The subway stop at 181st Street was an odd place to see a ladybug. She boarded the train and flew directly to perch on the edge of my upended book. I stayed very still, staring at the shiny red and black of her wings, while she rested there. After a few minutes I gently moved the book into a flat position on my lap, and she obliged me by crawling over the lip and onto the surface. I put my hand in front of her for protection against any jostling that might shake her.
She was my ladybug. By the time we reached 96th Street, my cupped hand was entrapping rather than protecting her. I began to think ahead to the exit with the most direct access to the outdoors. I couldn’t think of one. Fine. She would just have to stay with me until I got out downtown. I began to day dream about the tiny patch of green just around the corner from my subway stop. I imagined her new life there and wondered whether she’d miss home, and how she’d gotten stranded in that deep subway tunnel in northern Manhattan.
Then at 59th Street, without my permission, the dainty bug slipped deftly through my fingers and flew out the open doors. I couldn’t believe it. I should have kept my fingers closer together. Now she’ll never get to see the little park I wanted to show her. She’ll most likely never make it out from underground. How sad. Then I realized what this was really about. I was homesick for a life where ladybugs were not uncommon.
I’d lived in New York for years but sometimes I still felt alien. I felt it on summer Sunday afternoons in Van Courtland Park, when the barbeque crowd threw their chicken bones and candy wrappers on the ground. I felt it on cold winter days when the melting snow was yellow and gray from dog pee and exhaust, and every cross walk was blocked by enormous snow drifts or giant puddles. I felt it as I walked beneath the elevated trains, so loud they drowned my voice and forced me to plug my ears. I felt it when one of my friends made a snide comment about Southerners, or suburbanites, or fly-over country. I felt it when I couldn’t call more than two of my neighbors by name.
The things I’d come here to find, were widely available. Theatre, gallery openings, and literary events were everywhere. There were more museums than I could possibly visit–enough culture to last me for the rest of my life. I’d spent an evening on Steve Forbes yacht; I’d appeared in television shows and commercials; I’d eaten in exclusive restaurants; I’d bellied up to the bathroom sink with my favorite celebrity at an event we both attended; I’d worked for a Broadway Producer and a Wall Street hot shot—things that would have impressed my younger self. But that day all I really wanted was to walk barefoot in the garden and feel the sun on my neck. I wanted long drives on country roads, trees as far as I could see; mountains, waterfalls and swimming holes. I wanted wide-open spaces and down-to-earth people.
All I really wanted that day was to go home.