Two weeks later I had a day or so to finish packing and grab any last minute neccesities when I got back from LA and Hawaii Friday morning. It worked in my favor that I'd never really unpacked and I didn't have much stuff by way of furniture— a bedroom set. That's it.
I called Peter that afternoon to ask him to ride out to Ikea with me. Maybe I could pick up a futon so I'd have something to sit on in the living room other than the floor.
He'd been understanding, almost like he'd seen it coming when I told him I was moving to New York. After I'd received the job offer, I'd told him I was going north. I'd left out that it would be for good. That was something he deserved to hear face to face.
When I told him the night I came back from Up Top, without missing a beat, he said, "Congratulations," then asked me I had everything I needed to begin a new life. I'd run down a list of what I didn't have—a couch being at the top of the list— and he said he'd take off work and drive way out (like an hour away) with me to get one.
Told you he was a catch.
I drove out to his house, which was on the way to Virginia, and hopped into his truck (an old school man, he won't ride shotgun with a woman the behind the wheel.) When we get to the store, he tests all the couches with me. I tease that I'll have to pick out one long enough for him to sleep on when he comes up.
"Oh yeah?" he asks, his blue eyes lighting up.
I melt a little. "Oh, yeah," I shoot back. It was a confirmation. Not a question. Me leaving isn't goodbye, it's "see you later."
I actually don't get a couch I'm picky and nothing says, “Buy me. Take me home." He drives me back to his house to get my car with an offer to come by and help me pack. I decline because there really isn’t much to do.
We say goodbye like we'll see each other the next day. No long drawn out, clinging hug. Not even a kiss.
I drove home, changed clothes, and hit the happy hour at Dream with Ace. I couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye to the city than to do one of the few things that gave me joy while I was there. Usually we were there, by 8, home tucked in our beds shortly till midnight. That night? We stayed till the lights came on.
I ran to Sears with my mother for an air conditioner (get the biggest one you can. This is not something to skimp on), then we hit Target for a microwave (I couldn't cook anything but spaghetti at the time. This was my way of making sure I didn't starve) and some other random stuff my mother insisted I would need to begin my adult life. What we didn't buy, my mother turned over. She gave up a couple pots and a skillet in case I ever had the inclination to learn to "hot the pot." I had dishes, glasses and cutlery from my grad school apartment.
I rode home from Target in the passenger seat looking out the window. I was seeing the grassy knolls, blue skies, all the luxury cars driven by Black people who got them the legal way. Years later, I would realize growing up around success stories would shape my outlook in ways I'd never realized. My understanding of Black was hard-working and home-owning and married, which is probably why so many stereotypes about Black being trifling and bad roll of me. I still see what I grew up with as my reality.
I looked too at the big brick houses, the winding roads I could drive with my eyes closed or probably over the legal limit (speed and alcohol) and never crash. I was looking at all that and thinking about New York. I didn't have a single pang or second thought about leaving Maryland.
If anything, I was antsy to get out, but I had the decency not to bounce off the walls about it though. My parents’ stunts while I was in New York a couple weeks back had let me know not to rock the boat further. This was something they were going along with because I was hell bent on going with or without their help. A woman, even a young one, with an unshakable will (and her own money), is a tough thing to battle. You can fight, but you'll both end up with scars (cue Lauryn Hill.)
When the back off the pickup was loaded that night— and it's a strange thing to see your life's entire possessions on the back of one truck— there was nothing else left to do but sleep since we were set to leave at daybreak the following morning.
I was too wired, even though I hadn't had a decent sleep after the 10 hour trek back East from Hawaii.
I called Peter.
Forty minutes later I was sitting in his parents' basement.
I think we watched a movie. All I really remember was sitting on the couch and nestling into his nook, which was built Ford tough. I feel asleep on him.
He knew I liked to leave his parents home at midnight (lest I be the harlot who stayed too long with their son), but he didn't wake me till 4:30 AM. I guess he fell asleep too.
"I gotta go home," I said, tapping his chest when I finally stirred. "I got a long day ahead of me."
I didn't move from him though. Yesterday's goodbye wasn't hard. Maybe I was hyped up on adrenaline, thinking about what I was going to instead of what I was leaving behind. It must have been that. Cause this here? Suddenly, the idea of leaving him hurt. My chest ached.
I'd said when I'd been forced home from New York seven months earlier that I wasn't trying to date anyone. When I got that call for a job to go back to The City, I didn't want anyone to make me think twice about staying in the DMV. I knew I was going to New York. No man, not even one as great as Peter would get in the way of my dreams.
