Note to Self (79) Ode to New York

There’s a lot I’d like to say about 9/11 and New York City, but I know everybody will be writing about it tomorrow, so I won’t dwell on the past and repeat the horrendous stories I heard when I was still a teenager aspiring to live the dream in the United States. Instead, I wanted to talk about love.

I grew up in another country, speaking another language and thinking differently, never really sure of what my fate would be, and how I’d ultimately end up here. I had millions of ideas, and mostly experienced the frustration of what I should do with my life. I was depressed, angry, unhappy with the world and with myself. It quickly became clear I wanted out.

My half-brother had been living in New York City for the past ten years. My parents and I, however, never had the chance to come visit. I didn’t know what awaited me, but I raved about it in my dreams. Movies didn’t help. They always painted such a glorifying picture of the Big Apple, the town where everything could happen; success, happiness, love…. You named it, New York could do it for you.

In September 2000, my father finally decided to take us to the United States. It didn’t really matter what we’d do once we landed, my half-brother had planned a lot of things for us anyway. We mostly wanted to see it with our own eyes, and experience what New York was all about. No camera kept rolling in the background this time, and it surprised us.

Coming to a new country such as the United States hit us with all the cultural shock you could imagine. We remained mesmerized before the beauty of the City, but we also misunderstood a lot of its traditions and habits. It seemed so odd to us to tip a cab driver. We didn’t know where to eat, how to order and how much to pay since the tax was never indicated on the prices we saw everywhere. We felt lost, and confused. My half brother took us to shows and concerts, and we visited the most touristic areas because that’s what you do when you come to New York. You go to Times Square, and the Empire State Building. You take the Staten Island ferry, and you never leave the boat because all you really care about is the skyline of downtown New York on your way back. You cross 5th avenue, and you stroll around Wall Street. Those are memories you cannot forget. They stay stuck with you forever.

My first impression of New York felt like the first time I saw Steve, the guy who I deeply fell in love with when I was 13. I was under the spell, completely unable to reject what this mega town kept throwing in my face. All the garbage, the smell, the crowd and the weird language and idioms I never could grasp didn’t frighten me one bit. I was blinded by it. When you’re barely 17 and you don’t know who you are yet, the smallest things can change your life forever. There’s certainly nothing insignificant about New York. Everything matters, whether you love it or you hate it.

On September 11, 2001, one special memory I held in mind played like a loop when I exited the driving school car I had been in for two hours as part of my driving lesson. I truly despised my instructor. He always yelled at me. These times were tough. I failed the driving test once before passing the second time. No, don’t laugh. Driving in France is a bit more complicated than in the United States. First, you drive stick. Second, you actually parallel park between two cars. Third, streets are really narrow. Fourth, you take the test every six months if you’re lucky. Ok, so now you understand better why getting my driver’s license in France was such a big deal, so much that I totally blocked the six weeks I spent studying for my high school graduation exam, aka Baccalaureat. Anyway…. I’m not here to reminisce about that.

I remember pulling behind another vehicle at the driving school, when one of the instructors came from inside the shop and rushed to my window to talk to my instructor. “Listen, turn on the radio, something’s happening in New York right now. It’s like a movie. But it’s not.”

A few hours later, I sat on the carpet of my parents’ living room, riveted to the TV. I couldn’t believe the images I was seeing. It really looked like a movie, except that it was real.

I felt pain. I recalled vividly standing at the bottom of the towers exactly one year earlier, filming them from below, walking from one to the other until my neck hurt so much I had to stop looking up. I witnessed the sky embrace the metallic structure with so much beauty I lost my breath for a few seconds. I was in love. New York got me so deep and so strong, there was no way I wouldn’t come back and live there one day.

I don’t care about all the people who claimed that the United States deserved such punishment because of their arrogance. When I finally left France, some of them even told me I’d regret it. Well guess what? I shaped my whole life to be here today. New York gave me the motivation to work toward that goal since I was 17. It didn’t matter how much time it’d take me, I knew deep inside I’d make it and that I’d become American.

This was what it’s all about. The flag, the pride, the power and mostly the love, that everlasting love that pierced through me like a sword, they welcomed me home. I sang along to their tune of glory they kept whispering in my ear, and I felt invincible. All the dislike I experienced growing up was finally gone. All the lies, the jealousy, the despising comments and the spite, I had forgotten about them. I was hers forever. New York wanted me to stay and I did. There’s nothing in this world that could ruin that for me, not even death.

You know, what I personally experienced through my break up and my divorce taught me one very important thing: no matter how down you are, you must fight and get up. You can’t let threats and devious attacks slow you down. You have to keep going, always harder, and show the world how strong you really are. Life, my friends, is all about love, and it’s this love that made me the individual I am today.

I love you New York, and I love you America. You’ll always have my unconditional support. I’d be nothing without you, and I thank you for that. God bless.

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