After an incredible fellowship at the Museum, I returned to Michigan to finish my senior year at university. Though nearly the moment I returned, I applied for grad school at Columbia to get back to New York. It was my version of having it all–a good graduate school in the city I’d fallen head-over-heels for? Sign me up. Or, rather, accept my application!
And go back I did. In the fall of 2004 I moved to Morningside Heights, to continue my studies there at Columbia University. It was at once familiar and new, with a new and exciting neighborhood to explore. I quickly found some of my favorite places: Symposium, across the street from my apartment, a tiny Greek restaurant where the owner still greets everyone by name, sits down at their table, and chats up a storm. Apple tree, the bodega–and home of the bodega cat–I visited daily for lunch with my colleagues. Heights Bar, whose early happy hour margaritas became a source of group therapy after particularly hard exams. And Tom’s Diner of Seinfeld fame. Not because I watched the show, I’ve never actually seen a complete episode, but because it was exactly half-way between my apartment and that of the woman I’d marry several years later.
I dove into the city, and vowed to know everything. I rushed tickets for Broadway shows, danced on screen in Times Square, stayed out all night, in between long hours in the books and regular trips to the telescopes. I started to meet many of the people who would become dear to me, some who would continue to shape my life even when no longer with us. And I started to realize, slowly at first, then with more certainty, that I wasn’t going back to Michigan. This wasn’t temporary. This was my home.
That felt like a real shift. My home had always been in Michigan. It was “where I come from” and, somehow I always felt, where I’d return to. Yet the more of a life I built outside of my previous experience, and my family back home, the more it came to feel like a new definition of self. I hadn’t realized until then that I’d always tied my identity to a place. I’d moved houses, and apartments, plenty of times to that point. And this wasn’t even my first New York apartment. But it somehow felt more permanent, and more representative, of moving my home.
Oh, that apartment? A two bedroom apartment in a fantastic neighborhood, yes, but…not exactly up to date. My roommate and I battled mold in the bathroom, ants in the kitchen, and mice in the bedrooms. But we hardly spent much time there, there was always somewhere else to be. Everywhere else to be. My view was of the alley in the back of the building. Not necessarily exciting, you might think, but the building across the alley was a Columbia dorm, and those windows told many tales. I never felt the lack of TV. The address was quintessential Manhattan; all numbers, on the grid. It tells you exactly where the building is, if you know how to read it. (Five main avenues west of 5th Avenue, on the north side of 113th St.) Like the apartment, it was functional. To be found, not quite to be loved, and still comforting in its utility.
511 West 113th Street, New York, New York