Saturday, May 04, 2013

Why I've Hesitated to Leave New York City

For the first time, I've hesitated to leave New York. I've left this city before, but I've never really looked backward as I went. Suddenly, all the memories, those indelible markers of a time gone by, have become vivid as if they're all happening simultaneously, presently. It's become clear that what I'd thought was maybe just a little forgettable was anything but.

Somewhat belatedly, I suppose I've realized that I haven't actually fallen out of love with New York, despite what I've told myself. From the moment my husband and I had discussed leaving - leaving for good - I'd convinced myself that New York and I were done. That I was sick of the noise, the crowds, the air that smells always of a dirty brown color. I'd convinced myself that I was finally ready for a long-distance relationship with the city I'd fallen in love with as a little kid growing up in Cincinnati.

But, today, the memories keep pulling me back, though I'm already gone.
Sunrise over Dumbo, Brooklyn

There was that first apartment in the big city with Lisa. I was twenty-two years young then and living on Park Avenue, working on Wall Street. I'd never worked so hard to make it to a place, and with Lisa, I felt like I'd arrived. I was so broke during those early days that I quietly helped myself to the leftovers she brought home from her job at Le Cirque, and that very hot summer of 1997 I dressed in front of the freezer because I couldn't afford to buy an air-conditioning unit.

Then there were George and Mike. Mike and Lisa and George and I tried to double-date, but where Mike and Lisa would briefly succeed, George and I would spend the better part of a decade in a When-Harry-Met-Sally friendship, always discussing the "What if", but never quite certain enough to actually explore it. All those years later, when George died suddenly, I'll never forget how New York rained and rained and rained. The city was colored perpetually gray then, and there was no way out of how devastated we all were.

For a while there, I'd even left New York. I'd lived in Asia and London. Now and again, I'd come home on business trips and being back in the city always felt, well, obvious, the way it feels to pull on a weathered old leather jacket that you've owned for so long you can't remember when and where you bought it. There were midnight slices of pie, surly bartenders with waxed moustaches calling themselves mixologists, and nights at home staring from my apartment to the city spread out below me and in front of me. There was that sense that anything was possible, and every conversation I had seemed to reflect just that. That's the sort of dialogue that takes place in New York City, a place where people come to make their dreams come true. I, however, had to leave to make my dreams come true.

So when I did come home, one last time supposedly for good, there were Christina and Katie and Hebe, who made me feel like I'd never left at all. They offered me exactly what New York offered me: the feeling of being home.

Of course, there were also new friends who quickly became old friends. Netta sat with me in the East Village the night before I'd briefly leave the city once again to follow a dream I'd been grappling with for many years. Together, we spun round and round on the giant sculpture in Astor Place, talking through just one more time what it meant to leave everything behind to follow a dream. Years later, Sonia and I would do the same. Despite the years in between the two friendships, the conversation was no different: what does it take, really, to leave all this behind?

And it was Meghan who answered. Meghan had said, presciently, many years earlier during a snowy night, a magical evening in an incandescent city blanketed in white, that, "If you stay here in New York, only one thing can happen. But if you go follow your dream, anything can happen." And so the going began again.
Manhattan Bridge, from Abhaya Yoga 

And the going-again took me to everywhere: Africa, Mongolia, North Korea, Tibet, Nepal. But the coming home was secretly my favorite part. Every October, I'd do my best to make sure I was home in New York. Every October, I'd find a cigarette, a single cigarette, and make my way to 9th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues and sit in the dusk on someone's stoop and light up. For a while there, it was my stoop. Later, it was someone else's, but it would always be my block. My block in my town in the crisp October air, street lamps twinkling a backdrop to whatever I was thinking at the time.

After a while though, I stopped noticing these things. I'd simply forgotten that I loved New York. I began to take my home for granted, grumbling about the noise, the crowds, and the air that smelled always of a dirty brown color. Besides, I'd fallen in love with someone else, with a man, in that spectacular way you do when you walk down an aisle and bring a baby into the world. Without thinking, I'd let go of New York. I'd said goodbye long before that day this week when I boarded an airplane and watched, one last time, as we taxied away from Manhattan.

Now I'm on the road, pondering all those moments in between. Wondering precisely when I'll return home. Knowing, really though, that home is about to be somewhere else, somewhere new, with its own set of moments in between.

I'll be blogging from the road, probably a tad less nostalgically?, in the weeks to come. First stop is Loveland, OH. Then China, Mongolia, and ultimately...New Zealand! Join me for the journey by liking "LIVE from Mongolia" on Facebook.

-Patricia Sexton is the author of "LIVE from Mongolia!", the true story of a woman chucking in her Wall Street career to follow her dream to become anchor of the Mongolian news. Her book will be published by Beaufort Books in the fall of 2013. Follow her on Twitter at "LIVE from Mongolia!"