Once you fall in love with a place, you can never leave it, because the place never leaves you. NYC is such a place. It is the city where I feel like I belong.
NYC is more than a city to me–it is a being, and presence, in my life. NYC has taken care of me in ways I never thought imaginable, has watched my back, and changed the course of my life. It has saved my life. It has made my life. It is where I learned who it is I truly wanted to be, at the fulcrum of my life. Even if who I wanted to be would entail great fundamental change.
Even if the great fundamental change would nearly kill me. Even if NYC would bring about that fundamental change in spectacular fashion. It is the place that brought truth and forced me to see things around me as they really are. It is the place that brought me many great, true friends. Loyal and smart and courageous people.
I was born in New York City–Queens, to be exact. I spent my early childhood years in a nondescript brick apartment building overlooking the Long Island Railroad, spending days wheeled around by my grandmother in a stroller to a Korean-owned karate studio down the street, to chicken and pizza down the hill, to a sewing factory down the hill and around the bend, and a playground down the hill opposite of the sewing factory and pizza.
The pulse of life there is a tempo to which I set my life.
One time, a few years ago, I got on the 7 train to Queens. The train made a certain tha-thunk on the elevated tracks once we hit Queens–in that subway car I felt a great reunion between time and space; that sound, that rhythm has been with me my entire life. That specific tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk.
I thought I’d imagined that sound.
But no, it was real.
I returned to NYC to reside as an adult, a few years ago. My husband at the time came home and said, “We need to talk.” I didn’t know about what we had to talk, but I was worried–could I have missed something between us? (Little did I realize). But then he said, “My boss wants us to move to NYC part time–would you be okay with that? It would be immediate.”
I think I said yes before he ended his question. I don’t know. All I heard was “EeeeeEEEEEeeeee!!!” in my head.
NYC was a centrifuge.
Some of the best times of my life were spent in the setting of that great city. I didn’t even mind the jackhammering (okay, I did). And I loved that I could step out into the sidewalk into a din that said with absolute certainty that this city was the center of the world.
I even loved the summers–the hot heat off the concrete, the water dripping off air conditioning units, and the balmy evenings walking the East Village sucking on popsicles.
I loved brief Spring, with the elation New Yorkers feel when the weather turns warm and the trees turn pink and white with blossoms. When New Yorkers ditch their boots and parkas and sweaters and don dresses and woven shirts. And walk around in shorts when it is 65F, just because it is no longer 30F.
I thought Winter, with its Christmas lights and frigid air and sidewalks slippery with ice or gritty with salt, was most charming. Especially when the snow fell and hushed the city.
And Fall. Of course Autumn, when I rifle through my drawers for my scarf, long buried through Summer, so that I can walk outside look up at the trees turning flame in Tompkins Square Park or Washington Square.
I loved running into friends on the streets of NYC, a thing that happened way more often than you would think in a city of millions. It made the world seem small, and my friendships large.
I loved that the city never slept–that I could have dinner at 11pm on a regular basis, if I so wanted. That food could come to me. That services were top notch. I loved apartment life.
I loved the honking cars. I loved that people honked cars.
I counted my rat sightings my first year in NYC. One time, when I was walking on 1st and 1st, a rat wove expertly through my feet as I walked. I did not scream. I giggled.
I wrote the bulk of my novel draft in NYC, at the Writers Room and at downtown cafes. I was so inspired.
And last month, I said goodbye to my NYC apartment. I did not say goodbye to NYC, because I plan on returning–but the lease was up, and I had to move my things out. I moved my possessions into a storage space into which the movers expertly fit a life. Everything went in. They shut the door, and I put a lock on it.
We were not sure all would fit in that small space, but nothing in my life was left behind.
That evening, we met with a friend at a bar, across the street from my now-empty apartment. I wasn’t sure how I felt–but that empty apartment did not feel as bad as I thought it would feel. I was leaving it as I left it. It felt like a fresh start for someone else, and a clean slate for myself.
A chapter had ended in my life, in more ways than one. I was a mom. I was newly single. I had fresh vows, all to myself. But I wasn’t sure if I felt hope or relief or elation or grief. In hindsight, I realize I felt them all.
The three of us were drinking whiskey at the bar. Toasting our lives. Talking dreams. Talking goals. Flinging jokes. Teasing each other. But at some point, it became too much. My grief welled up, and at that bar, I found no room for tears.
I excused myself and sat inside a bathroom stall and cried. I didn’t know for what I was crying, only that I was. But now I know. I was leaving New York. And it hurt. It felt like cleaving.
I had to leave NYC again. But the city will never leave me.
Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.