You never plan to move away, not really. Not usually. Life moves you. Your job moves you, you lose your job, you fall in love, you want to see more of the world because yes, there’s more outside of New York, you realize you don’t want to force the speed and urgency and edge anymore, but that is your personality and New York never lied about being soft and fuzzy. And so you sublet your apartment, sold everything on Craigslist, and left.
And now you’re back.
And the sheen the city once had when it was new and exciting and fresh and you’d just moved here the first time, that sheen is still there, but it’s warped a little. It’s too shiny; you already know it’s fake. You already know how expensive everything is, and that you’ll walk out of the grocery store having spent sixty bucks with little to show for it. You’ll know you have to pack your lunch if you want to save money; that your five dollar latte will add up quickly because it is no longer a three dollar latte from your hometown; that having drinks bought for you is a fiscally wise move, not just a way to feel desired; that bars have card minimums; that taxi drivers will practically hold you hostage for tips. It takes twenty dollars to go half as many blocks during rush hour some days, and you know how to retreat to the subways because New York was not meant to move above ground. Nothing happens on the surface. Everything is deep within the city.
You know how to maximize space; you know where to look for an apartment with space. And now that you face the prospect of being able to have things because you moved to Bushwick or Bed-Stuy or so far uptown, it might not even be Manhattan anymore, you don’t know what to do with the space. So it lies empty while you fill up everything else with stuff from Ikea. Nonsentimental stuff. Stuff you can break when you’re drunk and stuff you can sell on Craigslist when you move or upgrade or just don’t want to look at anymore. Not that you’ll ever really look at it because you’ll hardly ever be home. Still, you try to carve out a little space for yourself to call your own. You leave painting for another day, another tenant.
You know how to find the deals and where to avoid the sale racks that really aren’t worth much. Finding sales, then, becomes even more precious because they’re fewer and further between. You know where the good brunch spots are, the kind that stand the test of time, not just the new one that opens every other week, the one they write about in the Style Section. The one where people really don’t judge you for keeping your sunglasses on; where families don’t really go so kids aren’t that loud; where you and your friends, whom you’ve kept from City Living, Round 1, can rehash the night before and put the puzzle pieces together. You will have some of your friends, because they will have stayed and weathered the hardships and been too stubborn to leave, or they will have been wildly successful and you feel inferior to their luck and work and ethic. Otherwise, they will have left. You promise to visit them; they promise to visit you. Neither of you have yet to follow through, and there is a certain understanding that it is okay.
You get a cat, because dating in the city is notorious and you really do want to just come home to somebody who will love you relentlessly because you feed them. You name it something offbeat, though you don’t mean to. You’re trying to avoid any and all cliches of being a “hipster,” whatever that is. To you now, it’s just another person. It’s just another body on the subway platform, a blur as you ride the train to work or school or anywhere or nowhere or wherever.
But all these blurs merge to form one big shape, and the sense that bigger things are happening. That the city is wild and cruel and harsh and tough, but maybe, just maybe, you really are supposed to be here. Most people don’t get second chances. Either you’re getting yours now, or you’re making your second chance, or you’re just taking it whether or not it really belongs to you. And that is the spirit of a New Yorker, and you really do belong, and no matter how little money you have, maybe you’ll be all right.