A late love letter to Buffalo


When my fiance first told me he was from New York, the bright lights of Manhattan danced across my vision. Broadway! Cheesecake! The subway! Publishing houses!

And then Spence added an important geographical term: Western. As in, Western New York — outside of Buffalo. And then I heard “Buffalo” and thought $678A2y8!@%&#@!!!, really??? because, many moons ago, I’d fallen in desperate first love with a man from Buffalo who left the D.C. area to return to Western New York. Which meant we were over.

I was devastated for, oh . . . I don’t know: three years? Give or take? Maybe more?

That’s a really long time. An embarrassingly long time.

And a really long time to obsess about Buffalo.

And then one sunny early spring day in 2010, I met my future husband . . . someone new, interesting, exciting, handsome! Someone with whom I immediately felt at ease. And I was myself: the real self. It felt different from the first day we met for coffee, when we covered all sorts of ground. Jobs, college, family, hopes and dreams . . . and, of course, our hometowns. Where we were from.

And that’s when he said the fateful words. That’s when I heard Buffalo once again.

The name alone made my heart pound. I’m sure my face must have registered my surprise, but Spence couldn’t have known. But of all the places! Of all the states! Buffalo again? I have to hear about Buffalo?

. . . I’m not sure if I believe in destiny. Some days I do, some days I don’t. I believe in a higher power and that things happen for a reason, but the idea of a cosmic game plan doesn’t always jive with me.

But after a big heartbreak and years of drifting along, thinking and re-thinking and wondering, I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that my future husband hails from Western New York.

Spence has redeemed the state of New York for me. In fact, he’s allowed me to reclaim it.

We’ve gone north to visit his wonderful family many times since that spring, and I used to think about how I’d decided I despised the place without ever giving it a fair shake. The allure of home to my ex-boyfriend was too strong to resist, and I was jealous of Buffalo as though she’d been his mistress. Irrational though it may be, I came to believe Buffalo had taken someone from me.

And then I met Spencer. And all that disappeared.

I changed my mind.

Though Buffalo “took” someone from me years ago, I just had to wait. Had to be patient. Had to trust that something right — someone right — would come along.

And he did.

And we fell in love.

And we’re getting married.

And we’re building a life together, layer by beautiful layer.

Buffalo gave me someone, too.

Three coins in a Buffalo fountain

As we grow older, opportunities to make wishes seem to evaporate. Where once we blew out birthday candles with relish or were coaxed into asking something of the universe when a friend plucked an eyelash from our cheek, the chance to silently voice our desires — something I once did freely — isn’t one I get often.

In Buffalo last month, I walked around Niagara Square with Spencer, his mom and Levi, Spencer’s good friend. In the very center of the square is the McKinley Monument, a beautiful structure dedicated to President William McKinley after he was killed in Buffalo during the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.

I didn’t know much about McKinley. But I know a good fountain when I see one, and Niagara Square has a good fountain.

Fishing a penny from my purse, I stood on tip-toe to peer into the crystal blue water shimmering around the base of the tall obelisk. The sun was partially obscured as I looked down at the other coins already thrown by visitors — handfuls of them. All those quiet wishes.

Spencer stood to the left of me with Levi, both of them briefly concentrating before throwing their money into the water. Levi’s bounced once and didn’t go far; Spence got some air time with his. As I watched them, I kept my penny snug in my palm.

I didn’t know what to wish for.

All of my old standby wishes no longer seemed appropriate. For a while when I was young, I wished for Matt, a gorgeous classmate who looked like he’d just stepped off a California beach, to like me. That’s right: I wished for a crush — a very unlikely crush — to be reciprocated. And I wished it hard, every chance I got.

Once I wisened up to the fact that Matt wasn’t ever going to pay me any mind, I started wishing for other things: my family’s health; good grades in school; no cavities at my next dentist appointment; a boyfriend.

