• Fri, Aug 10 2012

New York City: My Dysfunctional One-Way Love Affair That Keeps My Bones In Place

I moved to the city in 2003. My friend Lyndsay and I shared a two-bedroom apartment on East 7th Street between Avenues C and D in the East Village’s Alphabet City. It was close to 3am by the time we had moved everything into our 4th floor walk-up with the help of her boyfriend. We hadn’t eaten since we left New Hampshire several hours before, so we set out to explore our new neighborhood and look for food. Although it was mid-week, the streets were crawling with people out and about, and even now as I think back to the way it all looked to me then, I still get goosebumps.

We decided on Kate’s Joint, a restaurant on Avenue B that has since closed. I was still a vegetarian in those days so the vegan disco fries were a novelty that was out of this world and something I’d probably eat easily 500 times more before the place closed this past spring. As we sat there talking about how we’d arrange the apartment the next day, “100,000 Fireflies,” by the Magnetic Fields came on the stereo. It was, and is, one of my favorite songs in the world, and I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion. I had never heard that song outside of my college radio station or the speakers of a stereo where I was the one in charge of the music. I was literally moved to tears. I had found my home, and I knew that no matter what New York handed me, I was going to stick it out.

“Why do we still live here in this repulsive town? All our friends are in New York…” – “100,000 Fireflies” by the Magnetic Fields

I could go into all the moments I’ve had on these streets, these bars, the people I’ve met, the ones I’ve lost or what it feels like to wake up and always feel like the world is full of potential even on the dreariest of days, but it’s been said and done. I could tell you about the moment I knew I was in love halfway across the Williamsburg Bridge one summer day, the loft parties in Bushwick where I danced until I was sure my heart couldn’t take it anymore but kept going, how it feels to walk out of your fancy fashion job in Soho and cry the whole way up Broadway to the Flatiron Building, or the way the sun looks as it’s setting on the west side of the island and how it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen before or since in the world. I could list all the times that a full L Train car seemed like the appropriate place to have an air guitar competition, the way the Manhattan skyline looks from a rooftop in Greenpoint on July 4th, how terrifying it can be to race up Bedford Avenue in the middle of a snow storm with Nerf swords in hand, or how my heart has been broken so badly that I know what the city looks like from the inside of a psychiatric ward on First Avenue. I could list it all out if I was asked to; I could compile library shelves full of memories, both good and bad, that would stretch back and forth across this city a thousand times over, but I’m not going to do that.

“There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.” –Simone de Beauvoir

I did not fit into the small town from where I came. It had no place for me, and I no place for it. I have always desired more, and I knew that I’d find that “more” in the glamour that is New York City. Sure, it can be dirty and gruesome; the streets are a mess and utter insanity weaves in and out of the tall buildings, but there’s a sense of camaraderie. All of the transplants came here with goals and aspirations, that everyone is unique in their own way. We’ve even convinced ourselves that we’re unique and better than the rest simply for where we live. And I believe we are, and the majority of New Yorkers will agree with me.

I have never loved a place or person the way I love New York City. To someone who has never been here, or who has seen the city up close and not fallen for it, it doesn’t make a bit of sense. I’ll agree that it seems foolish to love a place that has been both the bane of my existence but yet the reason I keep going with such a do or die intensity, but I do. It’s as though it’s an addiction, this dysfunctional one-way love affair of mine, but it’s my love affair and one to which I am permanently attached. I may escape this place 100 times over to gain perspective or outrun a broken heart, but I’ll always return. You always come home to the one you love most, even when you’re well aware that it’s never going to love you quite the same way back. It’s just how it is sometimes, and I do not think I could, or would, have it any other way.

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  • Lindsay

    Just had to say- This is very well written.

    • Amanda Chatel

      Thanks!

  • M -

    I completely understand this – I feel the same for London. I even wrote a very similar article on the subject. It’s going to be heartbreaking to move away this September, but at least it’s only for a year.

    Never been to New York though – would love to go one day.

    • Jo

      I’m a nyer but I studied in London for a year and father lives there so I make it a point to visit at least once a year. I love them both so much, probably equally! They have many similarities and many differences. You should definitely check out New York sometime! Take advantage of the fact that bars rarely close before 4am :D

    • M -

      Haha, that’s true – one thing I never understood about living here. Like, I’m originally from a small Eastern European capital, and yet everything there stays open far, far longer than the shops/restaurants/bars/clubs in London. WHY?

  • Ms. Pants

    This is perfect. Just perfect.

