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Anyone who catches sight of him through the tinted windows of the black stallion that we drive into town shouts his name to the high heavens as though their prodigal son has returned.

It is his first trip back to this small, mountain-bound town on the Honduran border since his Peace Corps service ended more than two and a half years ago. We did not tell anyone we were coming. Betting on the probability that his connections would still be there — with the exception of those young men who had been lured to the States by the promise of work valued by money — we go immediately to the home of his surrogate family.

Rosa arrives at the door when we do, she from inside, we from out. She greets us with the type of disbelief that for a minute mimics indifference until she turns from leading us into their home,  and the stars in her eyes shine the light of surprise, and she repeats his name as if the apparition before her must be named to keep from vanishing.

She instructs us to sit, disappears behind the curtain that separates the front room from the rest of the house, and shortly returns with spiked cola. It’s a dry town.

Hernan arrives as I am polishing off the last drop, having nervously sipped through my drink before my fiance has so much put a dent in his. I am nervous about my Spanish and how it might affect their impression of me. I have heard so much about them, and I had glanced Hernan only that once when I came to visit for a week in 2006.

We were eating lunch across from their home, and Hernan was leaning against the rail of his terrace, located above an obtuse angle of the main street, surveying the scene from the advantage of his vantage point. I wondered then if I would ever meet him. With the perch and the face of an eagle, he seemed the center of town for reasons beyond the location of his home. From the shelter of shade where we ate, we studied him unobserved.

That moment was not one that I consciously retained from that trip. Of the hundreds of photographs that captured what I, in retrospect, consider a slight intrusion into my fiance’s initiation, I had none of Hernan, of his terrace, of that corner of town. And perhaps that was fortuitous.

In the days following my return home from Honduras in 2006, a rare strain of strep throat left me shivering in pools of sweat as the fever burned off the haze of dream that imbued that trip. When my fever broke, so did the hope that I could sustain some essence that already seemed lost over such time and space. I searched for it in the photos, those receipts of grief, where I saw the face of someone I had lost.

After days of tossing and turning in a damp tangle of sheets, I wake in a charcoal hued hour, released from delirium. The antiobiotics have kicked in. I grab my phone from the bedside and trigger the backlight. Two days have passed since I last felt alert. Four years have passed since I’d last felt this sick. These strange occurrences of strep — to happen the week I returned from Honduras without him in 2006 and to happen again the week before I return to Honduras with him in 2010 — overwhelm me with temporal vertigo, which my weary mind cannot handle, and I fall fast asleep.

Two days later in the early hours, the alarm clock blares. I bolt out of bed and stumble to the shower to wash off the sleep. The warm water hardly wakes me. Before dressing, I slip back under the covers, my shivers subsiding against the warmth of his body. Slumber seeps in. Then he stirs and stretches, nudging me back into consciousness. At this hour, there is no sound from the street. We seem to be the only souls in this still world. We finish packing our suitcases. Then the taxi arrives.

Following my dad’s sudden death, I felt compelled to find faith in some sense of afterlife. I couldn’t turn to conventional religion, which a politics I reject had usurped. So I summoned moments from my memory that felt spiritual and turned to books and poems that still resonated with me long after the reading. I became obsessed with a passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

My mom gave my sister and me each a vial of his ashes to spread in a place where we wanted him to remain with a favorite memory. I decided to summit Mount Massive again, the last 14er I climbed with my dad. But I was completely ill equipped for such an unexpected climb, and winter still lingers on Colorado’s highest peaks in mid-June. My mother was terrified at the prospect of my determination to summit despite whatever weather. I assured her I would not act stupidly even as I knew I would. I drove to the trailhead, arriving at night. I parked, killed the engine, and folded down the back seat into a makeshift bed. I didn’t leave the cab for fear of being able to ascertain in the cold and absolute black of nature at night some sense of the conditions to which I would awake at daybreak. I fell asleep conflicted, my mother’s plea pounding on my resolute determination.

At daybreak, before I even opened my eyes I knew with an unshakable certainty that the climb would be fine. In the dimension-defying time and space of my dreams, I had encountered my dad. He was younger by a decade or more. He was walking with a group of friends on the other side of the street, heading in the opposite direction. He stopped as the group continued on, smiled, slowly waved and then continued onward.

