Goodbye to New York, a love letter.

Foreword: I had been drafting this letter to New York as a series of memories I have from my 4 years here. There 5 chapters are meant to offer a glimpse of what this city has meant to me. Unedited.

1. Arrival.
There are two apartments that I stayed in during my bright transition time between college and my first job. Those days, anything felt possible. The future felt so bright and limitless, each new experience sweeter than the last. One of those apartments was my cousin’s home in London and the second was my friend and mentor Sunny’s apartment in Union Square.

I arrived in the dark on a cold night in March, but I could see the bright red-orange walls from the light the open door cast from the hallway. It was unlike any other apartment I had ever seen in New York. I fell in love with it immediately. I picked the corner on the L shaped orange leather couch to read and a little white poodle emerged from a bedroom to greet me. She barked at me until I pet her and she settled herself into my calf.

New York’s skyline glittered outside the windows along two walls of the apartment. As I stood up, the little dog wandered back into the darkness. I climbed out onto their terrace, amazed that even over 14th street I couldn’t hear the traffic below. The city’s twinkling night made my heart burst. I cried as my heart overflowed with its brightness. I felt invincible.

I still believed in love at this point in my life. I loved myself with the glow of an old, steady friendship as I applied red lipstick in the apartment’s mosaic bathroom and prepared myself to disappear into the night, meeting friends at the Bowery hotel for a drink. There is magic in that kind of love, I never felt alone.

The apartment has changed a bit in the four years I’ve lived in New York. The orange leather couch came to live in my first apartment in Chelsea for two years before I moved to Brooklyn. It didn’t come with me to this new island, but found a new home through a family on Craigslist. Today some of the walls are white and others are Poppy red. Roxy, the poodle, is a little older now but still demanding pets. And there is still an unbridled joy I feel every time I stand on the terrace over 14th street staring out into glittering Manhattan. Every time I return for a visit, I remember the girl with the red lipstick in the mirror and those glittering nights where anything felt possible.

New York, you were among my first loves.

2. Addiction.
There was one night you made me feel like magic. It was a night I held on to and used to negotiate with myself for months after we fell apart and burst into flames.

The Friday night before you came to my apartment with flowers and a bottle of wine. I made Tinga, my favorite winter Mexican food dish, and you helped me by shredding the rotisserie chicken into smaller pieces. It was my least favorite task and I told you so. After dinner we sat on my couch, me at one end and you at the other, running your hands back through your hair repeatedly and leaning on your knees while I told you my immigration story. When my roommate and her boyfriend came home around midnight, they both looked started and rushed into her room as fast as possible. I was confused. We weren’t even touching, I was just telling you a story. You left around 2:30am, lingering in my doorway. I asked what you were doing the next day and invited you to a friend’s going away party and you said yes. Still you waited but I didn’t get up. Instead I saluted you from the couch and said goodnight, something we’d laugh about the next day. You shook your head and left.

So… what happened? My roommate asked the next morning. You could have cut the sexual tension with a knife last night. Oh? What? I replied. I never pick up on these things. She laughed at me, and I went to meet you. We sat next to each other at this party where I knew everyone and you just wanted to talk to me. You left for an hour to see your brother, then I met you outside Death & Co. in the East Village.

I made plans for us for dinner, you told me. No one had ever planned an adventure like this for me before. I always did the planning. Death & Co. wouldn’t let us in with your brother who tagged along. He offered to leave and I invited him to stay, we could go to a bar I loved on Avenue C instead. We sat in Evelyn talking about Sleep No More and you pulled out your phone and bought two tickets to take me with you to the 11:30pm show. I had a Moscow Mule and flirted with you, one eyebrow raised, curious.

We went to Momofuku and talked nervously, though I had been with you the night before. You paid for everything, even when I protested. We decided to walk to Chelsea, to the show, and I took your hand. You switched sides to walk on the side of the sidewalk near the cars. My mom told me this is how I should treat a woman. You said. I laughed.

We had to wait in the smoky bar before until we were called to go into the show. I bought you a sidecar and you sat down so close to me that my curves molded into your side. Your arm came around my back and pulled me by the waist, closer to you. I think you felt braver in the darkness, which would be true about us for our time together.

