A few days ago, I found myself hoarding as much of New York as I could. After the finality of moving, I went back to my places, to remember the things that happened between the grime of its grids, trying touch every crevice again. But why hoard something you can’t really take away with you, especially when it’s something that will also pass. Hoarding isn’t a show of trust either. So I’m embracing it, and letting the nostalgia run it’s course.
The places I’ve called home are easily erased of my being there. Like the crumbs of a Levain chocolate chip cookie, only a sprinkle remain; in a whiff, it’s gone. It’s so easy, removing evidences of myself, that it’s infuriating. The hardest part is for the emotions to catch up with the mind. My room in Astoria, bathed in the soft light of muslin curtains painstakingly hung, will belong to someone else once I’m out the door. When my friend walks her dog past 2717, I won’t be there. After my name is peeled from the mailbox, it’s like I was never here.
I think I’ll always feel embarrassed about how I feel about New York, because, in as cliched I-heart-NY-shirts get, I love New York. It’s not the perfect city, or the best place in the world. But it’s the first place I grew up beyond my parents’ roof, a city I was tossed into, unexpectedly, and saw me come into my own person. It became home to me. Even if it meant packing up and leaving things behind, thrice, the canvas of the city has been space enough to breathe, sweat, and grow. I made friends, and friends became family. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been wonderful. But the less stuff there’s been in my room (living in an empty room kind of takes it’s toll on you), the more I’ve had to give away due to the impracticality of taking them with me, the more see you laters have been spoken, the more I feel like I’m disappearing, because these are the things that mean that I’m here, that I’m home. And now, “home” is stripped off or given away, contained in a handful of boxes and bags, some possibly lost in transit, and there are the fare wells. I’m filled with an indescribable yearning for what looked like inhabited by me and where I have been, even while I’m still here, for a few more hours. I feel like a kite, with strings about to be cut.
I shall miss the places I’ve created home: Midtown Manhattan, Park Slope in Brooklyn, Astoria in Queens, and even the subway. Each different, each beloved. I shall miss jaywalking towards the glow of the half green half white MTA globe lamps on sidewalks. I love the MTA. From a point A to point anywhere, sometimes smelling faintly of homelessness, or nothing. It’s my communal journey with the world, where we all see the rivers, buildings, darkness, and graffiti from the windows. I’ve often wondered who sat on my seat before. I will miss watching the rats hunt along the tracks, until the yellow light comes shining from a distance (is it an N? a Q? an R?) accompanied by the metallic wail of the subway, gusts of wind blowing the dust of the decades over everyone standing on the platform. Who knows what particles rest on our coats afterwards. Impatiently we wait for passengers to step out before racing for empty seats, or the leaning spots beside the doors. Anything to not hold the posts. I will miss the barbershop quartet grooving past, singing Trouble In My Way on a coincidentally bad day. And the white noise of languages that have often been the background for reading Marisha Pessl, Susan Cain, Orson Scott Card, Gabrielle Hamilton, unmentionable self-help books, and subway ads. If you’re paying attention, you’ll know where the zoetropes dance on the subway window, or that the Manhattan bound subway usually arrives shortly after the Queens bound subway arrives at the 30av platform across. In the morning, subway musicians send you off for the battle of the day. Acoustic country at Union Street, 80’s action songs on the electric guitar at Herald Square (and sometimes, the Elvis fellow when you’re a little late). And then the sax or strings anywhere. At Lexington, The Mall walkway in Central Park. There’s at least one player somewhere.