Hours later when I reached the summit, the exposed peak offered little shelter, and the wind paid homage by leaving only the living bound to the ground.

The sun rises while we’re in the sky. It seems an illusion, emerging from an invisible horizon. There is no mountain or building or even vague ocean to give some sense of limit to the world, no earth to blunt the intense and immediate blaze that is daybreak at 35,000 feet. I feel unattached from the limits of space, the progression of time.

So much has changed between my first trip to Honduras and my second. The main street is paved. The young girls who braided my hair four years ago have left their mother’s home, gotten married. The hillsides are lush forest where they had been scorched fields, and at every home we visit we are offered produce that I have never heard of, never tried before.

Hernan and Rosa are no longer just names. They are the keepers of a space in time that is part of his past but is now part of our future. I weep when we leave them, waving us onward.

Of all the times I have flown into New York, I had never seen it from above. But this time, I had the right seat, the right hour, the right approach, and as we arrive from the southwest, I finally get the bird’s eye view of Manhattan. It is late afternoon and the sunlight scatters off the mirrored sides of the skyscrapers; gold light glides across the Hudson. I turn to get his attention, but he is already looking, and I see in his eyes somewhere I’ve been before.

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The Smell of Love

My walk to work covers five blocks: up four streets and over one avenue. Perpetually running five minutes late (and tending toward Type A personality traits), I have methodically tested various combinations of the north and south sides of streets and the west and east sides of avenues to find the quickest way to work.

Clearly I could just leave the apartment a few minutes earlier and enjoy a leisurely, mindless stroll rather than ricocheting through crosswalks at the instant the light and tide of traffic turns, but I don’t. Daresay I can’t (see aforementioned parenthetical — love pop psychology). I sort of thrill in strategic walking.

One day as I was power walking up the west side of 6th Avenue, I saw that the flashing red hand was going to assert itself before I could clear the crosswalk on 25th Street, so I decided I’d pivot left at the corner and continue my methodical march on the south side of 25th. As soon as I made the turn, a whiff of clean laundry wafted past me and a montage of moments from five years ago flashed in kaleidoscope across my mind’s eye.

In quick succession came memories I didn’t know were tucked away in the wrinkles of my brain. The common thread was the location — the former home of my fiance’s parents — though we were not engaged then and weren’t at all sure about the future of our relationship.

We started dating at the end of our senior year in college and when summer came with its confrontation of separation, I asked him to come spend a long weekend at my parents’ house in western Colorado before we parted ways. He stayed 10 days before reluctantly heading home to New Jersey.

We spoke on the phone often during his road trip back east and decided to meet again for a week in Mexico before calling it quits. And at the end of that surreal sojourn, when the moment came for the bittersweet goodbye, we decided to see each other again for one last time in New York before I started my first job in an as-of-then undetermined location.

He was living with his parents in Hoboken, and though it seemed ironic to meet them on our last hurrah, a warm welcome and incredible hospitality greeted me as soon as we opened the door. Memory one.

Memory two. Drinking coffee at the kitchen table, admiring the city skyline across the Hudson bathed in mid-morning sunlight. He is helping his mom make the most delicious french toast. His dad is telling me the names of the buildings, pointing out the holes in the horizon where the two towers once stood.

Memory three. I am leaving for Maine. We are sitting on the couch, entwined in silence, soaking in each other’s presence for a final time.

Memory four. Separation does not suit us, and he has moved to Maine, where he receives his acceptance into the Peace Corps. Nine months later we caravan to New York with his belongings, which he’ll store in his parents’ home. It is a Sunday in September, still warm but with the burnt smell of autumn on the air, and we promise to make no more final goodbyes, just this temporary one of two years. I drive alone north through a six hour storm of tears. We endeavor to stay together, but the distance and the death of my father is too much for me.

Three years go by and solidify the distance between us, though he has returned from Latin America and is applying for law school in New York. I know these things second hand, but I will not break the silence.

And then he does. He says he simply wants to know how I am. I am still in love with him.

And I am here now. In New York. Because he asked, and I answered. And I am reminded of that every single day I walk past the laundry vent above the corner of 25th and 6th.

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Culinary Challenge

Going away for the weekend puts a lot in perspective, all the more so when sitting in the highly coveted front row, second level seat of the double-decker bus back to New York City.