We went into the set and wandered around separately, then you started following me more closely. I wandered into one of the studies on the set. You followed me. We were alone. I backed into a desk. You stood in front of me staring behind your mask. I pulled mine off. So did you. We stared at each other for a heartbeat. Then you bent me back and kissed me. You hands slide their way from my rib cage down my back, holding my lower back and my waist and adjusting me so my lines complimented yours as you leaned over me. And then, quite suddenly, an actor appeared with the group following him and we were interrupted. I blushed in the darkness, pulled on my mask, and walked stiffly out of the room, your laughter following me.

As you caught up to me you said, let it be known, I didn’t want to stop, your whisper tickling my ear and sending a shiver down my spine. We stood in other rooms “watching” the show, but really just leaning our lines into each other, molding to one another in the darkness. Let’s go, you said. We just knew you were coming home with me, so our feet lead us there without either of us saying anything.

The rest of the evening is a blur. It was very quickly strange and confusing. Where we’d been so clearly on the same page for hours, we started to fall apart. I ignored it. So did you. We woke up in the morning tangled together, my head on your chest and your arm around me, your other hand over mine over you heart. You kissed my forehead. We were quiet and wrapped around each other for hours, my curtains thin enough to allow the sunlight to wash over us.

You said you needed to leave to go think. You would be gone for 6 weeks now, to Australia. But curled up on my couch we couldn’t bear to let go. Each time one of us stood, the other rushed to hold them. You kissed me and my heart melted through my stomach and onto the floor. I need to think. You said, kissing me softly on the forehead. But I’ll come back soon. It wont be that long. You promised, maybe to reassure both of us. And then you left and I sat back down on the couch, alone, missing you in a way that was already a burning white light.

New York, I was addicted to you and sometimes couldn’t stop, even when I knew I should.

3. Complexity.
The morning after the Florida nightclub shooting I walked 45 minutes from my apartment in Clinton Hill to Gowanus for a CreativeMornings event. It was already a hot summer day at 8am, the concrete under my feet heat the leather of my sandals with each step. The news had knocked the wind out of me when I woke up and read the headline on my phone. I started imagining the horrible headlines Breitbart would draft, spinning this already terror inducing election cycle even further out of control. This tragedy felt like a bad omen and I was desperate to shake it off. Every time I felt my panic rise, I walked a little faster.

I arrived in the beautiful light space for the event and took a deep breath in the doorway to steady myself. The audience was a very specific subset of New York; people flowed between the tables and around each other light brightly colored water. Small groups gathered all around the site holding white paper cups of steaming coffee and gesticulating animatedly. The general buzz of this gathering held much more light than the twisting fear in my stomach. My former intern Brian appeared out of the crowd. ‘Hey Diana!’ he said, in his ever eager and abrupt way. ‘I saved you a seat!’

We sat down in the second row just as the founder and CreativeMorningsNYC host Tina Roth Eisenberg stood to introduce the musical opener, Amy Vachal. As Amy quietly started strumming her guitar, I felt my shoulders settle down my back. Each breath became a little deeper and longer. The dread’s long fingers started releasing my heart, one spindly finger at a time. Amy’s voice reset the tone for the rest of my day. I settled into her music, touching the depth of my sadness. My face was frozen in the way I’d perfected from many years of pulling on my titanium shell to do the work I needed to do every day, but tears streamed out of the corners of my eyes and into my lap.

Amy Vachal at Creative Mornings.

In this moment, in this chapel of light in Gowanus, I was allowed to break for a moment, leave behind the emotional weight of my fear and swim back up towards the light. This too seemed like an omen and I felt a little safer.

New York, you showed me what it meant to sit with many different emotions at the same time. You showed me how intense sorrow and hope and joy could sit at a table together without yelling over each other.

4. Fighter.
I withered into my seat in the TED Theatre on election night. The polls reporting from Virginia were astonishingly close. Pennsylvania was ok for now, but the Midwest was going red. The prediction meter on the New York Times site that had called for a comfortable Hillary win earlier that day swung off into the deep red and called the election for Trump. My office, earlier full of excitement, turned into a ghost town as people went home to manage their shock. I thought of my two coworkers at the Javits center, now leaking the depth of their despair through their twitter accounts.