I will miss autumn and spring in the trees and Brownstones of Park Slope, and figuring out whether a good morning’s walk should end at the weekend market, The Brooklyn Larder or Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store. The Sunday walks home from Redeemer Presbyterian (and the free mini muffins, or cookies), passing by Cafe Lalo with their year round fairy lights, and the al fresco restaurants I’ve mentally bookmarked to try in the summer. The scenic walk is along Amsterdam. I’ll miss the downtown Redeemer bands playing folksy bluesy praise. I’ll miss the beautiful people I’ve gotten to know through community groups and mutual friends, people I will always grow closer to, through Christ and meals and visits. I will miss rainy Astoria errands, jogging to the beer and cheese store just to look, the 24/7 fruit and vegetable store which I’ve hardly bought vegetables from, the line of restaurants along 34th street, my pizza door, my crepe-that-ruins-all-other-crepes place, the Irish pub mustachioed man nodding at passers rushing towards work, my newly discovered thirty minute commute to Greenpoint, and the smell of Halal Guys from two blocks away on Fifth Avenue. I haven’t watched a film in every obscure independent cinema yet, and I shall miss discussing alternate endings over burgers, fries, and milkshakes. There are still so many unvisited museums and cobblestone road cafes to people watch on. I shall miss taking people around my New York. The NYPL, butt watching at The Met, chocolate shops, Chelsea, repurposed warehouses, streets with pretty lights, outdoor movies or dances, bridges, cookie shops, tea parlors, cafes, gelato shops, brunch places, comedy clubs, speakeasy bars, and book stores. Here I’ve discovered that I’m a frustrated contemporary art fan, a really bad shopper, and someone who enjoys apartment hunting and interviewing people. I will miss Monday walks from BSF, crossing Park Avenue at night, still making double takes to make sure that The Helmsley building isn’t a mirage of lights. I will also miss missing out on Strand’s literary speed dating. I won’t miss Times Square, Macy’s, the lines and line organizing screens at any Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods (no matter what time of day, no matter what day of the week), the thirty minute usual wait time for restaurants, walking around hungry or with a full bladder, and too many tourists taking photos mid-stride.
It’s easy to get lost in this city. New York can be an assault on the senses. You need to meet it, knowing who you are, and hit the ground running with a poker face, because it will catch you off guard. Like transit changes on the weekends. The premium of living here pressures you to engage, to make the most of your rent and unlimited MTA monthly pass by getting out of the house. It’s a city that’s always changing. Every time I thought I’ve seen enough, that whatever new thing it could come up with is something I can pass, I’m proved wrong. It’s a city for the persevering and the explorers, for people with a stamina for fast walks and stair climbs, for people who can stand their ground without losing kindness, or forgetting their values. It’s a place for those who dare to poke, who won’t just peek but get in the room, who dare to charge or spend on exorbitant amounts for food, stuff, and experiences, and dare to request for a refund if unsatisfied. It’s a crazy city, but with friendlier people than you’d think there’d be.
It’s still my surprise of the decade that I’ve lived here. Not that New York was the city or the goal. I just didn’t have a clue this would be part of the exciting of my twenties. I know that I’m longing for a city, and New York fits into a lot of its corners. I wonder if the next place can fill those corners even more, if the life I live in the next one will be similar, or better.
However, a better next place isn’t God’s promise. He doesn’t promise the next place to be as characteristic of all the gritty and pretty things that I love about this one. God can place me anywhere He wants to, and it scares me, even if He’s been nothing but amazing (and wild) and good. What if this is the
crazy calm before the storm? Or the desert. What if I never come back to a city like New York? What if it’s a forty year desert from hereon? I don’t know. But He promises that lips shall yet praise Him, hearts can know Him, and I’ve experienced that to be true. And if there’s something I should learn from this chapter, it’s that He is Emmanuel, God with us, Christmas and beyond. God who is majestic, forgiving, and loving, even to the filthiest, weakest, sinners like me. He is the God who made the ginko trees and music, God who gave me a root canal, God who orchestrated and provided for apartments and jobs, God who blessed my life with incredible people, God who placed me in New York, God who gave me joy and growth, God who is holy in all His ways, God who is the promised land. And all these yearnings I feel, for this place, for seeing family, for people, for home… are a great way to understand what it means to be yearning for God, again.
When I hop on the plane, I’ll watch New York’s lights from the window seat, drink in hand, toasting to the good one year and seven months it’s been for us all. It’s hard to go, but I’d rather not stay, not for now anyway. It’s time to explore a different place, a different way of living. I can always move back, and if I will, let it be Brooklyn.
In any case, when I see you again, NY, we’ll be a little different from the last, but I hope to greet the face of an old friend.
Stand clear of the closing doors, please.
(thanks for the photo, Dan)
Merry Christmas, all.