There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh yes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company. . . .
—Here is New York by E.B. White
You’ll have to bear with me on this one. I am at a loss. How to give voice to all that I experienced in the 4+ years I lived in this city?
I came here–it’s true!–on a whim. I was impetuous and lonely and romantic and needed desperately to be Elsewhere. Isn’t that why we all come here, in one way or another? I had one backpack–a red jansport–filled with clothes and a book or two, and $100 to my name. In cash. I am a living, breathing fairy-tale.The largeness of it all! The wonderment of the cross town buses–I’m not lying. I would slide into a window seat and stare at my own reflection in the dark windows made greenish by the fluorescent lights inside and orangeish from the street lights outside. Cruising through the dark mysteries of Central Park after a closing shift at the vegetarian restaurant I worked in on the Upper East Side.
I am too overwhelmed now to properly answer the question “what will you most miss?” which is the question people are most often curious about. I can only say with certainty that it will likely be the small things. Sitting on the stoop of my first apartment for hours and hours. The quiet, magical walk along Astoria Park after sunset. The trick of knowing exactly which subway car to ride in to a) have the best chance of getting a seat, or b) get off directly in front of my exit. That the wonderment of walking past Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral every morning on my way to work quickly wore off, only to reignite itself more fervently than ever on some unobtrusive morning when the light sparkled just right or the rain held off until I made it inside and the pearly grey clouds reflected beautifully in all the windows. The N train and everything about it. Gramercy Park, which I only ever loved because it looks and feels exactly like Boston. Being called “sweetheart” by every doorman in the city. The rhythm and hum of the city itself.
So, here’s a little snippet of the folksinger at 18. She just moved to New York and she’s had her mouth hanging open for about three days. I remember vividly the whole learning process and the prostitutes that were working the little cobblestone street below my window… it was like, ‘No Ani, those are not women. They look a lot like women but…’ And I was like, ‘Wow…They’re purty!’ And then, and then, and I was like–so, um? There was this deck off of–well it was kind of a roof, really, as, you know, patios in New York are. They’re the roofs of other buildings. And there was chalk outlines of bodies on mine. So I inquired about them one day and they said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I think maybe they were a joke…’
Last night–our last in the city–David and I went to Korea Town, which is where we had our first date. After dinner we got frozen yogurt from Red Mango and sat at a little metal table in the middle of Herald Square. There was a small leafy tree overhead, blocking out some–but not all–of the headlights, street lights, and neon signs in and along the street. “I think,” said David. “That this is the first and last time I’ve ever enjoyed listening to taxis.”
I will miss so much. So much about this city and this life. So many people. But this morning, I’m off on the greatest adventure of my life. And I absolutely can’t wait.