It is early evening and from this picture window, the softening light flatters even the Baltimore freight yard passing on my right, the setting sun flickering quickly off the semis’ windshields. As we slip past the city limits, the long shadows spill through the long grass on the shoulder, and I allow myself the illusion of a road trip through the prairie. In the unbroken expanse of green in which the asphalt ribbon unfurls, I can lose myself in thought.

Well, almost. Two rows back some jackass insists on going deaf, blasting Eminem so loudly that not only can I identify the artist, I can distinguish the words. This is after all the bus to New York City, capital of the inconsiderate.

But after spending the past few weekends in relatively calmer and quieter cities, I ache for other things in New York that no other city comes close to rivaling. Like the food. Though my fiancé and I enjoyed some delicious meals in D.C. this weekend, we spoke adulterously of our favorite Brooklyn restaurants, like Lucali, Char No. 4, and Frankies, prompting him to declare, “The great thing about New York is that if it’s the best in New York, it’s probably the best in the world.”

The challenge has been issued. Non-New Yorkers, do your best to show me better food.

New Yorkers, share your favorites.

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Drilling Bricks

This morning I got to the office early, not to work, but to take advantage before my coworkers arrived of a quiet, focused space to try to capture the kaleidoscope of experiences from this past weekend.

I bought a 24 ounce iced coffee at the bagel shop near the subway stop, descended into the abyss (surprisingly quiet and calm at that hour), waited a few tranquil moments for a train to arrive at the platform and chose from a selection of open seats. During the commute, I sipped down the entire coffee absentmindedly as I devoured the book I’m reading, not realizing the train had arrived at my station until the announcer called out the next stop and the doors began closing. I surfaced from my deep absorption in my book and sprinted through the gap just before it closed, a split second transition I always thrill in, to have been so utterly removed from my surroundings and then so acutely aware of them.

Ascending out of the abyss to a crisp, bright morning, I delighted in the slow pace an early arrival allowed me. What bliss to not have to rush, to not have to sacrifice all my energy to the ravenous freneticism of the city streets. I stopped by my favorite deli and indulged in the egg, cheddar and tomato sandwich I had to cut from my diet after a daily addiction started to affect my relationship with my wardrobe. But just this once, a reward for surviving the city rush with my serenity intact.

I arrived at the office door, the glass giving view to the dark, quiet space on the other side. I unlocked the bolt and, as I turned the handle, inhaled deeply to breathe in the lush stillness I anticipated.

But when I opened the door, an assault of noise knocked the wind out of me. And then I remembered…a construction crew has been renovating the exterior of the building just outside of my window, close enough I could spit on it. Going on two weeks with this madness.

Good morning, indeed.

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I used to work for an organization that had a post office box. This required that I go to the post office every other day or so to pick up the mail. But I quickly made it a daily activity, because I loved the post office. Like the kind of love that caused animated hearts to shoot out of my eyes as I walked through the doors.

I loved the post office so much that I got a post office box for my personal mail despite having a mail box at my apartment. I loved the lobby, the chatter among the customers, and I was especially fond of Andy, a post office clerk who put on the airs of an old curmudgeon, but the twinkle in his eye made anyone he insulted (which was everyone) feel flattered. If Andy didn’t give me a hard time when I went to the post office, I left dejected.

So when I moved to New York, one of the first things I did was locate the closest post office. It was a little bit of a hike by New York standards, and in an area thick with bustling bodies, but it was a trek I was willing to make daily for just those few moments of bliss.

But it wasn’t bliss at all. The “post office” occupied the back wall of a municipal building lobby.  Three tiny counters were partitioned off by a wall of glass with little more than a cubby behind each, where it appeared a tornado had passed through, strewing papers of all shapes and colors haphazardly along high, shallow shelves.

I convinced myself that appearances could be deceiving, filed into a long barricade of a line, and waited with anticipation for my turn. When finally I approached the most jovial looking of the clerks, I blithely asked for a book of stamps. The clerk passed it to me through the narrow transaction slot in the wall of glass and muttered a price that was muffled by the window and the spacious noise of the lobby. When I asked him to repeat the amount, he gave me a curt, level gaze and mouthed the words slowly. But I still could not read his lips and dared not ask again, so quickly calculated the range I owed and passed him a bill of what I hoped was high enough denomination to cover the amount. It was, thank gawd, and I quickly affixed a stamp to a letter, dropped it in the mail slot, and left never to return again. Shockingly, that letter never reached its intended recipient.

