I’ve been imagining life in New York City since I was like five. Staying in posh hotels. Walking through the Central Park on snowy winter mornings wrapped in fur coats sipping on hot chocolate. I would watch episodes of Seinfeld and Friends, imagining the future studio I would call home. The one with the exposed brick walls and tiny kitchen and fire escape. Even after all the dreaming, somehow I never managed to find myself in the Big Apple. Something always always got in the way. But then, a miracle… My sister moved there for school and after several months of planning, we finally decided on a weekend for me to visit. I booked my ticket, requested off work and counted down the days until a much needed sister reunion in my dream city.
I expected to be swept off my feet in a blur of late nights, early morning coffee runs and writing inspiration galore. I expected to miss my flight and camp out on the floor of Erin’s room until I found a job and a place to live. I expected NYC to steal my heart.
Then my plane landed. I was exhausted from a long day at work. The train took ages. I didn’t have my ‘Subway Legs’ and about ended up face first in an old man’s crotch when I stumbled almost halfway down a train car. (#thatawkwardmoment). After dropping my stuff at my sister’s apartment we wandered about trying to find a place to get a drink. I had sensory overload and felt dirty. Please, Erin, I said, let’s just get food and go back. I’m so lame and so tired and so hungry. So we did. My first night in the city was spent eating hummus and cucumber on the floor of Erin’s bedroom watching The Dictator. (Although in my defense by this point it was after 1am and this grandma hadn’t seen that hour of the morning in a while.)
When I woke up the next day I showered, straightened my hair, put on makeup and picked out a cute outfit. Alright. Let’s do this, New York. Let’s fall in love.
I never fell in love.
Maybe I forced it just a little too hard. Maybe NYC baulked because I was just a little too intense. Subtlety has never been one of my qualities. I know what I want. ALWAYS. But I think my intensity, while admirable, can also cause burn out and let down.
I expected too much.
I wanted New York to be my American London. But that place, I realize now, had already been filled. Everyone told me I would love it. Everyone told me it was my kind of city. I told me it was my kind of city. But there was just… something missing. I didn’t get that feeling. That feeling I get when something is right. When I’m in a place I’m supposed to be.
My outlook on life tends to lean toward fatalism. While I think we exhibit a degree of control over our own lives and the choices we make, I also believe everything happens for a reason. That is not to say one should remain, essentially, a passive observer in their life because what will be will be. No. I simply believe that when something doesn’t work out it’s because something better is supposed to happen.
Had I visited New York with younger, inexperienced eyes, I would have fallen in love immediately. The lights and people would have danced in front of my eyes, hypnotic in their abundance. Instead all I could smell was the trash that lined the streets. The homeless begging for food and money made me sad. I felt dirty and grimy and constantly on edge. I was uncomfortable and unsettled. I grasped at Erin’s company and only found solace in a Saturday spent in Brooklyn.
I searched and searched for the feeling. For the butterflies to appear in my stomach. For the anxiety squeezing my chest to loosen its grasp. I searched for the feeling under the Statue of Liberty. On Ellis Island. On walks around the city. It appeared, for brief moments, on the streets of Willamsburg. Sitting on the beach slightly tipsy from sangria, gazing across the water to Manhattan. Relaxing at a pub, sheltered from the world by beer garden walls. But those moments were fleeting. And evaporated into the air as quickly as they appeared.
I do not want to portray my trip as a completely miserable experience. I did have a wonderful time. Rooftop bars at night. Starbucks in the park. Making up elaborate stories with Erin. But… Just but.
New York City failed to live up to the romantic version I created in my mind, falling hard from that pedestal on which it was placed so many years ago. I’m surprisingly OK with it. Like an amicable breakup from a relationship that never quite came to fruition. One where we can still be friends. See each other on occasion. Remember the good times that could have been.
New York City and I? We aren’t meant to be.
My thoughts have been wandering. Dreaming. Distracting me. There are two places I love. One is here and one is there. Two cities where my overwhelming and sometimes debilitating anxiety magically disappears. Two cities that are perfect in all their imperfections. Two cities that just are. My dream of New York has died. But two new dreams have taken root in its place. Something is going to take me to one of them. I can feel it.