“Let me know when it’s my stop,” HL said to me.
The closest I’ve ever had to a sister, HL was staying with me for a few days after getting a job in New York. Her job was not too far from mine so we were able to take the train together in the mornings. HL is from Pennsylvania, and though she’s been to New York before, she hadn’t taken the subway too much.
The first day we took the train, I explained everything I had learned to HL—-walk to the end of the train, or as close as possible, so you’re not smashed sardine-style in a subway car; yes, you can put your MetroCard away after you swipe it if your transfer is in the same station; sometimes you don’t have to hold on and you can just surf the rails. Some of it is common sense, for sure, but I spouted away just in case, like a mother hen tending to her chicks.
After leaving one train to transfer to another, HL almost veered off in the wrong direction, but I quickly steered her the right way and we laughed. Having traveled together a bunch of times before, her joke to me was always “I’m here to protect you!” It seemed this time, though, I was there to protect her, too: to make sure she didn’t get lost in the subway station, to make sure she got off at the right stop and that she knew how to get home.
On the second train, she whispered to me to tell her when to get off. It was a stop before mine, and when she got off the train, she waved back at me and grinned. It felt weird, like that feeling mothers must get when they drop their kids off at kindergarten for the first time. You just smile and hope they’re going to be okay (and she did get to work fine, of course).
I decided that part of becoming a New Yorker is helping someone else get settled as well. Because HL is still getting acclimated to New York, having only been here about two and a half days, I have been able to help her and it feels good, like a rite of passage for both myself and for her. I’ve taught her the joys of HopStop, but that it’s not always perfect; that you probably don’t want to live up by the Cloisters if you can avoid it; that Bergdorf’s has the best Christmas windows; that Gristedes is more expensive than Food Emporium. There’s been more, I’m sure, but I can’t remember all of it because it just kind of rolls off my tongue. There are some things you have to learn by experiencing them for yourself, but sometimes it’s just easier if someone tells you so you don’t have to go through the ordeal of buying ice cream for seven dollars in one store when it could have been significantly less elsewhere. But I guess this is what my mother had been trying to tell me about life all along.
This morning, HL and I walked to the subway as before, but we got separated on the train. I noticed she wasn’t near me when the doors closed and looked around quickly trying to find her. A few people away, she waved a gloved hand at me and smiled. I was happy she was there, but then I realized she didn’t really need me anymore. My little girl was growing up!
We transferred and she knew where to get off this time, but still asked me “This one?” quietly, as if to reassure herself. I smiled and nodded, sagelike (if I do say so myself). Maybe she would need me for a little bit longer. But I had promised her long ago that I would always be there.