“That’s the thing about this city,” I tell Nina, gesturing towards the tall cranes and excavators that are hard at work building comfy apartments and towering skyscrapers. Soon those buildings will be finished, and the machines will start on new ones. “It never stops changing.” We sit under a tree in the western side of Central Park, looking over the inviting blue-gray river where we can see towering beige structures like the Beresford, the Turin, the Dakota and the San Remo, shaping the sapphire sky with a hint of tourmaline sunrise above them. A cool morning breeze blows toward us, which we never really got back home in San Diego. We can hear cars honking like geese and the distant chatter of citizens and tourists. I love it all. Everyone is having the time of their lives- and so am I. I feel like I’m home- because I am home. I grew up here once upon a time.
Nina nods and smooths her dark hair, blinking her hazel eyes. “This is a wonderful place. And I can’t imagine how much better it will be in a few decades.”
I agree silently. Nina is fragile, but she loves a good urban adventure. She can be curtseying with her favorite dark red dress and be on a horse at full speed two minutes later. That’s what I love about her.
I grab a churro from the opposite side of the red and white plaid blanket that five different types of bread, cupcakes, ice cream, two pizza slices and, of course, churros, are sprawled over. There are sandwiches too, but we haven’t touched them at all. We got food from a bunch of stalls all over the park, and now we’re having a picnic.
“Joanne,” Nina says, “I can’t believe you were raised here. It must have been an adventure every day.”
“It sorta was, but sorta wasn’t.” I say, fussing with my dirty blonde braid. “I kind of got used to it all. It was life to me, and nothing was different. While city life was awesome, it got, well, repetitive. More repetitive than vacation, at least.”
“I kind of get that,” Nina says. “Have you visited since you went off to college? I don’t think you’ve ever told me.” Nina and I have only been married for a year, and we met each other three years ago. There’s still a lot for us to discover about each other.
I shake my head. “I haven’t really needed to, since my parents…” I don’t finish the sentence. Instead, I ask her if she wants to pack up. “I really want to show you my old house,” I say. It’ll be fun, reliving all of those memories that are so old they almost seem ancient.
Nina nods, and we walk out of Central Park and get into the car and hail a taxi. I point the George Washington bridge out to Nina as we ride along the river. We go past where I went to high school, but it’s a bank now. The salon is a guitar store. There are new houses everywhere. New shops. New offices. Everything’s changed.
My home has to be the same, though. How could it not be? The row houses on Sylvan terrace brought the real flare to Washington Heights. And they were also home to the oldest house in Manhattan.
“We’re getting close,” I say. Just five more blocks.
Four more blocks. My anxiety starts to take hold.
Three blocks. What if it’s not the same? What if my childhood is completely gone?
Two blocks. Please, please, please. Nothing matters anymore if this isn’t the same as it was.
One. I can see it now, and my eyes stretch huge, already starting to flood with tears. No, no, no, it can’t be. It can’t be.
All of the houses have been demolished. Instead, a huge stone building is set up, right where I lived all of my childhood memories. I fall to my knees, not even wanting to get out of the taxi like Nina is. First my parents are gone, now this. I just can’t move on.
“I thought you had a row house,” Nina says, coming up beside me.
“I did,” I tell her. “It’s gone. It’s all gone.”
Nina puts a hand on my shoulder. “I- I’m sorry, Joanne.”
I take a deep breath, wanting the words to ring through my ears forever. Because Nina understands me. That’s another reason why we got together. Why she’s my wife. And I understand her the exact same way. But I don’t understand this. And I don’t want to, either.
I thought change was a good thing, but I guess what I always thought of wasn’t change. That was creation. This is taking what was perfectly fine and redoing it. It’s one thing to paint a picture and give it it’s own stand, it’s another to throw some of your best work away and put something new on its easel.
“We should at least see what this is,” Nina considers. We walk to the front door of this weird, metal, sure to be doomed structure. I see a small sign with big, bold letters that reads ORPHANAGE.
“Oh,” I whisper.
This is a place for people who’ve gone in my footsteps, probably much earlier in life. They’re sad, and going through what is probably the worst point in their lives- I would know. So I shouldn’t be the sad one when it’s not my perfect little house. Not when it’s for such a good cause. I brush my hand along the cold wall, and I think about how this has changed for the better.
This is New York City, I think, sending out a happy, cheerful call through my brain. It rings around, louder and louder, like the traffic getting busier and busier at the Cross Bronx. I look at the machines that are still creating the future from the ground up. The city of change. And when it works it’s miracles, you have to embrace them with pride.