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    A NYC Love Story, To Love You Or To Leave You? By Eliane Delage

    This is a personal essay about my love story with NYC and what it takes to endure this love during the pandemic.

    A NYC love story, to love you or to leave you?

    Dear NYC,

    What would have been like to go out on a sunny morning in the Mesozoic Era and shockingly realize all the dinosaurs are gone? Just like that, they were here yesterday and now they’re gone, just gone, forever. Well, we humans only discovered that roughly 65 million years after the fact, but still we are shocked. I am in shock you have stopped in the COVID-19 Era.

    Yes, the whole world has stopped but I am one of those people who believes you are center of the Universe, or at least you were the center of my little Universe. And I was happy in my bubble, like a tiny elf in a snow globe on a gift shop shelf at 34th St. I was happy to commute into the your madness every day and pay extra for just about anything from water to rental rooms for work, from a snack to live entertainment. I have been living in Jersey since I went roommate-free 8 years ago but you were still my work site and playground, I would come in from across the river and contribute to your engine every single day. And now everything has stopped. For your own good. Because we had to. Because we were ordered to. Because it was the only option to contain the spread of this deadly virus. I understand and support the necessary measures, but still I am in shock. It is very troubling to conceive that the world I knew is gone, the interactive landscape I became part of is no more, or is unexpectedly on torpid pause.

    The first time I saw your beautiful skyline in person, my dear Manhattan, it was a cold gray winter day in 1993 when I landed here from São Paulo, Brasil. I immediately fell in love with your personality and so our story began. I like to think and say I grew up in New York because it made me grow up. You accepted me with open arms and no judgements. You didn’t ask me where I came from or if my family was broken. You didn’t ask me if I had money in the bank or if I even had a bank account. You didn’t ask me if I was gay or if I knew how to speak the language. You didn’t ask me what my dreams and hopes were and if I was in the slightest prepared to go after them. You just let me be and enjoy the ride. And that I did. I could be myself and be part of the flow in a camouflaged way blending into your urban jungle while navigating your streets in my daily hustle.

    New York is not for the weak, they say. I agree. In the same way love is not for the faint of heart. One must be strong or become strong to endure either. I have always been strong enough to roll with the punches and throws swung at me while surviving in the day to day commotion. I also have always loved intensely to my own detriment. I had my heart broken so many times I bet it looks like a superglued Faberge egg sitting pretty in my chest, you wouldn’t even know it’s been repeatedly smashed. I have loved people who died on me, I have loved people who cheated on me, I have loved people who cut me out of their life, I have loved people who never loved me back. These are all very painful scenarios but as humans we sort of expect one of those to eventually happen to us, and when it happens we are devastated but not entirely surprised. I always thought I could count on your liveliness being there as a friend through thick or thin, I would sometimes just feel solace by walking among the crowds in your streets or just people watch while riding the subway or sitting at the park. I never considered your spirit not fully being there.

    My affinity with your intricate flux has made me stronger and has always allowed me to find creative ways to stay in the game. Tough love is a given. NYC, you are not playing, I know, natural selection ensues at every little tick of the clock: tick tock… another one gets cut. Any misstep will significantly lower one’s odds of “making in the city” and will eventually spit them out of the game altogether. As simple as an unpaid month’s rent or tardiness to a job interview are good enough reasons to get someone eliminated. My good friend Gary, a veteran NYC musician once told me: “The thing about NYC is that you can throw a rock out the window any day and chances are you’ll hit someone that does exactly what you do 100 times better.” That stuck with me. And that is also part of your beauty, there is so much talent everywhere we look and, when we stop competing we resurface in the land of opportunity. I always loved this about you.

    As I tumbled and stumbled upon my recurring life lessons through your streets, Manhattan, I had always been able to fall back on your watercourse and keep swimming. Well, almost always… You did spit me out once when I was still figuring things out and desperately ran out of options. I was 26 when I lost my job as a messenger and my landlady who was friends with my boss kicked me out of the room I lived in the same week for fear I wouldn’t have the means to pay the rent. After crashing in people’s couches for a couple of week I took a long detour and went to stay with friends in the West Coast until I eventually got back on my feet, and the entire time I lived in California I always missed your big apple’s sweet rawness. I was away when 9/11 happened but my heart bled for those who were in Manhattan and for many nights I couldn’t sleep thinking how much I wanted to be there for my city and its people.

