New York, I Love You (But You’re Bringing Me Down)
I wonder if I’m falling out of love with New York.
Maybe it’s the man I passed while walking the same route to the same internship (it should be glamorous but how glamorous is it, really, sitting inside all day in front of an outdated Mac in too dim lighting and rereading the same blogs to alleviate boredom?) whose umbrella got scraped and broken by a postal van driving too close, and him screaming “fucking faggot!” at the driver and walking off, anger steaming from his shoulders in this miserable October rain and drenched pavement that splashes dirty rainwater that soaks into jeans and fake leather boots.
Maybe it’s taking the same lines at the same times on the same days to the same stops and making the same walk through areas I’ve already memorized. Maybe it’s feeling the same frustration as the L train chokes through its tortured route from Bedford to 1st Ave, circling the same never ending construction around Washington Square, watching the same tired performances and skate boarders and vendors pepper Union Square.
Maybe it’s the oppressive roommates, 25 or 29 or 30 and living in the same Brooklyn apartment with a shitty job (waitress, bartender), still slugging through school and spending weekends at home with only the noise of her TV or a boyfriend without a job, their voices a constant terror and reason to stay in my room (or leave the place as often as possible). The fear of becoming them, their sad repetitive lives, their endless complaints and pains and same old answers to the same old questions (how are you? Good. How was your day? Long, I’m so tired).
Maybe it’s Joan Didion or Meghan Daum‘s essays on leaving New York. Brilliant writers who described exactly how I’ve felt the little tidbits of New York, envisioned the same romantic future I do. Instead of Daum’s 104th street apartment with the wood floors, my dream abode is on West 10th Street, with its brownstones and archway of leaves that I’d fallen in love with the very first time I walk down it, and still marvel over even after the hundreds of times down that same path.
Then there are her notes on numbers, those terrifying digits that tell the reality of debts and payments, and her little indulgences–spending money on freshcut flowers or a nice dinner, for example, because those didn’t matter, in the big scheme of things, sounded dead on. And what’s the point of living in New York if I don’t indulge, if I don’t allow myself to live the fantasy life I dream with exactly those amenities? Sure, I’m happy to skip lunch and never dry clean coats because of the cost, but not spending so much on that exquisite tea shop or a bizarre performance on a Friday night? Never.
It’s not the same as only a year before, when every single trip outside meant a new adventure, and opportunity glimmered from every subway stop and little thrift store. When having a bad night meant I left my dorm at 10th and Broadway and simply headed to the West Village or the Hudson, stared at the sparkling skyline that I didn’t even realize belonged to New Jersey.
When Times Square was still somewhat exotic, glamorous and each area didn’t carry the full weight of its stigma, each New Yorker couldn’t be pinpointed and dissected within a single glance. When I looked for time to sit in the park and feel the sense of wonder simmer through with each tourist snapping a similar photo of buildings that just began to feel familiar, when each face I recognized didn’t carry a vague fear of an awkward conversation about something that shouldn’t have happened, when I still spent ages simply worshiping the fact that I was here.
No, it’s not the same at all. Now the averted eyes and buried heads in the subway are required, the quickened pace and headphones not for an illusion of a New Yorker but simply to get to the next forced destination on time. When I tell myself to spend a day exploring and waste it refreshing the same five sites online instead. When I try to force magic to exist again and listen to songs I used to live by and watch movies set in the city that should make my heart ache and instead, there is simply a dejected acceptance.
Yes, I am here. Yes, this is the life, my life, and yes everything, all the disappointment and nonstop errands and tasks and things to fix and bills to pay and calls to make and people to try to meet and befriend are the same old, the same tired old crap. I’m not ready to be cynical. Not yet, not dejected and broken–but maybe it is inevitable with this world, this city.
But then, as I walk through the wasteland that is midtown with my three dollar street umbrella with a broken handle and the rain pours around me, splashes onto my purse and the bottoms of my jeans and edges of my coat, I realize that I love the rain. I do. Not when it’s humid and muggy but when it is cold and charged like this, like now, even the muted sky and the irritated New Yorkers can’t take away the symphony it makes on top of my suprisingly effective umbrella.
When I pass by a splash of a shocking golden orange tree, every single leaf the same crayola brightness against buildings without history but all industry, and realize that the tree matches the exact shade of the golden rod cabs that drive past it, that single glimpse, that image burned to my mind, singing inside my lips, makes me remember. I remember why I suffer through the bureaucracy and sacrifice the ease of a normal college student for responsibility, why I cram myself into already overstuffed and overheated trains and mutter apologies to unhappy commuters and spend free moments worrying about every impending annoyance in the future.
And that is this, this feeling, this blessed euphoria perched on each raindrop and overheard conversation, this fulfillment and revelation that is painted on top of every building (elegant brownstones or industrial copies), this moment of inspiration and beauty that I can’t find elsewhere. This, is New York.
So maybe. Maybe in another ten years, I will lose this, when my eyes will shut out the surprises that await, and the chains of debt and a living situation that isn’t much better and a career that I like but doesn’t satisfy, predictable friends and routines and no motivation to even look elsewhere. Maybe then I’ll realize that maintaining the fantasy is simply too expensive. I’ll pack up my bags and get ready for a life that requires a house, a car, a city that is not quite a city, a world doesn’t exist solely in movies and books.
But not yet. Until then, I have this, and everything–the stories, the people, the discoveries, the misery, the tortured endless nights and disorienting mornings without sleep, the terrible parties and marvelous buildings and worlds and worlds that I can watch but not join–that accompanies it.
And you know something? I am still hopeless and utterly in love with each and every bit of it.