It’s never occurred to me to leave New York City.
I couldn’t. Every weekend is somebody’s birthday, every weekday is a glass of wine with a friend, a finally getting around to the gym, a trip to the store to find something useless I’ve needed for months. I don’t have the time. Sometimes, many times, I want to. I dream of places with open space, leg room, sunlight, and forgiveness.
I do not look at New York like a love and I do not look at New York like the way you look at things you blindly love. I look at New York City like something that could never love me back and more often than not, I am resentful of that. Sometimes I am jealous of the people who hold it tenderly, who look at it as a vast jungle of pizza slices and opportunity. Those people believe more strongly in baseball, in coffee, in bagels than I ever could. The distaste I feel leaves me no closer to leaving than yesterday. I tick off the reasons why not and finally, settle on “cue that skyline at sunset” and a place nearby that serves decent Bloody Marys.
New York City makes you angrier than you were before, specifically at people. People who innocently grab the subway pole near you, or take your seat, or bob their head to headphoned music, or walk slow, or block your entryway to the bodega freezer. You become immune to real things on the way to whiskey bars, you wish you could scream your name and have a flicker of recognition somewhere, and you know that you cannot. You walk past police tape on the way to grab a sandwich. You rent an apartment in areas where your presence forces people out of it. You hear stories of people getting shot, and they are a cough swept under the rug. Your only thoughts: the quickest subway route, the money in the bank, when will I go on vacation. You become a planet slowly orbiting in the middle of nowhere: if you lose your keys your friends are oh, so far away to help you. If you cry, nobody notices. You are responsible for keeping yourself in orbit, and all too many times you forget how. A weekend out in the suburbs or Massachusetts reminds you only of how you are out of place and how you dress funny and it still keeps you dreaming of someplace different. This place, you feel, might not exist.
In New York City, the elements are soot, fire, tap water. You buy expensive face cream to imitate what the sun and open air do. You believe love is in dark corners, you believe 4am is a decent time, you cannot leave your phone anywhere or it will be gone forever.
Some days, like yesterday, I pulled out Google Maps and it wasn’t working and this made me feel so critically alone I thought my chest would burst. Where would I go, I thought, and I had no answer so I just kept walking. I found where I was because I kept going, and in that moment, I remembered why I liked New York City so damn much. It kicks you, I think, and almost pats you on the back while it is doing so.
And maybe, sometimes in the spring, I love baseball a little more. I use “smear” in instructions to the bagel man. I walk on cobblestone streets and feel the sun on me and try something like a dosa or a street taco. I meet a friend who has become a room to me in the house I am trying to build. I feel greater successes, I wipe my tears, I keep going until I find the place I am looking for. New York City is not my lover but it is my toughest love. I want to leave, often, but suspect I never will.
Then again, here I am on the subway ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the city skyline still feels like a miserable, beautiful beast I’m not sure I’ll ever be allowed to claim.