ON NEW YORK: Living, Loving & Leaving
“So, how long have you lived in the city?” I hate it when this question comes up.
I have lived here for just over two years. Not fresh by any means, but still low enough on the ladder rungs in terms of local leverage. You see, the duration of your residency in New York is the goddamn cosmopolitan Medal of Honor. It is the point to be proven in every interaction had with a native, local, transplant or tourist; it tiers the person who has been here longest at the top of the food chain. They’ve got battle scars, physical and psychological, to prove it. When this question is raised, only one person wins. This is followed by any combination of being called “sweetie” the rest of the night, that person taking on a coo-voice as they say “aww, you’re just a baby,” “oh, so you’re a newbie” or “oh that’s all?” They will remind you, but I’ve learned that this is usually all they have.
It’s funny, this construct we’ve created about living here. Only the people in the city actually care about living here. The second I step out- no one really gives a shit. Believe it or not, some places I’ve been actually care about how kind I am, or what makes me feel alive. They don’t care about how hard it is to live here. At best, people will just want to know about what dating is like here. And food. And if anything, they’ll want to share their stories of when they visited.
I don’t really care about proving how “New York” I am because: A) I’m not. I’ve only spent 1/14 of my life here. What I carry around is more like residue, lessons or tools, B) I don’t have a point to prove. To anyone and C) Making it here is really just a myth people buy into.
I do know, however, that two years is more than enough time to get intimate with a place. I know that the longer you are here, the harder it is to leave because there will never be a shortage of things to discover about this city or its people.
What I have found, like the millions of others before me who have stopped by this city while on their path, is that while there is a medal that comes with longevity, there is also honor in leaving when it feels right or you’ve achieved whatever it was you set out to do here. Some people leave defeated, others in search for more of what life will offer them outside of these 22.7 square miles. Those of us who kiss her sweetly goodbye know that she will always welcome us back when we visit, just to remember for a few hours what it feels like to be staring at a small stage watching some obscure performance at 3 in the morning.
New York is one of the greatest places to live, especially in your twenties. First off, it’s cool as shit. Cities may not be where it’s at anymore, but it is agreed upon worldwide as one of the Great Cities of the World. There is a niche for everything and everyone. There are places to hide and never be found; everyone here has their caves.
There is magic for those who are open to it. It’s for this very reason that I think we all walk around so damn much: to run into each other. So many nights and stories have happened simply by running into a friend on my way somewhere, or bumping into someone on a corner while walking without anywhere to be. That’s just how life happens here.
I have kissed in her rain. Written my name in her cement and had my name carved in her trees. I’ve watched her sunrises and sat on her rooftops, drinking in her breathtaking skyline. I cried on her benches and descended thousands of her steps. I’ve learned from eye contact that everyone is here to find something and we’re all assessed in an instant to see if we hold the key to unlock one another. We fall in love on a daily basis with complete strangers. All of us.
I’ve kissed someone one night on the corner of Lorimer and Metropolitan after riding together on the subway for a mere seven minutes. “Why not?” we said. I’ve gone to jazz clubs and taken the beautiful, talented, and sexy young pianist home with me later that night. I recognized an arm from another lifetime as it reached out to grab the subway pole in front of me, knowing that it belonged to him and that since neither of us said anything as we rode to the same office three days a week at the same time, we’ll have to wait another lifetime to encounter each other again.
I’ve bagged her groceries, schlepped through her snow and hopped through her puddles. I’ve made entrances in hip bars, lounges, restaurants and apartments- often underdressed and unconcerned. I’ve walked her sidewalks, read on her subways, laid in her parks. I pulled some men closer and pushed others out of the door, knowing full well what would happen next. I’ve sat in dark corner booths making out at bars scattered across various neighborhoods. I got high under her watchful gaze, letting her lead me deeper into myself and those around me.