I started the day early: I went to vote around 8am, picked up my I voted sticker, and took a selfie on the sidewalk, posting to my Facebook about my excitement that I was able to vote for the first female presidential candidate to make it this far. This morning was the first time in the election cycle that I was excited about Hillary. That should have been my warning sign. Poll after poll closed, calling the election for Trump.

In that nearly empty theatre on Election Night 2016, filled with shock and horror, I heard that Arpaio had been voted out of office in Arizona. I stood up and felt the light in my heart flicker back to life. They did it! All of the amazing organizers fighting for more than 20 years in Arizona had removed Arpaio from power peacefully in Arizona! If there is hope in Arizona, we will be ok, I told myself. As I went home in a subway car filled with the silence of a funeral, I held my head high and gave myself permission to recover quietly this evening and regroup for tomorrow.

Keep your hope, I wrote on my Facebook before I went home that night. We’ll all need it tomorrow and for the next four years. Protect your heart and your mind. It will keep you stronger.

On November 9th, 2016, I woke up ready to organize.

New York, you healed the fighter in my heart.

5. This is where I leave you.
This spring I was a twisted, broken bird in the ashes. I sprinted through a tough full time job, my Ph.D. applications, and hid in my ceramics studio to avoid looking too closely at all the chapters of my life that were dying around me, like plants cared for by the wrong gardener for too long. May 2016 to May 2017 was a year of denial, of avoidance, of “keep going, just get the work done, then you can heal your heart.” I woke up May 1, 2017, broken and more exhausted than I thought my heart could ever begin to handle.

From the ashes, I looked back up at the sky and smiled. I acknowledged that this was the breaking point I needed to hit so I could shed the excess things I carried. I was broken, but I could heal. It was a gift. I left behind a lifetime of “should” and a conformity that choked me to death. I was left with a road I was going to define on my own. I smiled when it hurt most, because it meant I was growing. I was free.

In just a few weeks of the shedding and embracing the brokenness, I found a happiness in my heart that I hadn’t seen for years. I woke up uncertain of what the day would hold, ready to read my energy and where my excitement took me to work through projects with love instead of obligation. I fell in love. With myself. With a new city. With a new person. I told all of my loves, be gentle with me, I am broken and finding my light again. Please be nurturing and gentle. Right now my heart is weak though my dreams, like bright white light, are strong. And my loves arrived with a patience unlike anything I’ve seen before.

I woke up one morning in this new city that held my heart and decided to get the tattoo I carried on my phone for years. I sat in a café eating breakfast – a traditional German spread – and selected a local tattoo artist from the Berlin listings in Inked Magazine. I rode a crowded bus listening to Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt” on repeat and then a train to Mitte, showing up in the studio just as the man who would paint Picasso’s le Moineau (1907) into my left wrist was trying to leave for the day. He grumbled when I asked if he would do it, there and then, but when he learned I was from Mexico City, he said yes with new kindness, in Portuguese. In this new city that held my heart, I lay on my back on a table speaking Spanish while the artist spoke Portuguese with an accent from his native Sao Paulo, and in 10 minutes, I left with a love letter to myself etched in my skin. My sparrow is all of the complexity, beauty and sorrow of life in its simplest, most elegant form. Everything I love about this image is true in the reasons I love math and a beautiful equation. I am defined by my terms and no one else’s. I can no longer hide from this truth.

I returned to, and now prepare to leave New York, knowing this city pushed me to my limits, left me broken in my ashes, and ready to chase my dreams. I loved, felt my heart shatter more than a few times, and learned what it feels like to heal completely. Thank you, city that was among my first loves. You were not the one for me, but you gave me so many things I never imagined I’d receive.

New York, you were among my first loves.

Making “an Eccentric Guide” to New York

This guidebook by Diana Enriquez with design by Kaela Gallo plays on our love of adventure… and people watching. Or the reasons why we’d prefer to meet you at the Blue Whale than the Met, and we’ll buy dinner at the Hong Kong Grocery store and meet you for sushi on a stoop nearby, with some change and our hearts in our pockets.

Kaela Gallo: Pigeons on a rooftop in Bushwick, Brooklyn

For Christmas this year, I wanted to give my boyfriend a year of adventures. New York as a choose your own story guide sounded exactly right… but it needed to be a little more thoughtful, better tailored to us than the guidebooks I have stashed in every corner of my bookshelf.