And so, sadly, ended my love affair with the post office. And in its place settled an anxious uncertainty about where I could so effortlessly, eagerly assert my presence often enough to become a regular in a city where the only guarantee is anonymity.

To quell the grief, I began luxuriating in drop-off laundry service. Having resigned myself to being one in eight million, I diligently brought my claim ticket to the laundromat every time I picked up my laundry. Then one day I went in, and before I could reach the front desk, the owner had pulled my laundry basket from the jenga tower of others and brought it over to the cash register. I asked him how he knew it was mine without the claim ticket, and he casually shrugged and said cheerily, “I remember.”

I dropped off some laundry tonight, greeted the owner, and then began looking for my bottle of laundry detergent among all the others left around the place like wounded soldiers at a frat party. I finally spotted mine and brought it over as the owner was writing up my claim ticket. “You have to put your name on your detergent,” he said, reaching across the desk for a sharpie. “How do you spell it?”

I spelled my name as he wrote the letters in a vertical row down the face of the bottle, and as he lifted the marker off the last letter, he smiled, pleased with our collaboration, and pronounced my name, “Heidi.” I nodded, smiled back, took the claim ticket, and said thank you.

“Okay,” he said. “See you tomorrow, Heidi.”

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Let Me Count the Ways

“I like your blog, but I want more loveny.”

Ah, don’t we all. But my aim is to strike a balance in this blog, and “loveny” is down one (and in my heart, a little more), so here’s an emphatic love list to get “loveny” a little ahead.

I love that I have not spent hundreds of dollars on parking and parking tickets. Even on its ugly days, public transportation is a gorgeous thing. I love that I can read on my commute and once again ask for books for my birthday and Christmas. I love reviving this relic of my past.

I love the diversity and the tolerance here. I love the signs and murals. I love men toting Louis Vuitton.

I love the chance to try something new every day.

I love to people watch. I love the edgy fashion. I love the grittiness.

I love that bitchy can be normal when I’m feeling it.

I love the city mascot.

I love living in a destination rather than a remote location. I love giving directions to tourists.

I love having so much to say.

And I love that you want me to love New York.

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One More Day in Aberdeen

This past weekend, I went to a strip mall city called Aberdeen, Maryland. But with the right people around you, the place where you are doesn’t matter.

For all its lack of character, Aberdeen served as the crossroads for paths that have diverged for more than a year and were finally drawn together by a magnetic couple whose wedding we celebrated at a gorgeous location just beyond the still parade of chain stores.

I spent much of today trying to access my reactions to New York. I started and abandoned a dozen different posts in my head on the walk to and from work, to and from the gym, to and from the grocery store, where the rainbow displays of fresh produce shined in such stark contrast to the fried and processed food of Aberdeen.

I tried to reach deeper into the fleeting moment of relief I felt when a sudden lurch on the bus ride home jerked me awake to the sheen of the sunset reflecting off the city skyline. It felt good to be home, but not to be coming home alone.

And so today I hate New York only because it is not Aberdeen yesterday, because it is a distant city in a distant landscape across which those whom I love most are so far-flung.

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Spinning

In just one year in New York City, I’ve had a lot of firsts: singing karaoke in a rented room, seeing a French bulldog (now I can’t go a day without spotting one, gleefully), sighting celebrities (Steve Buscemi and Jason Schwartzman to date), celebrating Passover, paying a four figure rent for a one bedroom apartment, and…

spinning.

My coworker, the inimitable Jorge Ruiz, invited me to attend a spin class at his gym as a guest. Upon accepting the invitation, I asked him what to expect. He said he thought spinning could be employed as a terrorist torture method. I immediately considered rescinding my acceptance, but I felt curious, even compelled, to discover a new frontier (or limit) to my capabilities.

I felt I was up for the challenge, having completed the 180-mile Trek Across Maine a few summers back. But once I was saddled up in the spin room, and the instructor came in, turned down the lights, turned up the volume on the stereo, and then started yelling into the microphone, it occurred to me this would be a very different experience from three days of riding through the Maine countryside, where endurance, not intensity, was the goal.

Rather than give you a complete account of the ordeal, suffice it to say I have never moved my legs so fast, sweat so much, or looked so red upon completing a workout. I had to dig deep to get through it, and as I stumbled into the locker room, I decided my first time spinning would be my last time spinning.

