I moved to New York nearly six years ago, leaving my family and a fledgling relationship with a boy I loved and an easy drift of days behind. I moved to a fifth floor walk up in East Harlem that did not have much in the way of heat in the winter, but did have black mold and pestilence issues and an extremely unresponsive management company. I moved to New York to grow myself up. I’d moved home after college, held a string of temp jobs, and found myself adoring the lack of responsibility. I went to the gym. I went out at night. I cooked good dinners with my momma, ate breakfast with my brother, then a six-year-old with a buzz cut and missing teeth who would lean sideways to give me a one-armed hug when I sat down next to him. In early summer, I’d wander outside and eat peas off the vine, sun-warmed and sweet. In late summer, baby golden tomatoes popped out, and eggplants long and purple or fat and white and round. It was an amazing life. I could see myself living it indefinitely, and I had the distinct and sinking feeling that maybe I should do something more. I moved to New York, to a crappy apartment I shared with very dear friends, largely for the challenge. New York, I reasoned, is always good for a kick in the pants.
That fall was good. I was in love, and the boy and I were making a go of it despite the distance. I tried to get a job. I saw all the friends I thought I would see when I moved to the city and took long walks and scouted out bargains and trotted off to temp jobs in button down shirts and eyeliner. And then winter hit. We didn’t have heat most of the time. Nestled under blankets in my bedroom, I noted that I could see my breath and that that was not good. Things ended beyond badly with the boy back home, though I gather now that these things do not end well as a general rule. Spring rolled around. To this day, I swear there was something going on with the planets or the universe that late winter and early spring. Surely some hippie wisdom can explain why all of my friends were in the gutter at the same time? Really. I had a broken heart. My nearest and dearest two at the time lost their mom. Two good friends learned they had cancer. I got tearful phone calls about rocky relationships on a just about daily basis. It seemed like no one around me had a real job or a stable love or a sense of calm. Spring of 2004 was a real shit show, my friends.
This is a lot of digression, I realize, in the tale of why I love the Greenmarket. The truth is that I have always loved the Greenmarket for reasons aesthetic, political and spiritual, some of which I can easily articulate and some of which I cannot. What I can say easily is that, in the early days of that wretched spring, I got a job that was close enough to Union Square for me to visit the big market there every day that it was on. I slumped down there after work one day when it was still cold, ground frozen, not a lot of green to be seen. But the honey man was there, and he bantered and cajoled and let me taste all the honeys, talked about bees and buckwheat until I felt a little weight ease off in my chest. And a farmer was there selling house plants from his greenhouse, and he had a shelf of slightly battered begonias with a sign that said they were $1. I told him I didn’t think you could get anything for a dollar these days, and I bought one. A tiny pot with delicate pink flowers for a mere dollar, and, after being in flux for over six months and feeling so very down for weeks and weeks, that was the exact moment that my heart began to feel OK.
The people around me who were hurting most five years ago are all A-OK today, and I’m very, very grateful for the fact that those who were ill then are thriving now. There will always be joblessness and relationship turmoil and chasms left by the loss of loved ones, and it’s a balm to know that there will also be a honey man, that asparagus season will roll around and then rhubarb, then peas, then all the rest. It helps enormously to have flowers to visit, bright crisp radishes, stored up apples and cabbages, crazy mushrooms and varieties of small potatoes promising a world of culinary possibilities, setting me to kitchen-scheming, putting my heart at ease.