Not A Love Letter

New York City was never on my radar growing up; I mean, I read about it in books and saw it in movies, but I never intended to scrape my way from one side of the U.S. to the other in order to live here.

Once the wonder of bodegas on every corner wore off, the magnificence of the skyscrapers transformed into walls, and no matter where I stood — on the isle of Manhattan or a far-flung borough — I felt trapped, panicked. I grew up surrounded by mountain ranges, wide-open spaces, endless expanses of bright blue sky.

Whenever my dad would call to check in, he’d ask how things were in “New Yawk City,” drawing out the sound in a bad imitation of a line from a movie I’ve likely never seen. Every time he said it, it sounded more and more like he was trying to remove a slug of phlegm from the back of his throat. The association between the city’s name and hocking a loogie seemed somehow accurate.

Lots of people love it here — they use terms like The Big Apple and all sorts of other Midwestern nicknames picked from any number of moving pictures produced before the movies were in color. That’s just how it is — there are a lot of perpetual tourists here. All that being said, I never wanted anything the way I wanted to love living in New York City. And like most great desires, the more I wanted it, the further out of reach it seemed.

I can’t think of a better way to explain the daily experience of living here except to say this is the most inconveniently convenient city on earth. Most things feel like an uphill battle, one waged while constantly within an eight-foot radius of at least one other person. When you are down, this is the place that will lodge a boot firmly in your gut. And the next day, you have to get up and do it again, because that’s just the way things are done.

The adages about this place are innumerable, and with good reason; it is a place that has always demanded the full attention of its occupants.  The coining of catchphrases is inevitable and the one I find most annoying is also the most accurate: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

It’s true. If you can withstand the pressure cooker that is living and working within this city, if you can make ends meet and maintain friendships in the self-aggrandizing bubble of a city, if you can keep your head up even when you’re in the midst of getting punched in the soul (because you’ve lost your job, place to live and really hot significant other within a single day), then you, my friend, will flourish anywhere and everywhere else.

I have a friend that talks about moving to New York, though she has yet to make the leap. Knowing that I’m about to leave, she asked if I would suggest she go elsewhere. To that I say not just No, but Fuck No. I fully encourage anyone that wants to come here to do so, to scrape by, to be absolutely miserable from October ‘til May, and to make up for it with as many questionable decisions as possible during the five months of slightly better weather.

It was hard to realize that I was the only person I knew in New York that didn’t really want to be here; harder still to book the flight and make the plans necessary to move away. It’s hard not to think of leaving as quitting, or something similar.

At times, I’d fall down a Tumblr rabbithole, landing on any number of blogs written by a 20-something, all of which used the same one-liner to describe their life: “a love letter to New York City.” That sentence never resonated with me, and it proved to be a source of endless frustration. If everyone who moved here loved it so much, why didn’t I?

Even now, I don’t think I could ever write New York City a love letter. To be fair, I don’t think it would write me one, either — I’ve done my fair share of crying on the subway and taking its name in vain on the internet. But I can tell it and the people living here thank you; thank you for bringing me to some of the greatest highs and lows I could ever hope to experience, often within a single day.

New York City beats something out of you — something hard to lose, something visceral. Living here made me grow up in ways I didn’t realize I needed to, made me resilient in ways I didn’t know I needed to be. It’s been a rough few years, but they were well worth it for the lessons learned, insights I doubt I could have gleaned without living here.

We just had our first taste of nice weather last weekend. You could tell how much New Yorkers needed it by the sheer volume of people walking around aimlessly all weekend, trying to milk each moment in the sun for all it was worth. Winter was, as always, too long — and for the time being, the feeling of good will and positivity is oozing from everyone’s pores. My last week in the city will be golden because of this, and for that I am thankful. TC Mark

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