The first time I attempted to be a real New Yorker I was nearly hit by a car.
For the longest time, looking like I belonged in New York City came with a belief in the practicality of impractical shoes while practicing a series of stony faces with “business” and “meeting in ten” written all over them. My knowledge of being a true New Yorker came with a belief in a fully stocked iPod, song after song serving as ammo to drown out the chaos around me, and a sense of indifference for my surroundings, as if the use of a Metro Card and hailing a cab was installed into my being.
So back to that time I was nearly road kill.
There I was, about the bridge the distance between 42nd and 43rd East, juggling all sorts of sophistication and city girl swagger along with my grande skim milk misto. Determined to abandon any 3rd grade instruction of looking both ways before crossing the street. After all, REAL New Yorkers do not look both ways. REAL New Yorkers don’t even flinch at dead bodies in the road.
Look serious. Have a mission. Stay focused. Head up. Chin up. Pensive, Hannah, pensive. Busy but sexy. Make the world believe you have everything. Strut and push to the front of this crowd. Strut, push, strut, push. Crap, don’t trip. Runway style. Total “Devil Wears Prada” predecessor.
Ok. Look cool. You just nearly got pummeled by a car but stay cool. Everyone noticed but you will never see these people again. It’s o.k, you are fine.
If the judges of America’s Next Top New Yorker had seen this one they would have surely gawked at my performance.
A 3 from the Tyra of the show. A 2 from the Twiggy. A straight zero from the Janis Dickinson. A sympathetic 4 from the Nigel Barker of the show.
I may have interpreted the New Yorkers of this city all wrong. In trying to possess a certain exterior, I forgot about the interior. Correction: I sacrificed the interior.
I won’t lie to you. If you could look inside of me right this very second you would see it: I am falling apart inside. Nothing to worry about, it’s just that New York is a whole lot more glamorous and romantic when you visit at Christmastime or when you come for the day with friends and they don’t leave you standing alone on the platform.
New York City would be different, I am sure, if I had more than $25 in my pocket and I didn’t call the poorest congressional district in the nation “home.” New York City would be a different story if I was still comfortable with buying $7 jars of almond butter and if 4 floors of Forever 21 were still my mecca. If I had not sacrificed buying any clothing this year, because it turned out to be a want and not a need.
New York City is a different story for that fact that I shrink in stretching out my hand to a cute guy at a bar, introducing myself as a volunteer. A charity case. A girl you should probably buy a drink for, not because she is pretty but because she makes no money. On purpose.
I bet if I were to slide a Metro Card into the hands of Cinderella, she would feel exactly like me.
All dressed up but knowing that the clock will strike at midnight. And I will be plopped back in the Bronx with a pumpkin and a few mice.
I am practically drooling over the sound of a credit card swiping. I am on the verge of begging a tourist with a suitcase to let me show them a trick:
“If I can prove that I can fit into your suitcase, will you take me home?”
So I guess this is the point in my story where I know my shoe is lost. I have evidently lost something and I do not know just how I will gain it back yet.
But we forget a certain part of the Cinderella story, after the ball but before the grand shoe fitting. The In Between Time. Cinderella didn’t sit around and wait for the other shoe. She didn’t search frantically for it either. She went on cleaning, and sweeping. And Serving Others. Until everything fell into place.
She learned to live with one shoe on and one shoe off.
One foot in a world I have grown up knowing all my life, the other in a borough that challenges me every single day.
But here is my resolution: Instead of walking around uneven, I will take off my other shoe and walk barefoot for a little while. I will stop trying so furiously to be my illusion of a “true New Yorker” and start living like the 300,000 neighbors of mine who know the sound of poverty at the front door. The ones I came here for. I will take out the earphones, stop drowning out everything that I find hard to hear, look straight ahead with a smile on my face.
I will look both ways.
And then I will cross the street.