Happy Ten Years Ms. Liberty

Happy Ten Years Ms. Liberty

Ten years and we’re officially New Yorkers is an urban myth we transplants tell one another to reassure ourselves that some day, one day, if not before, then on the 3,650th, we’ll finally feel as though we rightfully belong here.

Today is my 10-year anniversary of living in New York.

2003. Celebrating a friend of a friend's Ten Year at a perfect East Village dive.

2003. Celebrating a friend of a friend’s Ten Year at a perfect East Village dive.

On January 9, 2003, I rolled into Hell’s Kitchen with my friend Karyna. She picked me up from the backdoor of my Uptown apartment in Minneapolis and drove me to an address on Tenth Avenue that I’d scrawled on the inside cover of a matchbook. Along the way I smoked a carton of Camel Lights. Only to discover they weren’t two bucks a pack in Manhattan anymore, Toto. The plan was to crash with Melinda, who at the time I thought was only ever going to be my best friend, until I could find a place of my own.

My first apartment was advertised in the back of a Village Voice. It was a furnished, 3-month, sublet share, overlooking the high line before it was The High Line. I called the number listed from a payphone and 45-minutes later wrote out a check for the first month’s rent and security deposit, leaving me with $400 and change and a few months to make it.

On move-in day, I hailed a cab to haul everything I’d deemed worth hanging onto (or couldn’t sell) from my old life down to my new room. Panting, I stood before the third-floor walkup door and dug into the pocket my ratty Levi’s jeans for the keys. I slid in the one marked APT?, turned, and nothing happened. I tried again. I stared at the locked door. 3C. Yes. This was the right olive-green door on the right beige floor. I tried again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. My head exploded.

Had I been scammed?

Had I lost, like, everything?

Did this mean I had to go home?

Had I thrown away the Village Voice? Of course. How could I?

What was wrong with me?

I tried the key again. Nothing. Stepping back, I took inventory of the crumbling pile of crap that was stuffed into various sized backpacks and spilling around my soaked Chuck Taylor high-tops. Took a breath. Focused on a single dark spot on the dank maroon hallway carpeting. Took another breath.

And then panicked. I imagined having to gather up these packs that would be all the heavier now that they were steeped humiliation, hail another cab, trudge back up to Melinda’s sixth floor apartment, admit that I’d been duped, spend my remaining money on a Greyhound Bus to somewhere cheaper, and worst of all admit that I had failed at New York.

Never.

With a renewed calm more accurately called wild desperation, I tried knocking, ringing the bell, hollering, and then banging. This was a share after all. Maybe my roommate who “was born and raised Queens, baby!” was at home. No answer. I kicked the door so hard the hinges rattled and a chunk of paint chipped off. Nothing. Leaning my forehead against the doorframe, I refused to cry. I wouldn’t cry. I would just stand there until Queens came out or home or ordered delivery.

Then, reason started to ooze in like the city’s wintery mix seeping up my pant leg. I had gotten through the entryway door. Surely, the guy hadn’t only given me one working key. He a history teacher! Or at least said he was. In a last ditch effort, I slid the key in again, turned hard, and rammed my shoulder into the door. I drove myself into 3C with every iota of my hope, desire, delusion, and brokenhearted belief in Ms. Liberty lighting the way to the life I wanted to live, if only…

Click. The tricky, sticky lock gave way. The door opened. I was in.

2010. After Melinda and I made it official.

2010. After Melinda and I made it official.

Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to this moment as well as the zillion other terrifyingly euphoric moments that have transpired over the decade of living in this city. I’m celebrating at the ole New York staple, Minetta Tavern, with a burger and Melinda, who I have also since made my domestic situation with official in another way down at City Hall.

“To ten and change,” I might toast in a hushed tone as to not offend the natives. If there are any around, I’ll expect them to roll their eyes over my I HEART NY t-shirt like the wheels on the Big Apple Bus tours going round and round the tavern’s West Village neighborhood. Yet, if they happen to overhear that I am quasi-celebrating being official-ish as sorta-kinda-wink-wink-not-really one of them, I would expect them nod politely, and then–if they’re true New Yorkers–feel compelled to clarify the obvious: “Only a New Yawkah is a New Yawkah.”

That’s fine. I learned to drive.