But there on that couch, I had the presence of mind to know exactly what I was giving up in pursuit of professional happiness. It could be a long, long time before I met someone who compared to Peter Francis.
Am I making the right choice?
I'd read Waiting to Exhale before I was a teenager, and Mama before that. I'd sat in on enough "ain't shit men" conversations and dealt with enough duds to know that even though good men existed, they could be hard to come by.
I looked up at him and found him looking at me; I can't tell you what his face was saying because I couldn't figure it out then or in retrospect.
"It's time for me to go," I say, finally leaning off him. I realized it wasn't going to get easier as the night faded into daybreak.
He walked me to the top of the stairs and for the first time ever, we're across from each other fumbling for words in his people's kitchen.
Suddenly, he just grabs me and kisses me. To hell with all that respectful gentleman stuff. Finally.
But there's no chemistry. I tell myself, lie really, that we wouldn't have worked even if I stayed. It's the only thing that will get me in my car and to my house and back to New York without perpetually wondering "what if? What if? What if?"
He walks me to my car, tells me to take care of myself in New York, drive safe, and call when I get home, which I do.
My parents and I (and my Dad's friend) get on the road in two separate cars shortly after 6AM. I'm asleep before we hit 95 North.
I wake up four hours later somewhere in North New Jersey. It's at the point ten minutes from the Holland tunnel where you're coming down from this pinnacle and can see all of Manhattan looking like the island it is. It's a beautiful, impressive, stunning view... Like something out of a fairytale. Too real and beautiful and full of wonder and possibilities to be true.
Manhattan looks like magic. But I'm trying to see Brooklyn. I take it in, and go back to sleep.
Thirty or so minutes later, I wake up when the car engine stops. I look out the window and up at the green and white townhouse that looks like nothing to write home about, but is the place I'll eventually call home. (On holidays when people from DC ask me if I'm home for say, Christmas, I will respond, "no, I'm in MD.")
My mother helps me scrub down the apartment, especially the bathroom and the kitchen, while my father and his friend set up the bedroom since that's all there is to put together.
By 5PM, we're done and my parents and their friend have to get on the road. They have work tomorrow, so do I. My first job in New York.
There are no tears with goodbye on either side. It's quick and easy, other than my father's demand that I take care of myself and that I'll call if I need anything. Anything.
When they leave, I run to the bodega on the corner for food. I’ve been so busy today that I didn’t remember to eat. I buy a 6-pack of champagne kola, canned macaroni and cheese that I can heat in the microwave, and two loosies,*** one of which I tuck behind my ear.
Back at the apartment, I close the door behind me, put on both locks, barricading myself inside. I eat standing at the counter. Then I then get busy, putting sheets on my bed, unpacking boxes of pictures and setting them up on the mantel in my bedroom. I unpack my clothes and arrange them by color and type in my closets.
By 1AM, I’m exhausted, but it’s then, when I’ve plopped myself down in the middle of the living room floor, that the magnitude of what I’ve done hits me. I've moved to a new city today. I start a new job I the morning. I forgot to buy a shower curtain, so a proper shower is impossible. There are no curtains on the windows so anyone who drives by can see all my business. I’ve ventured out to build a new life, but I’m not quite prepared.
If I’m honest, I’m scared. I wanted this. Prayed my heart out on my parents’ back steps begging God for it. It’s here, but I’m still afraid of what comes next.
I breathe deep to choke back the panic, then rise and head down to the front steps to smoke my Newport, my crutch.
I pull the cigarette from behind my ear, and light, then inhale. I sit on the concrete steps on the hot August night, looking out onto the street. I make a list of all the things I need like a shower curtain and real food and blinds in the bedroom. I envision the home I'd like to create upstairs, the colors I'll add to the wall. Red in the office, because I liked the one wall in Big's apartment on SATC. Tiffany Box Blue in the living room because it's my favorite color (at the time.)
I wonder about Mr. Ex and if he’ll answer when I call, if he'll introduce me to Brooklyn the same way he showed me Manhattan.
I think about if I blew my chance at being a wife when I think about Peter.
I contemplate the job I’ll start tomorrow and how long I’ll have to stay there before I can pursue what I came to New York to do.
I have so many questions and so few answers.
I pull, then hold, then exhale.
At least I'll figure out what comes next here.
If I can make it here
I can make it anywhere
That's what they say
Seeing my face in lights
Or my name in marquees
Found down on Broadway
Even if it ain't all it seems
I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby, I'm [in] New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothing you can't do
Now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for New York, New York
-Alicia Keys. Empire State of Mind, Part 2