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New York and I, and goodbyes

          Why why why is it like slogging through molasses to begin writing again after you haven’t in a while?

          But I’ve been busy, sort of. October was eventful with new friends and dear old ones, with quiet hellos and quick goodbyes, and wet with squalling rapacious winds and rains; then as slyly as it came, October vanished, Autumn settled even more firmly in place, and there was bite to the air.
          Almost all of my October was spent from morning to night on a class that I’d been taking. I’m not naturally inclined toward the lifestyle and habits of a good student; school and I don’t get along and we never have. But I was on my toes this time, and I cared, which made a difference: for once, in all my pathetic years of formal education and half-(cl)assed efforts, I didn’t procrastinate on every assignment ever given, I kept reasonable sleeping hours on weekdays, I made a conscious effort to pay attention and participate in class, I did homework at home. I studied (a little). What’s more—and for those who know me best, this next detail will astonish more than the rest—I maintained these good studenting behaviors for the entire length of the course (more or less). That’s right, the entire length of the course (more or less). And for such unprecedented diligence, I was rewarded with finally experiencing what it’s like to not be a terrible student. (It’s not bad.) Of course, it helped that the class was only one month long, and thankfully, too: I was running dangerously low on steam by the end, green and tender as I was to any kind of marathon effort in this discipline. 
          My second to last night in New York was spent packing—something I had put off until the absolute last minute, the night before I needed to be out of my place. The whole process didn’t take long, as I’m quick with the trash can and unsentimental with my things: I filled two boxes with books and letters, another with clothing and sheets, and threw most of everything else away. I had already said my goodbyes, but said them again anyway, and I left for California.
          I hadn’t expected that I would feel emotional about leaving New York, but on my way to the airport that cold bright morning, sitting in the dirty, rickity subway that I’d always hated, I was, and I had to keep swallowing to ease that place in the back of my throat that burns when I want to cry, which made me laugh a little, because my time in New York had been trying, mostly, and often unhappy, and there had been so many days when there was nothing I wanted more than to go back to California.
          About a year and a half ago, when everything had gone to shit and I was feeling low all the time and living like I was completely alone in the world, a good friend of mine had asked me why I didn’t just leave New York and come back to California. Then time passed, and things got better and everything wasn’t shit anymore, but I was still less happy than I probably would’ve been in Califonia, and she asked me again why I didn’t move back to California. She asked again and again and again, and sometimes she’d get frustrated and ask if it was just pride and stubborness that kept me in New York, and I wouldn’t know what to say to her because I knew there was truth in her assumptions—that those things were there—but I also felt like there was something else there that was stronger than whatever pride I might’ve needed to hold onto, or whatever threads of satisfaction I might’ve gotten out of being stubborn. And though I didn’t know what it was and I couldn’t explain it to anyone including myself, it was that something else more than anything else that made me say again and again that I wasn’t leaving because I just couldn’t because it just didn’t feel right—and in this I believed as strongly as I have about anything that I’ve felt to be true but couldn’t explain why.
          Then more time passed, and about a month ago, I was stretched out in bed, talking on the phone, feeling better and happier than I have in years, and my friend asked me whether I’d be moving back to California or to New York after China; I said I was pretty sure I was going to move back to New York because I wasn’t done with New York yet—and then I realized what it was.
          It was never a matter of preference, exactly, or of affection: My parents and most of my closest friends live in California, and there are so many places in California that I love with all my heart, completely and unreasonably, and that I always will. California is home. Even in superficial comforts, California has most places beat by a long mile. But those things weren’t what I needed. What I needed was New York—though if I were to be more precise, it wasn’t New York specifically, but rather what New York is to me, and what it isn’t. New York wasn’t home to me, and I didn’t feel at home in it. Unlike my feelings for California, my feelings for New York were complicated, just as New York itself was complicated: New York was difficult and crowded and daunting and demanding and lonely and it didn’t give a damn about me. The world as I felt it to be in California was governable and measured, whereas the world in New York felt completely open, in every sense of the word, which is as terrifying and perilous as it is vital and liberating, as isolating and alienating as it is electrifying and stimulating. And while the idea of such extremes may sound romantic and thrilling, the potential fallouts from such freedom are not, and when New York is unkind, it can be so unrelenting and overwhelming that you feel sometimes as if you’re being swallowed whole and there’s no way out of the dark. And yet, for whatever reasons that only make sense within the narrow frameworks of my life, I needed the messiness, the discomfort, the indifference, the struggle. I needed them so much that I wanted them, though I couldn’t explain why I wanted them. Because for better or worse, I am drawn to conflict and suspicious of happiness, and I was especially distrustful of the kind of happiness that returning to California for good would bring—it seemed too easy, too simple. And I don’t know if any of these feelings or needs are grounded in reality, or if they’re merely self-constructed fantasies, and I don’t know if they’re healthy desires, or if they’re pointlessly masochistic; all I know is that they were there and they kept me there, and listening to them has brought me closer to understanding what it takes and what it means for me to feel right and complete in this world. I still don’t know, but it feels like I’m getting closer, though the process often feels like I’m grasping in the dark for things I don’t know are there. And now, all of a sudden, I am here, back in California, where I plan on staying from November to December before I leave again—but things don’t feel the same as they did before. I miss New York. I miss everything about it: the smells, the streets, the mess. The missing has been constant, like a dull stomachache, from the moment I stepped off the plane in San Jose to right now here in my small cozy bedroom that still looks the way it did when I was in college. New York has crawled under my skin and into my wits, and the old familiar comforts have somehow lost some of their magic and color. Another thing I hadn’t expected to feel upon coming back.

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6 thoughts on “New York and I, and goodbyes

  1. Rita Rozzi says:

    Yes! NYC has a way to of making anyone ‘grow up’ no matter their age especially when it’s not your home. The dichotomies you speak of are so true: liberation, isolation – one often causing the other. NYC gives the gift of anonymity which allows you to be whoever you really are.

    You were so wise to embrace this uncomfortable period because from it you have grown and life, as it was, will never be the same. And that is just as it should be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Helen.

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