My best friend Nancy left New York in the beginning of June and I’m pretty devastated. I temper my devastation with the knowledge that Nancy and her family (Danish husband Dan and two beautiful children Oskar and Olympia) are currently on an epic cross-country pilgrimage to find the right place for them to live (maybe someplace like Decorah, Iowa). Nancy is blogging about their adventures at The Great Skedaddle. Today I want to share the story of the beginning of our friendship.
I moved to NYC in 2004. I was 25 and living in a rental on the Upper East Side I had sublet from a wanna-be actor who had moved to LA. What can I tell you but there were mirrors and headshots everywhere. Mirrors over the bed, in front of the bed, behind the bed and I couldn’t open the closet or dresser without a smug photo of the guy popping out.
It was cheap and it was safe but I was lonely.
I remember walking home to 92nd street from my office at 42nd Street because I didn’t have anywhere to be or anyone to see. I would stop into Bloomingdales at 59th street and ride the escalator just to be with other people. It was also around this time that on weekends I would walk to the Metropolitan Museum and just sit in the wooden benches in the Great Hall. I wouldn’t go into the actual museum; I don’t know if I didn’t have the money or the energy or maybe both. I didn’t seem to have a way into the delights of this city; I was an outsider on the outside, an observer. I did a lot of people watching.
Then, my sublet was up and I was looking for another affordable room. I trekked all over the city; I remember the nun-like woman in her 40s who smelled of baby powder in a beautiful but sterile two bedroom in Yorkville. I remember a sort of grease-y guy looking for two roommates on Orchid Street downtown. He took notes the whole time a couple of us looked around his dark apartment with narrow windows like something you’d find in a castle.
Then the miracle happens. I read Nancy’s craiglist ad for a room in basement of her carriage house. You could see a sliver of greenery through the window in one of the photos. I was hooked from the first. There was only one hitch: she lived in Brooklyn.
I want to impress upon you that at this time I was pretty overwhelmed by the size of the city. In six months of living in NYC, I hadn’t traveled to the west side of Manhattan. This was the time before smart phones or if there were smart phones they were waayyyyy out of my budget. So I would print out a map from Yahoo before I went anywhere new and cut it down to the 5 inch by 5 inch little map that comes at the end of Yahoo directions and keep it in my wallet for when I inevitably got lost. I didn’t know a single person who lived in Brooklyn; in fact I only knew one person in the city.
So think about what it meant for me to go see an apartment in Brooklyn when I didn’t travel west of 5th avenue, let alone leave Manhattan. It was an epic leap of faith; of desperation; of the universe guiding me onwards.
I remember the walk from the Court Street station in the snow. It was dark as I walked down Pineapple Street and then down Cadman Plaza. The lights of the city glowed across the river; it was magical; it was terrifying. I slogged past the Watchtower building and knocked on a grey door with the paint peeling. Nancy opened the door into the garden courtyard. The lights of her row house were a beacon behind her. I’d never met anyone quite like Nancy. She was so certain of herself, so confident. Not only had she been in New York since she was 19 and therefore knew the city like a native, but she was a seasoned traveler; an adventurer. She’d meet the love of her life, Dan, on a boat in South East Asia.
She made me tea; we talked for a long time about our dreams. She was studying to be an acupuncturist after leaving a lucrative corporate life on Wall Street. I had forgotten I had dreams until I sat on her pinstriped sofa with a cup of tea. She showed me the room she had to rent – it was double the size of the room I was subletting and not a mirror in sight. It even had its own bathroom and a washer dryer we could share. This was unimaginable luxury. I emailed Nancy later that evening saying I’d love to rent her room.
So much unfolds from that first evening and conversation on her couch; my decision to apply to graduate school; this blog was born in that basement room. No more walks home with a stop off at Bloomingdale’s to ride the escalator. As is true with many things, our friendship took time. I looked back over our emails and in the beginning there are a lot of polite exchanges about Fresh Direct orders.
However, Nancy and I were destined to hit some big milestones together and our friendship grew. A few months after I moved in, Nancy’s boyfriend Dan moved from Denmark; a few months after that my boyfriend Tim moved in too. We’d gone from two to four. All our relationships deepened and Dan and Nancy got married in May 2006 and Tim and I got married in July, with Nancy in the wedding. Along the way there was Grimaldi’s on the roof and vacations together in Vermont and dinners all over the city; at Capsouto Freres, at Souen, Peter Luger, Relais de Venise, The Vinegar Hill House. The four us grew to six when Nancy and I got pregnant in the same week in 2008 and delivered our sons two days apart in 2009.
I guess I could say I met Nancy and then my life happened.