The text came through on my phone somewhere between two and three in the morning on Wednesday. It was my first love Timothy. He wanted me to know that he was leaving New York City:
“Sorry darling, I’m just a li’l over it. I need to make art and record records and help or show the south how to speak proper English, if I decide to leave my house.”
I placed my hand on my stomach first as if to stop the impending nausea before it started. When I was sure I wasn’t going to be sick, I put my right hand on my chest and felt for proof of life. My heart was still beating, although I didn’t expect it to be so after reading that sentence. Who leaves New York City? Where do people go? In Timothy’s case, it’s Chattanooga.
“New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
I was 12 the first time I came to New York City. My sister and I came with my grandmother for the weekend. It was December. We saw the tree in Rockefeller, watched the Rockettes kick in unison during the Christmas Spectacular and tragically, stayed on the other side of the Hudson River in New Jersey. My knowledge then was based on too much Fitzgerald, movies that had New York as its backdrop and the Beatnik era as I was going through my Kerouac and Ginsberg phase.
On our second day we took a bus tour through Greenwich Village and I remember thinking to myself: This is it. This is where I want to be when I grow up. When the bus stopped, we all piled off single file and straight for the postcard rack of the closest bodega I ran. I picked out one postcard of the city that would eventually be my home, placed it in my bag and tacked it to my bedroom wall when we arrived back to New Hampshire. That postcard is still on the wall to this day — I don’t need it anymore.
“If there were one city I should pick to live in, it would be New York. It is a city where I walk down the street and feel anything is possible.” – Maria Schell
I lacked the necessary gumption to come to New York for college. I didn’t even bother applying to NYU’s Creative Writing program because I knew I’d never muster the balls to get here. To stand in the midst of the neighborhood that I’d been viewing through a postcard was not something for which I was ready. I went to school in New Hampshire instead.
I learned how to love in those small New England towns. I played in the rivers, drank cheap beer in the woods, fucked in the backseats of cars and the whole time immersed myself in the writers and artists who had dreamed of New York City, just as I did, and eventually made it there to love more intensely, grow exponentially and live excessively. If I were going to fall from grace, I wanted to fall on the sidewalks of New York City — and eventually I would.
“A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.” – Le Corbusier
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.