New York without you is like a war-torn battle ground. My own little piece of Vietnam. Every monument we built that I pass breaks my fucking heart. See over there? That’s the path in Central Park where I almost snorted milkshake out my nose when that jogger ran by. It was the first time I saw you laugh that hard. I think I’ll miss drinking milkshakes with you the most, the way you knew exactly what you wanted when we got to the front of the line. Boston crème pie if it was Sunday, Mint & Chocolate if it was Tuesday, a Black and White on a Friday when you got off work and met me at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. I told you it was almost as good as In N Out, but not quite. Now, I’m not so sure.
That bar down in Chelsea near the Biergarten where you used to work. That was the first night I ever decided to come home with you. I guess I didn’t really “decide.” I was too drunk to figure out how to get back to my apartment alone. We took a $35 cab from Bleeker St. to Harlem, and I slept the whole way on your shoulder. We walked four flights up your stairs and you said, “I don’t have a doorman,” and I said, “No, but you have that guy,” to the drunk passed out on your steps and we giggled and tried not to wake him and you handed me a Superman t-shirt to sleep in. Back then, you were sleeping in the crow’s nest of a pirate ship, adjacent to your roommate’s Pokémon posters and thumb-tacked baseball cards. I could barely climb up the ladder, but you were waiting at the top. I don’t sleep well with others, at least not at first, but you were curled up just fine, one elbow crooked gently just above my belly button. I tried not to breathe so that I wouldn’t wake you. The next morning, I sent you out for coffee so I could vomit in your sink. You came home with bagels and a toothbrush and we watched documentaries until it was time for you to go to work. Even then, the memories of you leaving always hurt the worst.
Williamsburg Bridge Industrial Park, where we watched James Bond with a live band accompanying the soundtrack. Your Sean Connery impression was okay, and mine was just awful, but we laughed and drank Brooklyn Summer Lager, even though it was the beginning of Fall. It was the first cold day we were together, and we had never snuggled before. With trepidation, I linked my right leg over yours, and rested my head on the center of your chest. You were uncomfortable. I was ready to sign a lease and move in forever. You kissed my hair and we ate fried chicken, popcorn, ice cream. “I’ve never met a girl who could eat more than me,” you said, impressed. I responded by ordering us fries and mashed potatoes and Shiner Bock. “You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes,” you told me. I only do when I’m nervous. I was nervous for three months straight around you. I eventually stopped. It was the day that guy was walking his French bulldog with a hot-pink American Apparel hoodie near the bench where we sat. I’m smoking again now, but I hardly need to tell you why. I think you know.
That pizza place we found in Chinatown, where the lines were blurry between fake bags on Canal St. and real bags in SoHo. I told you the pizza changed my mind about Manhattan, that I’d never, ever leave because I had fallen in love with it. I wouldn’t leave unless I could take the vodka sauce and fresh mozzarella and greasy salami with me. I hope you know that I meant you. For a second or an hour or a lifetime, I couldn’t imagine moving back to Los Angeles. How would I travel without you telling me jokes on the subway? How would I go back to eating at 7pm instead of midnight when you got off work? How would I survive without this pizza? How would I get by without you?
You told me that Sunday we fought that this is my weakness. I was wiggling into my dress and you told me that you hated to be late and I forgot my eye drops on your nightstand and my cell phone on your windowsill. “How would you get by without me?” you spat, like a curse. I shouted and sobbed all the way to the subway, where a long metal train came and took me far away from you. I wondered if you were glad to see me go, finally. I missed you the second the doors closed, but I would never tell you that.
The Chinese restaurant in Midtown where you taught me how to eat soup dumplings. “Puncture the dough with your chopstick, like this.” A dribble of broth ran out into your spoon. I did the same, but mine didn’t drain all the way. I took a bite and soup squished between my teeth and splattered the table cloth. I didn’t think we’d ever stop laughing, not in a million years. My cheeks hurt and my sides ached and you told me I was beautiful and picked up the check. We held hands all the way back to my office. Even in the summer heat, I didn’t want to let you go.
Remember that day I was sick in your first Brooklyn apartment? You heated me up a cup of Wolfgang Puck’s finest canned elixir and ordered yourself Chinese food. We lay feverish and shivering and sweating on your roommate’s couch. “I’ve never seen Love Actually before,” you said, so I typed it into Netflix and we spent the day wondering if Gary Oldman was really every character in the movie, because it seemed that every other British actor was present and accounted for. I could have stayed in that fever dream awhile, languidly dripping spicy soup down my raw, splotchy throat, but you had to go to work again, so we bundled up in gloves and scarves and hats and took the J train over the bridge. I wasn’t a monster then, was I? I don’t know the girl who hurt you last week, the girl you never want to see again.
All those super hero movies we watched together, I think they helped. I finally understood why Bruce Banner ran and hid in India, why it wasn’t easy for Iron Man to persuade him to come home. I want to run, too. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have hands that destroy. You can’t imagine what it’s like to wake up naked and alone, surrounded by everything you wrecked while The Other Guy was taking over your whole body. The Hulk is the version of Tyler Durden that smashes monuments into pieces. I can’t imagine what I do to you when I’m not myself. You can’t imagine staying with someone who screams down the street in bright purple shorts, clawing and biting and breaking fragile things. I can’t imagine that I’d let you stay, even if you wanted to.
Consider this love letter my version of what would happen if Taylor Swift finally wrote a love song called, “Maybe I’m The Problem.” If Clementine Kruczynski admitted that she drank too much whiskey. If Holly Golightly really looked at herself before throwing Cat out of the taxi. If Daisy Buchanan suggested that maybe someone else should drive Gatsby’s car.