once more, with feeling
At midnight last Friday, Izzy looked at her phone and said “Happy birthday!” I turned 22 waiting for the A train, headed back to Chelsea from Brooklyn. Still a little drunk, and wired from staying up to finish all my homework the night before traveling, I looked around the subway platform. The only part of Taylor Swift’s song that I could relate to was “Tonight’s the night when we forget about the deadlines.” It had only been a few months since I was last in New York, but this time felt different. I was different. I could be anyone I wanted, and that night I was hundreds of miles away from home, wearing one of Izzy’s thrifted sweaters and a pair of her Doc Martens.
“Move here!” were the first two words that slipped off the tongues of people I’d met throughout the night. I felt everything rise in my throat - the shots, the beers, the curly fries from the first bar, the lump that was lodged in there while I was waiting to board the plane to LaGuardia, all the times people from home have asked me “What are you doing when you graduate?” I forced it all back down with water and ibuprofen.
Growing up, I always thought the gateway into another year of life was blowing out candles. Birthdays were always ceremonial, or so I thought. As you get older, you’re in charge of buying your own cake. Metaphorical flame not included. Which is to say I went to Magnolia Bakery and devoured a cupcake in two minutes flat across the street, licking buttercream frosting off my fingers, saying “Oh my god” between bites. Gluttony was a sin I was willing to commit; over-indulgence is a side effect of being a Millennial. I saw no need to make a wish when I plucked the minuscule sugar daisy off my cupcake. I had everything I wanted, hedonistically speaking.
When it comes to enjoying myself, there is a lingering sense of finality - I think to myself, I’ll never get to experience this again. This is in part due to guilt that is inflicted upon me by adults in my life - every want, every desire, every purchase - is rooted in consequence, especially those related to New York. New York exists only as a commonplace of self-sabotage and hooks itself up to your bank account, ready to drain. I’m taught to believe that there isn’t security in dreaming.
The morning of my birthday, Izzy and I ate breakfast at Good Thanks and she walked me to McNally Jackson before going to work, where I fell in love and almost felt as though I was cheating on The Strand. I had a few hours to kill before Sophie’s train arrived at Penn Station from Philadelphia. I spent most of my birthday alone, but I enjoyed my anonymity - a feeling that I’m no stranger to. Anywhere I walked, I blended in. SoHo, Nolita, Washington Square Park, NYU. I counted the number of long camel-colored coats I saw - this seemed to be the new uniform throughout the city. I made my way to West 4th Street and caught an E train to 42nd, my destination being the library. There, I sat down and started writing, looking up every so often. It’s my birthday and I’m in the New York Public Library. Sitting there was the only time I used headphones during my trip; the rest of my visit didn’t require a soundtrack. I thought about where I was (physically, and emotionally) the year before, two years before, even three years before. I could remember exactly how I felt and who I was thinking about and what I wanted in those years of my life. Between nineteen and now I’ve confused love with so many different things, mistaken happiness for different things, tried to make sense of their meanings.
One of the highlights of the weekend was going to Buvette - one of the restaurants where Stephanie Danler worked before she wrote Sweetbitter. On Saturday, Sophie and I arrived promptly at noon and we were quoted an hour wait time, which, as a hostess, I smiled and nodded understandingly. The host took names and wrote them in chalk on the door frame, and crossed them off when he stuck his head out the door, calling the name of the next party. When he didn’t hear a response, he stuck his head back in the restaurant where I heard the chalk strike a line. Sophie and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. Cutthroat. We waited half our quote time when my name was finally called and we were ushered to a tiny round table set for two next to a server station. “We made it!” Sophie said. I couldn’t believe I was actually sitting inside of Buvette. A table got up and Sophie noticed an untouched mimosa before the busser grabbed it.
“Imagine the kind of life you have where you can order a mimosa at a place like this and just not drink it,” she said.
“Imagine the kind of life you have working here,” I said, thinking of the words from the pages of Sweetbitter - the snippets of conversation and table numbers that seemed to float around me in every which direction. Taking a breath seemed out of the ordinary for anyone I saw in an apron - brunch was, if anything, a performance that was difficult to execute, and I was only witnessing one occurrence.
“You contain multitudes, Grace,” my boyfriend said to me a couple of weeks ago. Sure, he’d said it because I’d just played “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar and “Yeah!” by Usher in his car and that definitely threw him off (he also said it for the Whitman reference, so, you know….cue my swooning) but it made me think of all the different parts of me and my personality, especially when I got back to Cleveland. Who I am in New York and who I am in Cleveland aren’t entirely different but having those parts of me coexist in one place seems impossible. When I was at Buvette, and Sophie was asking me about wine and how to pronounce the French words on the menu, two thoughts crossed my mind: What the fuck am I doing here? and Oh my god, I’m turning into my mother.
I was only in the city for three days yet it felt like a lifetime. When I woke up on Sunday to go to LaGuardia, I was relieved to be going home, to my seafoam green comforter and my bus routes and lavender lattes that don’t cost $6. My boyfriend picked me up from the airport, and from there I had to go help out with final edits for the Vindi’s last issue of the semester. It was nice to be brought back down to reality.
So this is 22. I can’t even begin to imagine what this next year of my life has in store for me. But wherever I end up, I know that inspiration and love are never lacking.