Already, I take him to lots of strange things all the time… For example, he first met my father entirely by surprise (for both of us) at a lecture about voguing and underground clubs in New York. He is willing to indulge me by going on my walking tour I put together covering the History of Organized Crime in lower Manhattan. He’s followed me down to DC for TEDxMidAtlantic and into a MOTH story slam about “Guts.” I needed to think bigger, this time.

Why Write a Guidebook?

I love the physical thud I feel in my heart while I am savoring a particularly good memory, but especially moments from my adventures and discoveries. I am perpetually curious.

Sometimes I find these moments in other people’s traveling writing. I find myself again and again, highlighting and scribbling in the margins of Pico Iyer’s books and currently in Patti Smith’s M Train, identifying my own slices of experiences happening in parallel to theirs.

In my own written work, it’s the moments where I’m reading outside in an urban garden in Mexico City, and someone sits down on a bench nearby to tune their guitar and take a private moment before heading to a gig. Before I leave the park, I will scribble it down into a notebook. Or the smell of the mango I picked up off the pile in the crowded street market… and when I touched its curve to my nose, all the busy stands and calls from street hawkers disappeared, until it was just me.

The Prompt.

I set off to create a guidebook written entirely through people’s hearts. I wrote to a number of my friends asking them to share five of their favorite places and the memories that they associate with each of these spaces. In this way, the book was more about creating a “memory tour” of the city.

For three months, I collected these memories. Tagging and organizing them based on themes that emerged through the memories. Every email with the subject line “Eccentric Guide to NYC” that returned to me was immediately opened and devoured. For weeks, I was spoiled by beautiful memories.

The Process.

I wrote a number of entries between September and December 2015, sprinkling them through out the collection of stories I gathered from 27 different New Yorkers, in various stages of their relationship with New York.

Unlike normal guidebooks, we had a lot of eclectic entries that didn’t fit neatly into groups

I took each entry, tagged it with the themes that most moved me about the entry… and then cut them up and tried to organize them into groups. Some of the groups are definitely “loose categories,” where I was hoping to combine an entry about a yoga teacher in Chelsea with a story about a laundromat, a room in the Standard Hotel that becomes a creative lecture space, and a handful of other eclectic entries.

Then I reformatted the entries in their new order and send them to my lovely designer, Kaela Gallo with some ideas for colors, type fonts, and themes. In about a week, she sent me a new copy, beautifully formatted and ready for a rough print for me to give Alistair… before we take another crack at making the final, beautiful copies.

We built a tour of memories.

Kaela Gallo: FDR Boardwalk

In the next step, we build out a tour of memories, leading the adventurer from Harlem through Manhattan and into Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each leg of the adventure, beginning with some walks through parks and meditative spaces along the way, offers windows into moments of time. One friend talked about her favorite entrance to Central Park, where she’d go to think when she needed private moments away from the boyfriend she had just moved in with. Another friend talked about the little park outside the 72nd Street 1/2/3 stop where he had come after a concert to make sense of the music and the experience he had just had, not wanting to lose the moments, instead crystalizing them then and there forever.

One author (and friend), Alex Rosenthal, recommended visiting the Blue Whale in the Museum of Natural History while you’re on the Upper West Side:

This is one of the most spectacular spaces in NYC: a huge dark void dominated by a flying model of a Blue Whale (to scale), that’s ringed by dioramas featuring various marine creatures. The floor under the whale is strangely calm — strange to find calm in an environment dominated by scores of children running around, barely avoiding trampling other children who have lain on the ground to stare at the whale. Yet you feel like you’re on the bottom of the ocean in the shadow of a magnificent creature. I like to go there and contemplate big ideas, like the meaning of existence, the future of humanity, and what it would be like to jump on the whale’s back and ride it around.

I recommended standing on a street corner, on Crosby Street and Howard Street in Soho, where I frequently find myself falling back in love with New York.

