Coming back to New York City to live after a twenty-year hiatus felt like being shot out of a wormhole. When I left the city, there were many forces that I had inspired to work against me. I was twenty-nine, precocious, stupid but too smart for my own good and running very low on “get out of jail free” cards. I probably only had a couple left and I had turned New York City into my jail. I knew I’d better use them and get out while the getting was good.
I went to live in the Southwestern desert of Arizona for about ten years, then moved to Los Angeles, then to Montana equaling about twenty years. There’s a lot I’m not including here that happened but that’s not why I’m telling this story.
When I left, I lived on West 10th street in the West Village off of Hudson Street. When I moved back, as sudden and unplanned as my departure, I was fleeing yet another bad situation I had helped create for myself, my marriage. I left Montana driving drove cross country to upstate New York to stay with my old friend and her family until I could get some footing. After a few weeks there, her friend’s basement studio apartment became available. It was on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, very close to where I had lived twenty years before.
I moved in as soon as I could. It was perfect. A whole family I knew, walking across floors above me but I was behind a door that locked, a fully furnished studio that opened onto a peaceful garden. I felt safe, not completely alone, but totally private.
My friends helped me move in on a Sunday. The three of us rushed back and forth from my car to cross the street, down the narrow stairs and into the back apartment, the blinking rhythm of my car’s hazard lights made me anxious. I only had a few duffel bags and my Martin 00-18. Moving in felt strange. I was admitting that a new life was coming only to see that the last life was irreparably broken.
When we were done we went to a thai restaurant in Union Square. Despite my life being utterly overturned, feeling safe started to grow in me for the first time in a long time. I was in Union Square where I had one of my first real jobs out of college. I was near the village, where I always felt most comfortable in New York City. I was back on the east coast where I recognized the flora and the fauna.
When I missed this city, I realize it was not just the edginess that was like no other to me, I missed the trees. I missed the fall and how the trees slept and the flowers retired and it all became gray and brown for a few winter months. I missed the cobblestone streets, the large impersonal avenues, the rhythm of my body walking down the street. I missed the days when the sky sparkled bright blue in summer or winter in contrast to the city’s signature concrete sidewalks.
My friends left me standing on Union Square West as they caught a taxi to Grand Central to get the train back upstate. I wandered back to my studio apartment, my new refuge haven on the ground floor. It was never lost on me that it used to be David Byrne’s home studio when he owned the brownstone many years before. I chose to see that as a really good premonition of things to come. It was powerfully fortuitous that I would be connected to that kind of deep musical energy. Even if I never knew him, I’ve lived in his music for years and it was a comfort to sleep and live in the place where some of it had been made.
I was grateful that all the locks that were new to me turned and opened easily. I walked into the apartment for the first time alone. For the first time alone in many years, in a room free of expectations or anticipation of anyone coming home. I sat on the strange mattress in silence. I shared the silence with no one, no partner. I was scared of leaving my marriage, my old life, but relieved to be in a very old building, on the familiar ground of Manhattan that knew me, that I realized then would receive me always if I let it.
I left to go grocery shopping. I locked all the doors, three to get in and out. Relieved again that they all worked easily. I walked up the narrow spiral stairs onto the sidewalk. The idyllic tree lined street looked surreal to me. Nothing appeared to have skipped a beat since I left all those years ago.
It was as if I had had a wild dream and woken up. Mercifully I was just home.