When I was fourteen, I took a trip to New York City with my friend Angie.* She was turning thirteen, and this trip was a gift from her parents. To say I was excited is an understatement. By this age, I had been to New York several times. I was drawn to the city’s amplified energy. Although I live in a city with its own very heightened energy, New York felt different. Fast and unapologetic. If people can’t keep up, the big apple offers no sorries.
By fourteen, I was deep into New York films by Woody Allen and Spike Lee, indies like Slaves of New York, and all the mafia movies. My father gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker, and I would read the scholarly articles and short stories, gaze at the photographs, and try to remember the names of art galleries and theaters. I was a city girl, and New York felt like the ultimate city.
I rode the train with Angie and her parents, anxious, bracing myself for the melodic noise of Manhattan. When we arrived at Penn Station, Angie’s parents walked to a taxi line. A taxi line? This felt pointless to me. In New York, you walk! I had been hailing taxis in DC for a few years, so I led them outside, a few blocks away from the train station, and hailed a cab. Angie’s parents were good friends with my parents. They seemed to be impressed by my maturity. I guess I was mature in a way they wanted Angie to be.
Over the next few days, we saw a Broadway show and took in the typical tourist sites. And then the real fun began. For the last half of the trip, Angie and I stayed in the Park Avenue apartment of another family friend, and Angie’s parents went home. Park Avenue was new for me. My parents typically stayed on the west side, close to midtown, when we went to New York. But, I fully embraced this chic side of the island.
One day Angie and I were allowed to venture out on our own. We took taxis, ate pizza at a tiny Italian restaurant (a Godfather-esque gem), and, because we were still kids, we went to FAO Schwartz. It was the first time I was free to roam New York on my own, and I prayed it wouldn’t be my last. I’m a city girl. Roaming a busy city like New York felt easy, natural.
Years ago, like many Black women, I dug deep into the OWN show Queen Sugar. Not only was it Ava Duvernay’s first foray into scripted television, but this new hottie Kofi Siriboe would be one of the stars. I was also a big fan of Rutina Wesley from her time on True Blood. Instantly the show was praised for its depiction of authentic Black life, a traditional Black family. They were in Louisiana, mostly on a farm or other rural areas. The characters were often cooking together, snapping peas, cleaning collard greens, and drinking sweet tea. They were always gazing into the vast fields and having deep talks on long nature walks. It was beautiful, but I couldn’t relate.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Queen Sugar. It’s a great show, and I’m sad to see it go. But, THIS Black family wasn’t MY Black family. I’m sure what it depicted was authentic for many, but much of it was foreign to me. And when I thought about so many depictions of Black life on film and television, there wasn’t really anything I could relate to.
Southern Black families were typically doing something in nature, and Northern Black families were typically doing something in the hood. Except for The Cosby Show — which was, of course, a purposefully manufactured depiction of a Black family — the stories of upper-middle-class/lower-upper-class Black families living in a major city were nonexistent. Still today, I long to see my childhood on screen. I want to see it depicted in that space where no one is struggling, steeped in poverty and crime, or so bougie and disconnected they can’t kiki at the cookout. Where was the depiction of that space for city girls like me?
I never referred to my grandmother as Big Mama or Madea, and I rarely cooked with her. Her idea of quality time was venturing to Lord & Taylor. Grandma bought herself a condo and drove a Benz. Sometimes I would run into her on the subway. For city girls like me, she was an example of a woman we all wanted to be.
Now, being a city girl can be rough. I won’t lie. I tell myself I’m leaving the city every time I come upon someone randomly peeing on the sidewalk. The smells of congestion can be overwhelming, and my awareness of danger has increased since I had my kid.
My being a certified city girl, has been questioned on several occasions, and made some dating prospects retreat. That white picket fence life never appealed to me. But, it’s a thing people want. More than a thing people want, the vision of that suburban life — and the assumed peace it comes with — has been manipulatively ingrained into our psyche. Like women who prey on men with great potential to be changed, I believe men who want the white picket fence swipe right on me — regardless of my city life statements — because they think they will eventually change my mind. That I will bend to the power of the D. Nope. I have yet to have the type of orgasm that would make me leave the city. I respect all thoughts, views, and opinions on the decision to live in a gated cul-de-sac. I just prefer to be a block from the subway.
When I think about a vacation, I prefer a bustling city. I spent my 40th in London, and it became my #2 happy place. I love seeing animals at the zoo. And squirrels are just rats we’ve been forced to accept. I see no point in camping, kayaking, or hiking. It’s just not my groove. And I fully acknowledge that my dating life has suffered because of my city girl views. But, being a fully realized woman means more to me than being chosen. And I’d choose me on any rainy day.
When you grow up in the city, there’s this crazy idea that you’re living an unfulfilled life. Because I didn’t swing on tree tires near a quiet lake, there’s a hole in my soul. That’s the idea, right? We exist in a time when wellness is a buzzword. There are wellness centers all over. Some of the perks include yoga classes, deep massages, and sessions on proper breathing techniques. I suffer from mild anxiety, so I’m here for soothing techniques and self-care suggestions. But, let’s be clear, the anxiety is within me. It will follow me wherever I go. To the countryside, a beach, down Pennsylvania Avenue, or the top of the Empire State Building.
Because of the wellness surge, city dwelling is seen as the antithesis of self-care. How can you care for yourself when the buildings block the sun? How can you breathe when that new condo replaced the trees? I get the sentiment, I do. But, there’s so much beauty in the city. Piss and shit, yes. But, that acknowledgment exists in any city. I hope the naysayers pay attention to the pretty places. I hope they embrace the electricity that trickles up your back when the chaos of the city feels calm.
Downtown DC is my happy place. I love aimlessly walking around downtown, zigzagging the grid, anticipating a new find. Downtown, I can pop into a free museum, stare at Warhol or de Kooning, grab a hot dog, sit on tall concrete steps, and enjoy the impending show. Rowdy kids. Cursing hackers. Uptight suits. Powerful politicos. The newness, a constant imposition. A halting motorcade I’m accustomed to. I am a city girl, through and through. Zero fucks, shrugs, and neck swivels given.
*Name has been changed to protect this person’s privacy.