This street ends up in a lot of “street scene” shots in movies, but there is something gritty and old New York about it in a way that appeals to me. De Vera is a store full of old and super creepy antiques artfully arranged behind glass. Each glass chamber is more mysterious than the last. Stop for some amazing coffee and treats at Smile. Watch the fashionistas, people wandering off Canal street and sitting on the iron stairs along the street sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Take in the remnants of gritty, warehouse filled soho. I love standing at the corner watching the ecosystem move by.

My friend Emily Ludolph grew up in New York City, but made herself a promise to explore the city as a new world when she returned in her 20s… and this promise kicked off on a visit to the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side.

This place is so darn beautiful. It has a blue stained glass galaxy window that’s really neat. There’s a story about how this congregation got into an innovation arms race with a neighboring synagogue when Edison in- vented the electric light. Which explains the insane light bulb chandelier. I first went when I got back from study abroad my Junior Year and was determined to explore hometown NYC like it was a brand new city.

After that, my Kim Nederveen Pieterse offered us a sincere moment about living in New York while you’re close to broke in your 20s:

When I first came here, I felt like I stumbled into a place I wasn’t supposed to know about. Jellyfish and unfamiliar animal bits lay on crushed ice in the back, while almost exclusively asian shoppers hunt with their overworn carts without saying excuse me. When I was first interning on a thousand dollars a month, the aisles of vegetables at 88 cents a pound meant that I, also, could eat produce. Today, the $2.50 California roll handcut by the old man in the front still tastes best from a dirty Chinatown stoop.

And my friend and co-worker Cloe Shasha took the reader to her favorite arts space in Brooklyn, where she found her jumping point into adventure.

A magical building in Red Hook full of artist residencies and event spaces,Pioneer Works hosts an event on the second Sunday of every month, aptly named Second Sundays. A lineup of multiple live musicians, performance art, and other surprises fill the space, and people gather for food and drink in clusters. As the afternoon turns to evening, strings of lights blink on, and people dance to music — whether it’s a brass band or a drum line — and lounge outside on a little hill. Next to the hill and an outdoor bar, groups of old and new friends talk around the fire pit overlooking the East River. When craving quiet time, people go back inside and climb up the stairs to the second or third floor to explore colorful rooms and take in the art made by the current artist residents of the building.

My first time going to a Second Sunday was this year. The place holds a lot of meaning for me because of a series of connections to the space. I first visited the space two years ago with a few colleagues when scouting for a TEDYouth venue. Though we didn’t end up using that space for TEDYouth, we absolutely loved being inside the building, and it was there that we first met the artist Dustin Yellin who runs Pioneer Works. His artwork — layers of glass with collages on each pane which, when completed, are stunning sculptural figures with depth — were being created by his art team and exhibited all over the place. He told us about how much damage Hurricane Sandy did to the building, and that they had only recently restored the space. During the storm, he was so moved by the violent intensity of the water rushing into the building that he didn’t leave right away — instead he stood on his glass structures and photographed the chaos. We were so blown away by his work that we ended up inviting him to speak at TED@ NYC and TED2015.

It was on that first visit to Pioneer Works that a personal realization struck me for the first time. The building felt magical and open to the air and the sky in a way that I rarely experience in New York City — the city that I grew up in — and that openness brought me so much joy and a sense of possibility. Being there reminded me just how powerful a beautiful physical context can be for the energy and experiences within it. A year later, I moved to San Francisco for a few months — a city with physical dimensions, architecture, and outdoors that I love — where I was delighted to find that from the high hills of the city, I experienced that context-induced magic on a daily basis. When I returned to New York City in September, I really missed that feeling, and wondered if it would be possible to find it in New York City. I had forgotten all about my experience at Pioneer Works in the midst of moving apartments and work. But a couple of months after my return to the east coast, a friend invited me to join her at a Second Sunday. The moment I arrived at the building, the magic all came back!

And the person who inspired the project… received his christmas gift: An Early Draft!

The first copy has been well received by all. My coworkers and friends, like me, dove right into the text, looking for people they knew who had written something for it and started collecting ideas for their yelp bookmarked lists.

I am excited to announce that we will be looking into a better binding option and turning this into a real guidebook. Look for our Kickstarter later this winter! (And thank you to everyone who wrote for this, Kaela for the beautiful design and layout work, Julia for guiding me through the mine field that is typography, and Helen for helping me organize all of the beautiful content I received.)

Originally published by me on Medium.