Since my wishes have, as of late, been limited to the yearly birthday-candle variety, I haven’t put too much thought into it. As I was often in a not-quite-right relationship, I would wish for the strength to make good decisions — and to know the path I should take in the future. A path that might have taken me away from the men in my life, or maybe towards them. Or a path that would send me off all on my own.

My wishes have always been more like prayers. And maybe my prayers have been more like wishes.

Standing at the fountain in August, I could have wished for my family’s continued good health and a hope of great things to come. Or perhaps to advance in my career, where I edit and read and write. I could have wished for wealth or good fortune; for my upcoming tooth surgery to go well (frightening); for my cousin Ciara to have a good time in high school. For my sister’s new job to turn out well.

But this time, I stayed selfish. I made a wish just for me. And for once — once — it wasn’t for true love. Spencer tossed in his penny right before me, where it made a comforting splash.

I watched the coins sink until I couldn’t tell his from mine, or mine from his. Until they were submerged and out of view.

Bookstore adventures: Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, N.Y.

Wherever I go and whatever I do, I can’t resist the siren call of a new-to-me bookstore. And if that bookstore happens to be a hip, unexpected treasure — like Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo — who am I to resist a visit?

As others collect snowglobes, postcards or T-shirts from vacations, I collect books. Even if the novel isn’t something I particularly love after finishing, I keep it as a memento of my journey. At New York City’s Strand Bookstore, I picked up a copy of the Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers. In the months since I’ve been home from my city adventures, I haven’t even opened it — but it makes me happy see it and remember standing at a table of new paperbacks, gingerly running my fingers over the covers. New friends I could discover; new worlds I could enter.

But full disclosure, I ultimately chose Tinkers because it wouldn’t add much weight to my already-heaving handbag. (Hey, I don’t tell lies at write meg!)

Several months ago, I was scrolling through Shelf Awareness — a daily e-mail newsletter with news and interesting stories on books and the publishing industry — when I saw a small item on Talking Leaves. Knowing I’d be visiting Spencer’s family there sometime in the near future, I made a mental note to check it out.

As Buffalo’s oldest independent bookstore, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Talking Leaves. When Spencer’s mom Alex was planning our visit, I mentioned that I’d like to visit — but it wasn’t crucial that we go. Sweet and accomodating, Alex made sure we could pop over — only we got there too early. Fresh from a 45-minute flight out of Baltimore, we headed right to Main Street only to learn the store opens at 10 a.m. No matter; we just crossed the street and stepped into Lake Effect Diner, where we all ordered milkshakes. Chocolate and banana for me? Not a bad call.

Once arriving at Talking Leaves, I was immediately in book hog heaven. The store boasts a great mixture of contemporary and literary fiction while also providing the “classics,” which was nice. Warm, cozy and with wonderful natural light from windows at the entrance — including a beautiful stained-glass one — I immediately felt at home.

No independent bookstores exist within a 25-mile radius of my home in Southern Maryland. If there are some? I’ve never heard of them, and it’s rare that I can make it to any of the indie bookstores in D.C. or Virginia. What I’m saying is it’s been a while since I strolled the shelves of a place that wasn’t a corporate megastore, and it was exciting. I have no beef with Borders; I worked there, for goodness sake, and am happy to still have a local bookstore to actually visit. But there is something fun and different about a store that’s completely unique and even boasts local stock. There, books, posters and prints of Buffalo abound.

Spencer, Alex and Levi were great about leaving me to my own devices as I poured through the fiction section, scanning each title with curiosity as I searched for my next great read. My ultimate choice? A beautiful copy of Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went To Woolworths, which came highly recommended by Nymeth. (Her review immediately came to mind when I spotted the book — more than a year after I read her review. Who says book bloggers can’t change the world? Or that a spectacular review can’t influence readers?)

My compadres amused themselves with a resident bookstore cat, who lounged about on a stack of boxes filled with books yet to arrive on shelves. A serious cat lover, Spencer snapped a few shots of him before he sauntered away. Probably to share a love of reading another day.