There was a quick exchange in the brightly-lit hallway between Rhonda and our surprise guest, who seemed to be showing some last-minute reluctance, much as a child with self-doubt reconsiders stepping onto the stage of a talent show…but, finally, the younger female voice acquiesced in comments of yielding tones. Rhonda opened the door for her… and in walked the nefarious ghost, the nearly naked crying girl from the stairwell who had haunted my thoughts for the past few months.
Only a few weeks ago, after the disastrous introduction between Joe and Donna, I had just resolved my issue with Lance when I had found our lachrymose damsel in distress on the only clean steps in our building (though her acerbic tongue made her more of a siren than a distraught princess). My offers of assistance fell deaf on her heavily-pierced ears, but Rhonda’s matriarchal disposition seemed to have more a calming effect than my pleas. After what seemed only a few moments, my wife had somehow managed to herd her emotions into calm pastures, and unbelievably, our blonde valkyrie sans armor had been rendered a defenseless calf, crawling into my beloved’s arms for warmth and sustenance. Choosing not to call the police for the moment, we welcomed her into our home, where we could put some color into her cheeks and offer her some respite from whatever in the world seemed to torment her. And this is where she told her story.
Her name was Catelyn Gingrich, and having grown up in a small town outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she and her friends had always talked about eventually moving to New York City someday. Like so many girls of her age, seemingly among every generation, certain cities morph into mystical places that offer untold riches in wisdom, romance, and personal enrichment. For some young women, Paris and London become an irresistible beacon; for some, it becomes a wild place like Montreal; and yet for others, it becomes NYC. They have no skills to further any chance of success, but plans are for those who lack an adventurous soul. They conspire to make their way together, with only a few scant funds and their friendship needed to keep their dreams afloat…and, then, one fateful day, they load their meager belongings onto their boat (i.e., a crowded sedan) and make their terrifying journey on asphalt rivers, to the city that might swallow their souls (according to their preachers and mothers). Before they left, you could have warned them with an analogy about the danger of meeting one’s heroes, how you might have created ridiculously high expectations for them, how you might eventually wish that you had never met them in the first place…but they wouldn’t have listened, instead laughing and cheering as they floored the accelerator and peeled out of the local grocery’s parking lot.
And such was the case for our dear Catelyn and her friends. They found an overpriced but still barely affordable apartment on the Lower East Side, and all four of them crowded into the small space that was originally meant for two. Working at menial jobs around the city, struggling to even becomes baristas, they enjoyed the excitement inherent to the daily struggle of life in a city that commands you to stay on your toes. They dated an assortment of men, and they even tried a few rounds of pansexual petting at places like The Cubbyhole. However, after a couple years, the novelty of such experiences began to wane, as it does with every nomadic coven of young women who pass through this town and occupy these winding streets that also rebel against grid-like structures. More importantly, they always find a surprise: that the city does not impart any riches or, contrary to all popular television, teach any wisdom from the mouths of its friendly denizens. Instead, its greatest gift comes in a different form: as the ultimate catalyst, forcing the seed within you to grow and to discover the self that has remained hidden from you for so long. Catelyn and her crew of childhood friends learned this lesson the hard way, as the late night conversations along the Highline and in the 24-hour diners led to those moments of catharsis and the metamorphosis of the soul. One or two learned how much they really valued their family and their sense of home, and they vowed to return to their native land. The others realized how much they valued space and piracy, and they forged a plan to live somewhere more green and spacious. As New York City never remains the same thing for very long, perpetually changing and making you vow to change as well, they kept their promises…and much like many others before them, they departed somberly through the very turnstiles of the city that they had so joyously spun through before, the same ones that generations have used to pass through this place. This place that for some, of the few who choose to stay, eventually will call home.
For like all the rest who stay, Catelyn knew one thing: there was nowhere else that she felt a sense of belonging. She had a strange allure to the dichotomy of this place, a place where one could feel profound isolation and claustrophobia simultaneously. It was a place where you could be inspired and decimated many times in one day, and you could laugh with a bloody chin and clenched fists. Catelyn wasn’t a poet of any kind, but despite not having the ability to provide any verbose explanation, she knew that the taste of this special place rolled across her tongue like an oenomel, like the fiery myriad of diverse flavors that one encounters with a sip of Calvados. Though she knew not the future, she knew that nothing was left for her but disappointment in Harrisburg. However, determined as she may have been in that act of commitment to new home, there was now one stark fact: she now had no means of living on her own in the city. It was only then that she had learned of the cheaper prices and more abundant space waiting in the sleepy towns that roosted among the cliffs of the Palisades, and looking for another new adventure, she had moved to the small, casual neighborhood of West Guttenberg.
Much like the other towns surrounding it and much like Little Peru, its constituents were mainly Hispanic, and she had to adjust with the little Spanish that she knew…but, in the end, she acclimated to her new environment with a speed that surprised even herself. She had left Manhattan as a girl, and learning to stand on her own two feet in this place, one which she hadn’t even known to exist only a few years before…she felt that she was finally a woman. (Who might still wear yoga pants with prints out of sheer laziness, but hey, all journeys start with baby steps.) After a few weeks of commuting into the city and back for an office job that barely exceeded minimum wage, it only made sense to look for employment somewhere closer, if possible…but in the sleepy residential towns of the Palisades, where business offices were as welcome as rehab clinics, that proved more difficult than expected. There were a few bars and restaurants looking for work, but a white girl who did not speak Spanish was at a great disadvantage. It was only when she went to the city hall of West Guttenberg to fight a parking ticket, that she finally caught a break with the discovery of a sign: Assistant Secretary Needed for the Office of Mayor Massaco. “What a great opportunity! To work nearby and in support of my new community!” she thought to herself. Suddenly, she imagined a future as a townie of this small hamlet, throwing off the coat of a wanderer and even becoming a community leader of this place that she could call home. And this Mayor Massaco sounded nice…finally, for once, everything was going to work out in her favor.
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion. For those who wish to read previous chapters of The Condo Chronicles, the Table of Contents is available.