortless multiculturalism of DC to the in-your-face, sometimes hostile “mosaic” of ethnicities in New York. I missed the occasional quiet. I missed being able to go someplace open and green in less than two hours.I guess – to torture the analogy some more – it was like constantly missing your sweet, strong, wholesome mother even as your life is consumed with a mindblowingly erotic and unhealthfully close attachment with someone you’ve fallen for really hard and really fast.

There was an obsessive quality to my early New York experience. I photographed her from every angle. I wrote poems. I basked in the attention of every new guy in my life on her streets, which are laced with an unnamable aphrodisiac. I luxuriated in my heartbreak in the aftermath of each of those guys on the same streets, where the same aphrodisiac had turned inexplicably into a salve – or, more accurately, it remained an aphrodisiac that somehow turned the heartbreak into a breathtaking romance in its own right.

I mourned my recently departed father on ferry boats and across the Brooklyn Bridge, reciting his beloved Walt Whitman poems in my head, especially “Song of Myself” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” newly mesmerized by their reaching-across-time-and-death themes. I ate in every New York restaurant I had time for. I went to the parks and the museums and the opera houses and the dinky little theaters and the seemingly never-ending readings and art openings that pop out of nowhere all over town (all the while complaining how dirty the subway was that took me there). I re-watched Ric Burns’s “New York” several times – sometimes with a box of tissues. I looked sharply away from “ground zero” as I passed, but sneaked a peek up at the sky where the towers had been, every time I zipped by in a ferry. As the waters of the Harbor carried me downtown, my eyes misted, looking at the Statue of Liberty as I almost involuntarily mouthed “The New Colossus.”

In those early years, I often felt that the long hours at the law firm left me with “no life,” but looking back, I must admit that I was developing a “life” in New York, however harried. And after I left the law firm? Well, as they say in New York: foggetaboutit! Everything seemed to turn unequivocally fabulous.

At some point, without either of us knowing it, we healed, New York and I. And I realized it wasn’t just an eros-like obsession. I really did fall in love with her.

I should explain why I, a heterosexual woman with an (unrelated) distaste for the conventional feminization of places (and vessels), keep saying “her” to refer to a geographical love object:

It’s all about the way she healed. The kind of resilience with which we bear our scar tissue, not denying or burying the pain we felt, not shunning any remnant of pleasure that may be proximate to that pain, refusing to calcify, being bigger and more graceful than our tragedies, well, it seems an overwhelmingly – though perhaps not uniquely – feminine strength. So I saw New York, still wounded, gritty as ever, yet tough and shining and full of possibilities. And, somewhere along the way, I got used to the dirty subways, and remembered how much I loved the places they took me to.

DC is a great town. It’s my birthplace. I have a lot of history here. The museums are free. The subway really is cleaner. But guess what? It stops running at midnight and only takes you to a handful of places. Um, yeah, Koli, while you were bitching about the transit system in New York, you forgot to notice how much you LOVED not having to drive.