Do you remember when we said our first hellos? I was straight off a plane from Milan, re-teaching myself how to live out of dresser drawers instead of zippered suitcases. I still remember the bright November morning when I saw you, Astoria, for the very first time. My full bed and wooden couch rocked left and right past cafes, falafel trucks, banks, small groceries and streams of moving people. Steinway Street appeared to be another country: baklava in bakery windows, groups of men sitting stoically drinking tea and smoking hookah. Little Egypt, I would learn. The skyline of Manhattan loomed in the distance. I felt dwarfed by the noise and the power of this place, your buzzing soil.
That was one year and 4 months ago.
Each morning in the winter of 2014, I walked south past sleeping businesses-fashion stores Hug and Easy Pickins’, McDonalds, Modell’s, Starbucks, the prom dress store- all silent in the early light.
I took the R train all the way across Manhattan and down to City Hall. Do you remember? Everyone said I was crazy to take the local train such a long way. But I didn’t mind. It gave me time to read my books, borrowed from the local Queens Library. We shared many books, you and I.
Then the new job and a new commute. This time, I walked to the N,Q train aboveground or took the bus when my timing was right. I watched a coffee shop open and finally felt like I wasn’t the newest one on the block. In the summer, my roommates introduced me to the beer garden and the Greek restaurants along Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard. We ate at Sugarfreak, a New Orleans-style restaurant with beignets bananas foster, a memory of which still makes my mouth water. I joined a yoga studio and a gym while treating myself to fresh, hand rolled bagels on Saturday mornings. During one of my first 3 mile runs, I stumbled upon Astoria Park and slowed down to watch children playing in the grass and skipping along the river.
In Astoria, I found the mixture of culture that I had dreamed New York City would foster and nourish. There were young millennials running in new sneakers and old college sweatshirts alongside Muslim men and women on their way to prayer. Greek grandmothers would shop on early mornings in the grocery store as I stumbled in for seltzer or eggs. Old and new. New Yorker natives and foreign immigrants. Spanish speakers. Italian sausage makers. Young married couples and single roommates.
Daina and I stayed longer than we had planned; six months quickly evaporated into sixteen. In the final days before I moved, my nights were spent sitting on the floor meticulously wrapping each plate and mug in bubble wrap and placing them in cardboard boxes. They clinked against one another as if to say, Where are you taking us? Why can’t we go back to our cupboards and shelves? I didn’t have an answer except to say,
because it’s time.
Thank you for all you’ve done. I found a great young woman to take my bedroom. Be kind to her, Astoria, as you were kind to me. Let her listen to your heartbeat, the percussion of daily life. Show her the fresh feta cheese and the best falafel truck. Let her walk the friendliest streets and find the best way home. Nudge her through the doors of your museums and coax her over the bridge into Sunnyside when she is ready to explore. Her heart is open and ready. I was a stranger once too.
From your shore, Manhattan feels both overwhelmingly close and light years away. We are both older and I’d like to think a little wiser too. Take care of yourself, Astoria. I’ll be back soon.
P.S. I moved to Jersey. Don’t cry.