It’s time to leave New York, I think, most mornings. I survey my tiny room, in my altogether reasonable Nolita apartment. I wiggle my toes and check the time. I peel back the white curtain, thin and unhemmed, and I see blue sky, or clouds, or if I’m lucky, delicate flakes of snow that still elicit this dreamy feeling in me, as if I were floating this way and that, sometimes up, sometimes down, and I might rest wherever I feel like sometime, whenever I might fall. I take it all in, and still, I think, I’ve got to leave.
But I don’t want to.
I consider selling my eggs to a fertility clinic for $10,000 a pop to pay 5 months’ rent up front. I promise myself I won’t eat out this week. Won’t drink Manhattans even if it’s happy hour and I get stuck in a round. Won’t spend $22.85 at Duane Reade on hair ties and false eyelashes and cinnamon-raisin flavoured organic peanut butter. But somehow, especially in the mornings, I know that all this aside, $1 pizzas and hot dogs, and 75 cent cans of soda from the Deli included, it’s time to leave.
I admonish myself for getting settled. I have some Best Friends. A favourite take-out. I know how to say things so I don’t sound foreign, showing that, despite my accent, I live here now. But I remember, that as much as New York can push you up, it can also coax you down. Everyone is transient, everything is expensive, and sometimes, despite everything and everyone around me, despite all that has never been and that I have never seen; I can’t bear the thought of dressing. Of getting up and showering. Of navigating the awkward spaces in my kitchen to fix breakfast. And walking down the six flights of stairs to my walk-up to face it all.
So I wonder, in the clear cut mornings, when everything seems exactly here, and precisely there, when I can tally up the books, and straighten them, and feel the yelp of satisfaction that sings when things are ordered: left to right, smallest to biggest.
What I will say when I leave the bacchanal?
What, exactly, did I learn?
I’ve learned that sometimes people take things out on you, whether you deserve it or not. Sometimes people yell and beep, not for what you have done, but for the frustration that lives within them. You can be berated for no reason, and a lot of pain resides in all that is unfair. Trash rots in streets. Rats weave in between the icebergs of it in the night; and in parks. Rat-families live somewhere in between the tracks of the subway. Maybe the NQR line. Or the ACE. Sometimes I wonder if they get tired of the frequency with which the trains in Manhattan shake the beams that hold their homes together, and move out to some suburban outpost of the L in Brooklyn. New York rats are quite bold, I have learned. I think they’d chance a nibble if you drew near.
I’ve learned that any night can be Saturday. That every night someone can make one more drink seem necessary. That happy hours are dangerous. That bars don’t close early mid-week to preserve your sanity. That some weekends can arrive all of a sudden on Friday when you feel like they’re already been lived. I’ve learned that excess is easy and restraint is hard. That boys will buy you drinks without thinking, but subject you to rigorous consultation before calling it a ‘thing’. I’ve learned that everyone is on a schedule no matter how hard they try to prove they’re not.
I’ve learned to understand the land-of-opportunity cliche. It always seemed incongruent to my image of the US, a place without free healthcare and where students are debilitated by debt. But here’s the secret: the reason it’s called the Land of Opportunity is because anyone will believe in, and commend you on, your dreams. Everybody chooses to operate in the space where your dreams are already reality. Where, by simply voicing your dreams, you have purchased their success. I’m a writer, I say. That’s so exciting, they reply. Let me introduce you to Sally, she’s a writer too. And I’d love to read your work. And just like that I am a writer. And I feel so grateful for this small gift. The suspension of their skepticism. More than having anyone simply say ‘you can do it’, acting as though you already have is the greatest source of comfort and support anyone can hope for. That over-friendly, sometimes-fake, American, blind faith, is the opportunity. I’ve learned to take it.
I’ve learned that mental health is fragile. That sometimes normal is medicated. That there is a mysterious and evil pull between skyscrapers and in the deep unknown, and that it pulses through the veiny subway, many intricate levels down. There is a blackness and a sadness biting at your heels, thwarting compassion and understanding, reminding you only of bad things. Forgetting the special that lies outside your perimeter People can cry in restaurants for no reason, without anyone to check if they are ok. I don’t check if they're ok. Sometimes, I see the fiercest women have the horrible, self-effacing sense that, maybe, if they just had a boyfriend, everything would be ok. Sometimes I think it, chastise myself for the banal thought, and still feel lonely all the same. Some people aren’t willing to learn or listen. Sadness is contagious. Physical proximity doesn’t mean much, except a surge in hand sanitizer sales.
I’ve learned that online dating is not just for middle aged divorcees and rich men seeking bunnies. It’s for real normal people, and you’ve got to get off your high horse. You won’t meet your soul mate at at bar, said my wise mum. But she didn’t predict that I’d meet him on tinder. That once I knew his full name I could google him and verify his credentials through linkedin. That there would be an app called happn when you’re delivered platter upon platter of men that you walk past every day. That once you like each other, if you feel so inclined, you have the ability to check their km radius from you at any point in the day. People in New York seem to be on any combination, or all of these apps, at once. A fading traditionalist, I shunned them at first, until I met many enviable couples who’d swiped right and fallen in love. No one was lauding me from being above it and abstaining from dating apps, a modern day nunn. So I caved. I know New Yorkers who schedule 6 dates a week, and I’ve been on dates with people who I suspect have this disease. They pummel you with questions until you surrender and toddle off unsure of what just happened. At least they get the bill. I have also been on dates with kind, interesting men who I’m quite sure I’d never have met otherwise. So New York, you teach me that I can’t afford to be so damn High and Mighty all the time. You teach me that in an era when I sleep with my phone in my hand, just centimeters short of my head, it makes sense that dating should also occur within my machine: my one true love.
I’ve learned that New York is a reactive place. It’s not somewhere that you find peace. It is a place you can fall in love with and marry in Vegas after 24 hours. Or it is a place to feel violated. It forces you to change, to seek change, and to accept what might be unacceptable. But you make these sacrifices for her, for this New York. Even though she is temperamental and biting when your reserves are low. She’ll let you cry alone, somewhere on the subway, or in a park, for no reason and every reason, and it’s likely no one will have the time to ask if you’re ok. She inspires you to move and think faster, testing your endurance, expanding it, and your pain threshold, and your definition of what ok means, ten-fold.
Which is better for you in the long run, this subtle widening of a once narrow gaze. Under the guise of survival.
I have a shower and do my hair. I make an omelette. It sizzles in the pan and I open the window to banish the greasy smell of the fry-up from the tiny space. I’m already part of the way there. Faced with grey rooftops blending into grey sky out my window I imagine it would be a crime to endure winter if I don’t wait a while to at least glimpse spring.