New York City Unfinished
I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to think about the fact that, next week, my decade long love affair with New York City will be over. While I’m excited about all the opportunities that await us in our new home in Westchester, the trees, the space, the quiet, the slower pace I know I need – I feel overwhelmingly sad right now.
I feel, a little, like I’m mourning someone I used to be. An experience I’ve grown accustomed to, as a new mother; shedding the malleable cloak of one woman, shifting into the sometimes roomy, sometimes ill-fitted and starched suit of another. Growing up, I lived one body of water away from ‘the city’, on Long Island. I dreamed I’d live there someday. That it would keep me in a way the small, strip-malled town of Hicksville couldn’t. I didn’t know who I would become there, I just imagined it as the place of my becoming. The vast, booming stage-set in my awkward, small-voiced play.
When I went away to college in upstate New York, it was the home of my summer internships. Working for a magazine in mid-town, I ate lunch on the steps of the New York Public Library, wearing an ugly brown shirt-skirt combo, which the editor-in-chief had, earlier in the day, called hideous. I ate my brown-bagged lunch, with my brown hair, and my brown eyes, feeling remarkably, well, brown. But, looking around, at a splatter paint portrait of hundreds of thousands of people on the steps, on the sidewalks, in the streets, past the buildings, I knew that no one was looking at me. No one cared. And I knew I belonged in a place where I could sit that way, caught in a magnificent pattern of yesterdays, in a place where I could wake up entirely new the next day.
A few years later, interning at a documentary film company, I sat at a sushi restaurant, pretending I liked raw fish, awkwardly holding chopsticks, dressed in jeans and a graphic tee. The executive producer asked me about my writing which, at that time, was a patchy mix of unfinished plays, scripts, and short stories. He told me about his own films, the kind he made when he wasn’t shooting documentary television for A&E. He talked to me like we were both creators. He talked to me like I had something in me I should finish.
After graduate school in Boston, I moved to New York City, for real. I lived on a 6th floor walk-up with two girlfriends. Our electricity went out every single summer night and we had to befriend the workers at the Tasti D-lite downstairs, in order to access the circuit box and switch it back on. I worked a job I hated for a salary that I could barely live on.
But there are miracles in New York City.
There are ways of living on $1 dumplings and $15 martinis. There are ways of getting on the list into the club you don’t care about to dance like you don’t have a care in the world. And there are ways of drinking too much with the right friends and too little around the wrong ones when you’ve been warned the opposite all your life. There are summer nights when all you can afford are the french fries at the Chirpin’ Chicken downstairs and there are others when you end up in someone’s penthouse looking at Fourth of July fireworks, cruising on someone’s boat in the Hamptons, these things happen, they do, when you’re friends with a friend of a friend of a friend, when you aren’t looking, when you’re twenty-four and a shopping spree I’d like to say was at a thrift shop but was really at Forever 21 makes you feel like you’ve exited the gates of Prada, and you walk out into the street believing you belong anywhere you step foot.
I found a job I loved, for a few years, at least. A job where I fit, maybe, for the first time. I wore what I wanted and people, even my boss, called me Sarno, a nickname that always makes me feel like me. I wrote there. I made stuff with amazing people. I made enough money to eat at restaurants I couldn’t afford but ate at anyway. I lived in a first-floor studio with peeling french doors, with a desk I’d like to say I found on the street but really got at Target where I’d write the first chapters of a terrible novel, where the bathroom ceiling would cave in monthly, where I caught a dozen mice and met the boy who would remove them from their traps while I covered my eyes, until I opened them, finally, and realized I’d fallen for him.
I moved to Brooklyn with him, to the third-floor with its low ceilings and its safari temperatures. I somehow finished three novels at that beat-up desk. I got engaged on the couch while the credits to my favorite 80’s sitcom fell. I tossed a wedding bouquet and Tyler’s crumpled tux on the coffee table chest while we went on our honeymoon in Spain. And I nursed a baby, everywhere, it felt, in that apartment where my son would experience all the firsts of his life and I would experience all of mine as mother. An apartment he won’t remember, just as I don’t remember the Astoria, Queens where my parents grew up and where I spent the first two years of my life. But it was in their memories, in the brightness in their voice when they talked of Ditmars and and stickball in the streets and getting caught with cigarettes, when they talked of the subway and the bus and the jobs on the sixty-something floor and meeting Bob Dylan on a lunch break, that I moved to ‘the city’ in the first place.
I’ve stitched many pieces of myself here and, as the seams come undone, I feel like I’m finished in a place where I’ve been my most unfinished. I feel like I don’t know how to be messy somewhere else, how to wake up the next day and be the next version of me.