But then I went again last night, and I even did it without Jorge spinning by my side, smiling like a fool, pushing me to push through. And again, it was really hard, and I am already scared to go again. But I will go again.

In the midst of a “break away on a moderate to steep hill,” legs burning, sweat dripping, spinning became symbolic of New York City for me. I felt challenged, and I liked it. I felt connected to the people around me pedaling their legs off, trying to keep their edge on exhaustion. I understood that I have a lot to learn and a lot to improve but that I can break away from the pack if I summon that little bit of extra energy that I may not have but that my surroundings provide me. For an hour, I achieved that extended second of balance between love and hate.

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2nd Floor, Going Down

I work on the 14th floor of a 23-story office building. After reading an article about how being sedentary all day at work basically negates anything less than an intense hour-plus workout at the gym, I started taking the stairs.

That lasted about two weeks.

To climb 14 floors took me about three minutes, which is not so long, but long enough to a) make me sweaty, b) give me blisters when wearing heels, and c) make me arrive about three minutes late to work.

I continue to take the stairs down from time to time, save the days when my shoes make it impractical or I’m in a work induced coma in which the only living instinct left is to get out of the building as quickly as possible.

And when it is one of those days, and it aligns with the hour of mass exodus, and the elevator stops at nearly every floor on its way down but then picks up momentum as it’s nearing the lobby only to stop abruptly at floor two, the hate is palpable as the door slides back for the schlub on the second floor going down.

While there are a number of perfectly acceptable reasons for a person to take the elevator one floor down, none of these apply the majority of the time I’ve encountered these perfectly healthy, brightly spry jerks going down.

And they go up too, which is always annoying, but nearly intolerable when there’s a long line for an elevator in the morning and they step in with nearly a dozen others and push the two. It defies logic, to wait that long for an elevator when taking the stairs is a quick, painless and sweatless option. To be so lucky! And how awful to envy them, squandering their gift of proximity to the ground!

The last time this happened, I asked the doorman if we could put a sign at the elevator bank on the second floor that said, “If you’re going down, take the stairs.” Amused, he nonetheless said no. I suggested an alternative, “We are not liable for the reaction those in the elevator might have if you take it down rather than use the stairs.” He said that sign had some merit.

The audible sighs and looks that could kill certainly aren’t working. It’s enough to make me want to take the stairs, sweat, blisters and all.

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Solidarity of Soccer

No doubt the World Cup creates a lot of soccer enthusiasts out of people who otherwise pay little attention to the sport. I’ll admit to jumping onto that bandwagon.

Prior to this weekend, I knew next to nothing about the rules of the game, the structure of the tournament, the favored teams, the favorite underdogs. And what I did learn was an amalgamation of answers shouted back over the din of excited fans to my litany of questions: why did that just happen, who’s that, why is he kicking from the corner, what does that yellow card mean, etc?

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “remember to never sit next to Heidi during a sporting match,” let me say I can hold my own with the rules (if not the personae) of any major sport freely and regularly broadcast in the U.S., which soccer, to my astonishment, is not.

But the point is that I was surprised and even encouraged by the willingness of spectators around me to answer my questions. Absolute unity pervaded the room, no matter the team you were rooting for or your level of knowledge about the game. It extended into the streets and throughout the city.

Walking out of my apartment Saturday morning to go watch Argentina v. Nigeria, donning my Boca sweatshirt, I stepped onto a street turned Embassy Row, flags of all nations billowing from the apartments around me. Every sidewalk sandwich board was emblazoned with the stripes of the establishment’s home nation, advertising the prime viewing opportunities inside places where I’d never before noticed a TV. It seemed less an attempt to commercialize on the World Cup and more an invitation to come join the revelry inside.

Despite the team allegiances so proudly on display, fandom supersedes rivalry. More than a tournament, the World Cup is a transformative event. Spectators of all political stripes become universal in their patriotism, and a unique brand of it that is not xenophobic. Countries commonly unknown become a presence on the world stage, like Uruguay, a forgotten nation turned sweetheart story as winner of the inaugural tournament and one of only seven countries to ever claim the title.

The solidarity of soccer is something to behold, and all the more so in the city of immigrants, where cheering for every country is to cheer for all the people around me.

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