  • Lisa

    I love this (and all your writing, really). I feel the same way about New York, I can’t imagine leaving. I’m sad to hear about Kate’s Joint though! I live far from there and haven’t been in ages, but they had such good brunch.

  • Jen

    What a lovely and poignant tribute to NYC. Really nice!

  • Anne

    So much of this piece was utterly lovely. But there’s a tone at the end that I hear so frequently from New Yorkers, and it drives me crazy:

    “We’ve even convinced ourselves that we’re unique and better than the rest simply for where we live. And I believe we are, and the majority of New Yorkers will agree with me.”

    I call foul. Having a NYC zip code does not, in and of itself, make you unique and better than everyone else. (You or 8.2 million others.) I get that being able to order Himalayan food at 3 AM makes the CITY unique, but how exactly does that define YOU?

    Not to mention the whole, “if you’ve never lived in New York, you just don’t get it” routine. If somebody said that about college, or parenthood, or whatever, readers would be foaming at the mouth. But because it’s in reference to NYC, it’s fine to make sweeping generalizations about what others do and don’t understand.

    New York may be the perfect place for you, and that’s awesome. I just wish New Yorkers would stop telling everyone else that there is no other place worthy of their greatness.

    • Amanda Chatel

      Yeah… that does seem to be a running theme with everyone I know: “WE ARE BETTER BECAUSE WE LIVE HERE.”

      On a side note, I’ve never had Himalayan food — is it good?

    • Anne

      I don’t know – I don’t live in New York!

      Actually, that was a variation of one of my New York friends’ lines: “I can buy pants at 3 AM!” OK… I guess I can see where that would come in handy…

    • Amanda Chatel

      Pants at 3AM?! Find out where, Anne! I must know!

    • Jo

      New Yorker here. It’s not just about ordering food at 3am, it’s about the incredible culture that surrounds us here (which I’m not saying doesn’t exist in other parts of the world). To me, New York City has everything I need, music, film, dance, parties, parks, and yes, food. I find New Yorkers (not all, but many) to be interesting because they are immersed in all these things. And, like Amanda’s example shows, talented and creative people are also drawn to New York, and there is a place for them. I like being around talented and creative people.

      I grew up in NY, and I feel like growing up here also gave me the kind of education that few of my college peers had. In a lot of ways, I grew up faster. I know that some people wouldn’t see that as a positive thing, but the “freedom” and reckless abandon that many of my peers experienced for the first time at college, I felt like I had experienced half life (well, the freedom anyway).

      That said, I have a friend or two who were born and raised here that prefer smaller cities and being closer to nature. It breaks my heart to think of them leaving, but it is what it is. I understand big cities are not for everyone, but if you’re a big city person, it’s hard to beat NYC if you’re in the US.

    • Tara

      I agree with Anne. The “we’re better than you” vibe from most people in New York is vile. I stayed for seven years before I realized I hated everything about the city and its people. I’m all for loving where you live, and there is nothing wrong with loving New York (it just wasn’t for me), but the constant superiority complex makes me hate you. And I don’t even know you. And that is sad.

  • Tania

    This was lovely, one of my favourite pieces of yours, but I admit, I don’t understand the attachment to a place. Maybe because I moved a lot as a child, but for me, home is PEOPLE, and if I don’t have friends around, a place isn’t home. It’s somewhere I live.

    I live in a beautiful, safe city surrounded by forests and ocean with clean air and friendly people, but it isn’t *home* because all my friends and family moved away. My plan is actually to move somewhere much less nice simply because that’s where my friends are.

  • Kate

    I moved here a couple years ago, and I feel like everyone is leaving!! I guess there’s probably just a lot of moving around / growing up that happens at 24 in general. But did you experience this as well??

    As one of my favorite bloggers said once,
    “I loved New York, but I didn’t like it.”

    • Amanda Chatel

      Actually right now I know of about 6 or 7 people who have either left in the past couple months or plan to do so within the next couple months. I’M NOT OK WITH THIS.

  • patti c

    i will never get it but it’s obvious you do, well done!

    • Amanda Chatel

      Thanks, Mom! You might feel differently if you actually visited more… FYI.

  • patti c

    great photo of THE bridge

  • Larissa

    I almost cried over this. 4th St between C and D here. We may have been neighbors :)
    Every time I get my heart broken by some Williamsburg man-child. Or get my ass kicked by the fact that I compete against the best of the best, career wise. Or have to eat a can of beans from the corner bodega for dinner because this place is so goddamn expensive. I think of how much easier it would be to leave, and live someplace…easier.
    Then NYC shows me something beautiful, and builds me up and gives me opportunities you would never have anywhere else. And i realize it’s just shaping me into the most interesting, badass version of myself possible. And for that, I love it. And I loved this article. Keep up the good fight, girl.

