New York, I Love You (Not): Take 1; or: Maybe If We Are Surrounded by Beauty, Someday We Will Become What We See
|Photo © Jessica Taghap|
“It is easier to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.”
- Joan Didion, Goodbye to All That -
NEW YORK is done for me. I can’t exactly pinpoint when this particular notion entered my subconscious, but I can tell you when I became consciously aware of it. I suppose between having yet another personal fiasco over the summer (and continuing into the beginning of the Fall), as well as entering my my fourth (but not last, unfortunately) year in college, all finally confirmed upon reading Joan Didion’s Goodbye to All That and On Going Home, I realized something in all this: My heart isn’t in New York anymore. It’s tainted…it always has been.
Upon reading Didion, and discussing her in class, with both my professor and classmates giving their own versions of the New York Experience, I thought about my own. Something about Didion’s prose just suddenly evoked a mash-up of emotions…the culmination of what has been stewing within me for perhaps a very long time. And it saddened me, to the point where I found myself almost getting choked up.
I am currently sitting on my daybed as I type this, computer in my lap, and looking at various boxes in the room, unpacked since my move-in last weekend. My concept of home has always been shaky, having moved four times with my family in the last seven years, as well as having lived with various relatives in between. It seems for most of my life thus far has been spent living out of boxes, and that’s all I’ve ever really known. I’ve never spent more than three years in one place (apart from the house I’d grown up in, my family and I’s residence until I was 14 years-old), and as a result, never really knew what it was like to truly create a home. The closest was when I’d moved into an apartment with my family in Fresh Meadows, Queens — but that had been back in high school, and nothing has ever come close since.
As I’d said here, the move from Queens to Brooklyn shook me up the most. The single mother I had grown up with was now a married woman, and we’d moved to her new husband’s apartment in Brooklyn. Needless to say, I tried to find every way I could to hate it there, and for a while, I did. But something happened, and I ended up finding myself in Brooklyn. Brooklyn eventually came to encompass, for me, the young woman I was becoming; coming back to Queens, I found myself faced with the young girl I was, and I’m trying hard to reconcile the two.
“It would be a long while because, quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean “love” in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.”
I suppose it’s a good thing I have my other life in what we outer-borough dwellers term as “The City”– by which we mean Manhattan, of course. Since high school, I’d always somewhat prided myself on being the self-professed “City Girl”; I got to know the Cooper Square/East Village area well during my sophomore and junior years, back when I used to take Saturday workshops at the Cooper Union and the Art Directors Club as an art student. I called that area my “stomping grounds,” and by my senior year when I’d joined the Drama Club and went on field trips to see Broadway shows, the theatre district soon became part of that, too. When it came time to apply to colleges, I always saw myself in the city;I loved both the beautiful and the grotesque in everything I saw and everywhere I went…the different people there…and knew I wanted to surround myself in it. When I was told I couldn’t study art, I remained hopeful that at least I’d be in the city, where it all happened.
“Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about…I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of it would count.”
I was indeed enamored by it all, and it’s not to say that I’m no longer in love with the city I grew up in. The nights on the Q train with the view of the Brooklyn Bridge all lit up; having your first kiss in the middle of Union Square; walking down Tompkins Square park with your fingers intertwined in the hands of somebody completely different a year later; those nights when the best buzz wasn’t something you could ever get from a drink or drug, but from being with your closest friends and just talking, but in the end we all got high and drunk anyway…these are memories that’ll always stay with me and that I’ll always associate with New York.
“…New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of “living” there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not “live” at Xanadu.”
However, reading Didion struck something else within me…I feel that I’ve come to the point where all romantic illusions for me have seem to become out of reach — and yet, not quite. I’ve been looking to London in terms of where to study for grad school, and thinking to myself: Europe is where it’s at. That’s where I’ll live. When I dream of London, I think of small, affordable flats where I’d walk along the Thames, check out the West End scene; take the weekend off to Paris (or to Barcelona, or Madrid –anywhere),where I’d visit the artistes in Monmartre, like Audrey Hepburn in Paris When It Sizzles.
I still have these fancies about other places, but never about New York anymore. When I think of New York now, I do not think of home…all I see are boxes, keeping me in. And one cannot live out of boxes forever.