I watched her leaves change colors, and the rotation of summer and winter clothes follow accordingly. I know the ritual of leaving the apartment (keys-cell phone- wallet), and know the lonely hope that happens only in the back of her taxis. I’ve stared into the windows of neighbors, because watching the intimate moments inside apartments are illuminated and on display for those across the way in this vertical city.
I know the deep, deep exhales of almost-defeated breaths in her biting cold. I’ve sat in seats and rows of some of her greatest performance centers, watching symphonies, plays, concerts and improv. I’ve sat in dimly lit comedy clubs, jazz clubs, theatres, performance spaces, blues clubs, night clubs. There was a bar that we’d always go to after class- the bar that I met my best friend at. Countless times I have walked amongst her marble statues at the Met and lay under the giant whale at the Natural History Museum.
I let someone amazing slip through my fingers, so I also know it’s like to think of that person every time I rounded a corner, stepped on a subway platform, or pulled into a station where he might be. I’ve held executives of major companies and stature in my arms while they weeped; drunk, miserable and filthy rich. Two of my favorite Thanksgivings were spent here: one alone in Central Park, and one with my visiting California family and New York friend-family. I managed to make a total of one really close girlfriend while here, who taught me the fun of random and outrageous shopping sprees, and that we’re all just figuring this out in our own ways. I hosted a ton of visitors, and cried with family members here in levels that would be hard to reach in the comfort of California.
I had my gay roommate’s new boyfriend slip into my bed one night while I was sleeping, and a psychic tell me I absorbed a curse that was intended for my mother. I got to know professors on a different level here: getting high and drunk with some, seeing others in bathing suits and collaborating on dream projects with another. I’ve taken new routes, just to see what would happen.
I slept with another roommate, then dated the upstairs neighbor a few months later. I fell in love with someone at the same time he decided he would explore being with men. I did long distance and felt what it was like to have someone let me go in order to let me fly. I had a stranger bite my cheek on the subway when I told him the date was over and that I wouldn’t kiss him anymore that night. I’ve been on one too many packed rush-hour subway cars, sometimes avoiding eye contact with a face inches away from mine, other time forcing intense eye contact with others because we’re all in this together so let’s stop pretending like we’re all too important for that.
I worked a year with a Muslim non-profit in the city, getting a peek into a community otherwise unknown to me. I met an artist on my block walking home at three in the morning, and ended up going into the warehouse next door to drink boxed wine, make out on his couch and then walk the few steps home a couple hours later. Months later, I’d see him selling stuff on the sidewalk or at the grocery store down the street.
I had the movie moment meeting when the wind blew my papers away in the park, scattering them across the lawn. Except it wasn’t the guy who helped me catch them; he was walking by when he heard me telling the young, attractive guy who helped me gather them that I was from California. Today, this once recurring character is now the spokesperson for one of the most powerful men in the world.
I walked amongst her buildings in my graduation cap and gown, and I know what it’s like to walk down her streets carrying furniture, plants, groceries, yoga mats, found mirrors, frames, drugs, books, meals, laptops and changes of clothes. I know what it’s like to wake up with someone I didn’t care about, and what it’s like to wake up in perfect sunlight through breezy white curtains in the arms of a beloved. I know the energy that pulsates when walking down her dark streets listening to music. And I have felt what it’s like to be doing something so awesome and fun on a week night, that you can’t help but wonder what the rest of the country that saves these types of things for the weekend is doing right now.
I have learned her lessons on becoming. I found what it was at The New School that I felt tugging at me when I came to see Occupy, which led me here in the first place almost three years ago now. And I know that I am going to be able to make it my life without settling for mediocrity. I’m not just talking about my income, but the vehicle through which I can actually live the life story I want to have.
I know what it’s like to return to the city after being away and for New York-JFK to be the return destination when buying roundtrip tickets somewhere else.
And now, I will know what it’s like to leave.
Originally written August 23, 2014
Cover Image Source: Deviant Art