    • Amanda Chatel

      I love this comment.

  • Jenny

    I understand your love affair with the city. I have a mini-love affair with it myself. I don’t live there. I live in the Atlanta suburbs instead.

    I had to make a decision when I graduated high school:
    (1) Move to New York. Attend NYU and study classical voice. Start the Big Adventure that would be my life if I chose that path…
    (2) Go to the University of Georgia. Study psychology. Live the “white picket fence, 2.3 kids and a dog” dream

    I chose door number 2. To be honest, door number 1 scared me as much as it exhilarated me. I would have been choosing a very difficult life. Struggling to realize my dream and maybe never making it. This is going to sound egotistical, but I felt like I had more to offer than toiling away as a struggling waitress/nanny/singer. That, and I am a terrible dancer so Broadway would have been nigh unattainable.

    Occasionally I feel pangs of what-could-have-been. Whenever I see a musical or hear a song by my current-favorite singer/songwriter that tugs at my heart strings and fits my vocal range perfectly, I think “that could have been me…”.

    But – 98% of the time, I know I made the right decision. I love my life. I am in love with my life. I wake up every (ok, almost every) day happy, nay, thrilled. My husband and I are celebrating our 6-year wedding anniversary today. My life is a different kind of adventure. We don’t have the kids yet, but we do have the dog. My husband and I travel the world together. We have new dreams together. I never wanted to be famous, I only wanted to sing and maybe, just maybe, when we retire at 45 and move to Hawaii (one of the dreams) I’ll sing in the local cafés.

    I do get wistful for NY. I visit every other year or so. I’m inspired by all of you there who are chasing your dreams. I love to hear about your lives, your successes, your failures. You inspire me, and in a weird way, I’m proud of you.

    • Amanda Chatel

      “I love my life. I am in love with my life.” With those words, you inspire me.

    • Jenny

      Aw shucks Chatel.

      Just keep letting me live vicariously through you. Who needs just one life when you can live a million.

      By the way, complete tangent, who do I have to sleep with to replace that purple head silhouette with a different picture?

    • Amanda Chatel

      I have NO idea! I asked the tech team months ago and apparently, they “fixed” it, but I’m still a purple head too.

      And I so badly want to pull my duck face for everyone to be traumatized by… I’ll look into it again and let you know.

    • Jenny

      Ah, duck face. Classy.

      I tend to prefer pictures of my pets’ butts. I have an odd obsession with animal butts…..they are adorable…..

  • Southerngirl

    I am sincerely sorry you were not happy in the city you grew up in, that is miserable. I am also glad you like were you live now.Saying that,I too am over the constant NYC is so much better attitude.NYC does have some amazing elements, as do other cities. It also has some not so nice elements.One thing I have noticed is the women on this site and others,don’t seem to have many nice things about the men of New York. I know, I know your life should not revolve around a man. I love my southern gentlemen. Many of whom have advanced degrees from our local universities( Vandy, Emory, Duke, Tulane,Georgia Tech, U of VA just to name a few) and speak perfect English.

    • Amanda Chatel

      I’d kill for a southern gentleman.

      As for Timothy’s comment, he was deliberately making a generalization. Have you ever met someone from the sticks of NH? Now those are some people who can barely speak at all… let alone English.

      And as a NH-girl I can say it and confirm it… you know, before some NH person gets all postal on my ass for that comment.

    • Southerngirl

      Thanks for your sweet reply. I was being silly. I meant to put a winking smiley at the end of my comment.

    • Amanda Chatel

      You were voicing your opinion! That’s never silly.

    • Jenny

      Amen for southern gentlemen. I love when a gaggle of dudes in suits wait for me to get on the elevator first in the mornings. Even more when one guy rushes on and the others purposefully wait until I get on.

      Remember ladies – you can have manners too. I always say thank you. Reinforce that good behavior! I’ve watched the Dog Whisperer….

  • Rose

    I related to this in a huge way. I visited NYC this past xmas/new year. The first day walking around the city it was like I found the place I fitted into in the world. I cried when I had to leave two weeks later and still think about NY every day. I’m now back in Australia thinking of ways I can somehow get back there to live for a few years/forever. That’s my goal. Job, apartment and life in NYC. You are so very lucky that you get to live your dream :)