Notes on being back in New York City
When my friend Aly and I got together earlier this year in our new sunny chosen locale of Southern California, we reminisced on our time living together in Brooklyn: the rat we discovered living under our kitchen sink whom we christened Rhombus (after literally duct taping our cabinet shut), the brief moment in time in which we were very impressed by bottle service at clubs in the Meatpacking District, the many slices of late-night pizza and early-morning bagel and coffee runs, the Saturdays spent on the rickety subway out to the Rockaways with beach bags packed with too many cheap cans of beer and not enough sunscreen.
Looking back, one of the things we were most grateful for was simply the experience of having lived in New York City. We will forever feel at home in this city, will forever instinctively know uptown and downtown and how to avoid Times Square. Even if I’ll never be able to call myself a New Yorker, living in the city for five years still shaped me into who I am.
And that calm confidence in knowing New York City has translated into a capable spirit of navigating the rest of the world. If I managed to show up in New York City when I was 24 years old with a suitcase, no job and zero big city experience: I can certainly figure out a different subway system or cobble my way through a foreign language for a week.
But before I boarded the plane to JFK last week, I was nervous. Would I fumble my way through the subway turnstile or board the wrong train? Would I suggest restaurants that were closed, or worse, hopelessly out of style? Would New York City feel foreign and overwhelming instead of like my former home? Would I be too cold? Would I regret ever moving or would I be kicking myself for scheduling an entire three weeks in the city?
Being back has been easier than I anticipated. My pace quickened, my headphones popped in, my muscle memory kicked in to effortlessly slide my MetroCard through without holding up the line behind me. I don’t miss living here, not exactly. I miss my friends and all of the delicious carbs and walking down Broadway and maybe just being able to say that I live in NYC. And maybe I miss a little of that magic, especially around Christmas time: that serene silence when the snow softly falls over the city, the glow of the lights twinkling above the sidewalk Christmas tree stands, sinking into a no-nonsense booth with a mug of the most decadent hot chocolate and homemade marshmellow to warm your hands from the outside chill.
For all of the surface changes that are forever happening in this city–the pop-up shops and hipper-than-thou restaurant openings and Instagram-craze-inducing art galleries–I’ll always be able to find a slice of quiet on the Pool in Central Park or in the garden at St-Luke-in-the-fields or in the Rose Room at the New York Public Library. I can lose myself in the pressing crowds in Grand Central or on Fifth Avenue, and slip into the gaggle of wide-eyed and awe-filled tourists beneath the Empire State Building or at the base of the World Trade Center. I can catch up with the greatest of friends over lattes in sunlight-drenched Aussie cafes, or over glasses (bottles?) of wine in cozy, oak-paneled haunts in West Village.
I saw Lady Bird a few weeks ago, and sobbed through the entire thing. So much of the film resonated with me: not just the growing up in Sacramento part, but also that desire to leave “the Midwest of California” behind for the sophisticated allure of the East Coast. I felt just as nostalgic for the brownstones of the West Village as I did for the exquisite mansions of the Fab Forties when they flashed on the screen.
Coming back to New York City after months away has given me back that sense of wonder this city can invoke. It’s not dulled by delayed subways and bad landlords, or softened by unremarkable routines. The city is both novel and yet familiar, and I’m grateful to no longer take its magic for granted–even if it’s only for three chilly weeks.