    The energy pulsing through your streets and avenues is what attracted me from the beginning, it was always exciting to navigate those urban currents and know they would always be there. The neon like stream of light of fast subway cars zipping through underground tunnels carrying clusters of humans through the boroughs. The unsynchronized fast steps on your sidewalks, business meetings freshly polished work shoes, deal closing high heels, deal breaker crocs, rehearsal combat boots, marathon running shoes, after work flats, dog walking sneakers, rain storm rubber boots, snow day Uggs, and dating leather boots. The cascading rhythm of sound bites, street musicians, street vendors, cab door slams, roaring traffic, voices talking on the phone, shouting, tourists, laughter, street crosswalk beeping, helicopters, sirens, more sirens, sirens again.

    I became part of it, just like one more lego piece in a giant colorful assembly. A big part of my identity was tied to the blocks of your cultural mosaic and the routine I built around it. I realize I grabbed on to my lifestyle as a lifeline running alongside my life purpose. It comes as a sad realization because now I must find myself and my new role in its renaissance and it coincides with a new era in my 50’s and my personal renaissance, both new and malleable to whatever I want to make of them.

    I turned 50 last year and it was a big milestone rock party celebrated with my friend Jackie who was having her 40 milestone birthday. It was a memorable party in the Lower East Side at Piano’s with a packed house of friends. Some of them even flew from California and Amsterdam. It was an epic show we played with our musician peers and an incredible New York moment. You see, I turned 50 last year but I never mention much I turned 51 this year. Because looking at it now it feels almost like it didn’t happen, it was the last day I felt normal, a few days before lockdown took effect. But it did happen and it was a wonderful day. I walked the High Line on my way to the Village to meet up with my friends Bill and Christina for dinner at charming “Casa”, my favorite Brazilian restaurant. I spotted the first blossoms of Spring on my way there, I instagrammed a mix of pinkish flowers and budding trees, I WhattsApped my friend Meco in Brasil and showed him a beautiful live choir singing outdoors, I passed the Shed’s dome and remembered the futuristic kung-fu choreography I had seen with my co-workers in “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise” a few months back and wondered what shows would be coming up next. I looked at the top of the Vessel peaking out from a distance in its copper glow and felt accomplished I had already walked up its seven stories with my friend Andrea once it opened.

    After our wonderful dinner; Bill, Christina and I took a walk in the neighborhood, we stopped at Magnolia Bakery for my favorite flourless chocolate cake and then at the Cubby Hole for a toast of Blue Moon and Prosecco. We stopped at Jackson Square to quickly point and shoot at the big and yellow moon glaring from behind the clouds. We walked up to Midtown and said goodbye. I hopped on the 7 train to Long Island City to meet up with my friend Sammi for a night cap. On my way there I stopped by the waterfront and contemplated your skyline under the high moon. It was a magnificent view of the back side of your illuminated profile. We met at Domaine’s wine bar and had a few beers while having a surreptitious shot of the cask strength Japanese Whiskey bottle hiding in my bag, the gift that kept giving. Sadly, everything changed so dramatically after that.

    I am in denial of all of it. My 50’s, the new state of the world and your new, New York Age. Midtown is a scene of the “Walking Dead’ ridden with drugged wandering homeless, everyday more business close and more people leave. Times Square is empty, the annoying tourists are gone, the lines by the stage doors outside the theaters are gone and everywhere I look I can spot invisible casualties on empty trenches. The lights are out on Broadway but the love light is still on in my heart for you, my dear New York City. We will figure this out together, you’re the strongest friend I have and I know you always come back but for now everything feels so surreal and strange... Is that a Pterodactyl flying over the Empire State Building?