Last Thursday, I woke up with a cold in New York.
After my boyfriend left the hotel for his staff meeting, I took a 12 hour Sudafed and jumped into the shower hoping to reinvigorate my determination. I was scared. I hadn’t been to New York in twenty-five years. What if I got lost? I have a poor sense of direction.
Explore nearby, Google Maps suggested. No thanks, I knew where I was headed. Ever since Carrie climbed the stairs to the building that housed all the famous love stories, I’ve yearned to visit The New York Public Library.
In winter, the sun doesn’t reach the sidewalk in New York. The concrete is cold. I held my purse tight in my hands and walked like the people around me…with purpose, but smiling inside. It was only a few blocks, but my heart raced.
When I reached the corner on 5th and 42nd - there it stood - as real and majestic an institution as the Coliseum.
At the bottom of the stone steps, tourists like me maneuvered the old hard snow taking photographs; I texted a photo of the lion guarding the entrance to my niece, and sent a picture of the Public Library signage to my boyfriend to let him know that I had found it. And then, eager as a first grader, I skipped up the steps and entered the sacred space.
Hallowed, people shuffled quietly taking photos of the grand marble foyer, the twinned curved staircases that met above revealed within carved arches, the bronzed heads of men and names of engraved donations and the golden light that stopped time swinging from the ceiling fixtures.
Up two flights of curved stairs, you are startled by an open room, an expanse of polished dark wood paneling and a high curved ceiling that features a painting of blue sky and white puffy clouds with naked men fighting which is oddly calming. The room catches your breath, so I recommend (before taking a photo to send to your niece or boyfriend or post on Facebook) that you sit down.
I did. On a bench. Beside a pretty black girl who stared off into space, twirling a key ring with a single key on her index finger, round and round, like a calming mantra. Every once in a while, the ring would fly to the floor and she would casually bend down, pick it up and start again with the twirling. This behavior seemed as normal to me as being back in New York after the twenty-five years of hard road worn between now and then. Then, when everything that I’d touched turned to magic - a sea of possibility - under TV lighting wearing sparkling dresses created by designers now long dead and pictures of love and dreams of writing, the writing dreams that almost died and the loves who most certainly did.
Staring at the colorful wall painting of two men reading the paper while an architect ponders the plans for a black and white building, I felt at peace and I hadn’t even seen the books yet. I checked my email. There was a note from an editor of a well-respected New York journal. They wanted a rewrite and would consider my piece. What were the odds?
My body suddenly felt light. People whispered and shuffled around me. A guard sat quietly at a table nearby, hands folded, fingers intertwined while a disembodied female voice on a video beside him explained how the Rosetta crashed and was repaired. I heard her voice, but I didn’t follow the story of the rebuilding of the stone.
I thought about the turn of events that had led to this beautiful paneled room and the beautiful man only a few city blocks away who wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I cataloged back over the decades of no. The years of unending illness and poverty, clenched fists, hot tears, hours on my knees begging for repentance or salvation, or to be damned; felt the constant battle between love and agony fought within my own heart.
And I realized there in the sacred place that housed all the famous stories of love, that just like Carrie, I had won the Great War. An hour later, I pushed open the heavy wooden door of the New York Public Library and stepped outside into the world. The sun hit my face.
And when I passed by the stone lion, he roared.