How many miles to Brooklyn?
Three score miles and ten—
Can I get there by subway at night?
Yes, and back again—
If your feet are nimble and light
You can get there by subway at night.
It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes me lose my breath, when New York began for me, but I cannot sit this ass on the moment it ended, can never cut through what gets so confusing, baby, to the exact place on the page where the heroine is a grown woman — and can do whatever she wants.
When I first saw New York I was in Destiny’s Child, and it was summertime, and I got off the plane in a new House of Dereon catsuit which had seemed very smart in Houston but seemed less smart already, and the warm air smelled of mildew. Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn. And some instinct, programmed by all the songs I had ever heard about New York — “Where I’m From,” “Heart of the City,” “The City Is Mine” — informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was. Some time later there was a song of mine in the DJ booth at the 40/40 Club that went, “Who run this motha?” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder who did. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing. What I mean is: I’m only human. Don’t judge me. Underneath the pretty face is something complicated. I come with a side of trouble.
Of course it might have been some other concrete jungle where dreams are made of, had circumstances been different and the time been different and had I been different, might have been Paris or Chicago or even San Francisco, but because I am talking about myself I am talking here about New York. As it turned out you could look for me, cruising down the West Side Highway, and I stayed eight years.
I bought his shit, too. All I ever did to that Tribeca penthouse, half-naked, was hang 50 yards of yellow theatrical silk across the bedroom windows, because I had some idea that the gold light would make me feel better, but I did not bother to weight the curtains correctly and all that summer the gold everything, gold-ass chain, gold-ass rings, would blow out the windows and get tangled and drenched in afternoon thunderstorms.
For a lot of the time I was in New York I used a perfume called Beyoncé Rise for Women™ and then Beyoncé Pulse NYC for Women™, and now the slightest trace of either can short-circuit my connections for the rest of the day. Nor can I smell Jay Z Gold T(M), without falling back into the past, or the particular mixture of cayenne, lemon maple syrup used during my master cleanse phase, or the Skittles which are the sweetest in the middle. Smells, of course, are notorious memory stimuli, but there are other things which affect me the same way. Red toilet paper. Ace of Spades champagne. Some faded nightgowns which were new in 2014, which made me feel sexy, like I wanted to make you say my name.
Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who keeps you coming, keeps you going, keeps you coming, keeps you going, keeps you humming, keeps you moaning, keeps you humming, keeps you moaning. I suppose that a lot of us who have been single ladies in New York have the same scenes in our videophones. I remember waking up in a lot of penthouse kitchens, saying how the hell did this shit happen, about five o’clock in the morning. I had a friend who couldn’t get no rest, couldn’t get no sleep. We’d say, “This whole thing got way too deep and we should stop making a big deal out of the little things,” and we would watch the sky lighten and sip a drink with no ice and then go home in the early morning, when the streets were clean and wet (after all the rain you’ll see the sun come out again) and the few cruising taxis had their partitions up, and the only color was the red and green of traffic signals. I would think: I woke up like this, I woke up like this.
In the end I put a ring on it, which as it turned out was a very good thing to do but badly timed, since they all thought I was just his little wife. I had never before understood what “despair” meant, and I am not sure that I understand now, but I understood that year. I was climbing up the walls ’cause all the shit I heard was boring, all the shit I did was boring, all these record labels boring. Of course I could not work. I could not even get dinner with any degree of certainty, and I would sit in the apartment in Tribeca paralyzed until my husband would call from Roc-A-fella and say gently that I did not have to get dinner, that I could meet him at The Spotted Pig or at Buttermilk Channel or at Lucali. And then one morning this summer (we had been married seven springs before) he called and told me that he wanted to get out of New York for a while, that he would sacrifice the street cred, that we would go somewhere. Somewhere near the sea where there were surfboardts. Lots of surfboardts.
Many of the people we knew in New York think that we’re living so crazy, right now. There is no possible, no adequate answer to that, and so we give certain stock answers, I mean that I was very young in New York, and that at some point the flawless rhythm was broken — and no, I’m not an angel either, but at least I’m trying. The last time I was in New York, I’m all up under him like it’s cold, winter time. Gwyneth and Chris had consciously uncoupled, and she suggested the move would be better for Blue Ivy (and her soon-to-be brother). We took a flight at midnight, and now my mind can’t help but wander. On the way home from LAX I could see the moon on the Pacific and smell jasmine all around and we both knew that there was no longer any point in keeping the apartment we still kept in New York.
Big Apple, don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable.