I’ve lived in New York City for over five years and in a matter of months, I’ll be leaving it. I’m jumping the gun a little bit by announcing my departure (I’m around till September!) but I need to have proof that it’s actually happening. I’ve said I was going to move so many times before but I know that this time it’s certain. It feels right. In the past, when I would say I was going back to California, it was often out of anger or frustration with the city. “I can’t take it anymore! I need to get out of this nightmare of a place!” But then those feelings would fade and I’d fall back in love with it again. The first two years I lived here, it wasn’t uncommon for me to just book a flight back to L.A. and go stay there for a couple of weeks. Going home was supposed to make me feel better, more secure, but it didn’t. Things only got better when I stopped fighting it and just finally let New York become my home. You gotta give in sometime to this crazy bitch.
I moved to New York eight months after getting hit by a car in San Francisco. I was 21 and there was still a giant skin graft on my forearm that I kept covered even when it became May and the weather was intolerably humid. Imagine that: me wearing a cardigan in 90 degree weather just so people couldn’t see this giant piece of chicken flesh on my arm. The only person I showed it to in New York was one of my best friends and even she was like, “No. Put that away. It’s not ready for primetime.”
My first year in the city I spent most of my free time in hand rehab on 32nd and 2nd doing exercises with a woman named Pat, who sort of unwittingly became my mother figure. I’ve noticed that during my time in New York I’ve always been looking for something or someone to stabilize me. Besides my 60-year-old physical therapist, I’ve also become close with the woman who cuts my hair — which I know is the GAYEST thing imaginable — because she’s older and gives me good advice and has her shit together. Last time I got my haircut, she even gave me a pot cookie to munch on. (See, even the adults in New York still do coke on New Years and indulge in the occasional edible. The traditional markers of adulthood just aren’t applicable here.)
This morning, I ran into an old friend of mine from college who I always really liked and we talked about the people we used to hang out with and have now both outgrown. That’s always happening to me here. I always run into these blasts from the past that represent a different era for me. “Oh, look, I think I see the year 2009 coming towards me. Duck!” This morning it was a nice surprise but most of the time it’s my version of hell. Things change very fast. You spend six months haunting a certain neighborhood because of a friend or a lover and then the relationship crumbles and you can never set foot in it again. This city is so small. There is not enough room for the emotional baggage you accumulate while living here.
When New York is good to you, it can give you 10,000 brain orgasms a day. It can you make you feel like your life is one of those terrible cheesy movies that secretly inspired you to move to the city. It can make the slightest detail pop. It can be like this: bare skin, laying in bed with a boy, shirts off, holding a joint, channeling Felicity as you hear the sound of a man playing the saxophone waft through your window. Make no mistake. These moments are fucking magic and you will hold on to them when you are lonely and depressed and forgot the reason why you ever moved here in the first place.
Everyone has a moment when they lose complete sight of where they’re going. That’s the whole idea of being in New York, to go from point A to point B, but people often misplace the map and find themselves wandering the streets with a “PLEASE HELP ME!” expression. This “episode” can last anywhere from a week to two years. Sometimes you never snap out of it, so you leave in the middle of the night like you’re escaping an abusive lover.
2011 was the hardest year for me in New York. I developed this irrational fear of the city, like it was out to get me, and tried to leave it as much as possible. I spent a month in LA and then another one. I came back expecting all of my anxiety to be washed away but the second I landed, I waved hello again to my depression and self-medicating ways.
I used to blame a lot of my problems on New York, which was stupid and cowardly of me. It took me a long time to realize that the city isn’t some devil that’s out to get you. It’s more like the most unflattering full-length mirror you could possibly think of. It exposes all of your flaws and essentially forces you to become a better and stronger person. If you’re in a bad place, New York is going to remind you of it every day until you take care of business. I’m thankful for its honesty.
Luckily, I found my map again and got out of my funk, and that’s when I finally decided to leave New York for good. For a long time, I valued being unhappy and stimulated over being bored and content but that tradeoff just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me anymore.