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The Cambridge Chronicles: Letter Two – Moving to New York

Dear Reader, 

Now that I’m preparing to leave New York for real for real, all I can think about is those early days. How clueless I was. How hungry I was to eat from the dream. From a kid, I knew I belonged here. And I’ve never felt more at home except in Lagos. But there’s something about those midwestern and West African values, that makes you want more. Success with full authenticity. With sound mental health. With community. It’s a struggle to build community in a place like New York, and I appreciate my friends way more now that I’m leaving than I ever did while here. 

So the earliest word for when I came from LA to New York in 2006 was isolation. I felt so alone. And this was not something that I ever had any reason to expect. As much of a loner as I was in Missouri, I was always surrounded by an authentic community of people I saw day in, day out. In New York, I spent up to ten hours of my day configuring servers, backing up data, installing Fortinet on hedge fund routers so that rich white kids could place bets on the cost of food. Food people in my country struggled to access because it was so costly. But on my lunch breaks, on the train from client to client, on the train home, I was reading Sankara, I was reading Che Guevara, Cheikh Ante Diop, Frantz Fanon, Marcus Garvey. I bought a sexy militant-looking jacket in Soho and wore that through the bitterly cold winter, as if it was meant for real cold. Day in, day out, my uniform was khaki colored slacks and a solid colored shirt. I’d pick up decent button-downs at Target, get my loafers in Manhattan shoe stores. I only got to wear jeans on the weekend, and I looked so forward to that. I loved the freedom this job gave me at first. The money was more than I could spend. So it just accumluated in my bank account.

When I found my first sole apartment, everyone was aghast at the size. I was paying 1600 for a two bedroom in a Crown Heights brownstone. It was fucking gorgeous. The ceilings were twenty feet tall or more. The floors were immaculate. The wood paneling on the walls was in perfect condition. Sometimes I would lay on my bed and just admire the wood on the ceiling. There was a maple(?) fireplace with faces and flowers carved into it. Marble tiles. I mean it was a masterpiece. I’ll find pictures one day and share. I’m sure that apartment is $4000 today. I drove by it last night, just to get a peek. To see if it was being taken care of. I could see the ten foot mirror from the window, with a new chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Some young professional is enjoying that woodwork maybe. Some thirtysomething white professional in finance or entertainment.

When I moved in there were crackheads on the corner. And slingers. The white midwesterner who’d put me onto the apartment (she’d wanted us to share it) reneged when her family and friends talked her out of it because “the neighborhood.” She was shocked when I told her I’d take the apartment on my own. “You’ll be ok?” She was trying to ask if I could afford it…I didn’t get that immediately. I was actually relieved I wouldn’t have to share. With her, but really at all. And I was head over heels in love with the apartment. I couldn’t choose which bedroom I wanted because they were both so beautiful. So I’d sleep on the floor of the front room some nights and on my boxspring bed in the backroom other nights. Minimalist doesn’t begin to describe my empty apartment. I had one or two papasans, a coffee table, a desk, a bed and an armoire. Not because I couldn’t afford furniture, but because I didn’t want it. This empty one-thousand-square-foot apartment gave me space to think, to question, to dream.

For some reason I was happy to see the crackheads. They probably made me feel less alone. And the slingers always looked out for me. We said hello each day. They let me know who’d come looking for me, which didn’t happen often. They helped me carry my groceries in the door. Didn’t want anything from me. Never took when I offered. They would hang out on my stoop from time to time, and I didn’t mind it at all. I kind of felt protected. There was a tall yellow one, Slim. He seemed to me the most in command of his environment. I may have heard gunshots at night from time to time, and ambulances regularly, but I never witnessed any violence, and I always felt safe. I missed the slingers when they were removed years later.

I’ll write soon.

xo,

Forever your Lolade

About Lolade

Lolade is a Gates Cambridge Scholar, starting her PhD in Sociology with the 2019 class. She recently graduated with her MA in African Studies [Sociology discipline] from Yale University where she researched ethnic identity formation among Nigerian immigrants in New York, Tokyo and Mumbai. She is the author of 'Market of Dreams' a radical poetry collection about love and freedom. She obsesses over indigenous textiles, cultural preservation and innovation, and intimately connecting the African Diaspora.

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