Just read Joan Didion's "Goodbye to All That"--her tribute and eulogy to her time in New York, which took place when she was young (her twenties) but which coudl not last into her thirties. In it, she discusses her obsesssion with the newness and fantasy that is New York if you're from the South or West, because Grand Central has never been anything but a symbol, Madison but another word for money. Oddly, for me growing up in a very sheltered center Connecticut, I feel the same. Probably because I never visited New York more than once or twice (one school field trip, once to see a show and visit Columbia) before I moved there for good (or at least four years, with now a year off, and then a return to all that next year). When deciding whether to go to school in New York, my image of the city was so superficial: in that dismissive, 'realist' way one can only have when one is dreaming to be sophisticated while in high school, or when one is truly sophisticated and inert as an adult, I thought only of New York as a place of cocktail parties, image, and masks. For some reason, I wanted to buy into this world, having already given up on this world when I was only seventeen.
And New York was wonderful. It taught me to see much more than the cocktail parties (I think I didn't actually attend one until I was twenty-two), into the beauty of a simple concrete sidewalk, a few steeple lights at night, the shifting clouds and starless nights above College Walk on a fall's evening, the rushed walking, and the fact that no matter how quickly one attempted to walk (and I was particularly good at the jab and withdrawal that a parry down a New York sidewalk demanded), we were stopped, from time to time, by a sight that pulled one's eyes from the greyness below to a sign, a grafitti, a man selling erotic books on 125th street at 2pm.
Have I ever cried in a Chinese laundry? No, I don't think so, though I have cried other places. My room is a prime location, the exit of a subway, the first entrance into the gates of Columbia after a long departure and the knowledge that one will never truly be back, the glimpse of my neighborhood bar--its bright sign under which I was kissed one night. Perhaps I cried more for the person than the city, but at the time they were all one in the same. Some say that New York is the place all those people who don't fit into their hometowns go to find solace. This was true for me, it was true for many of my friends. And I grew in New York. Eighteen to twenty-two are not years to be sniffed at, they are moulding years and now I sometimes talk in a New York rhythm, my words come clipped, my hands move roundabout, my hip juts to the side. It's not a foreign tongue, but I think I might be better understood this somewhere else than where I am now.
Sometimes I think I was more sexual in New York City. Maybe I just like New York guys better.
But then again, I am only twenty-three now. Perhaps my crying times have not yet begun. I am still young and enthralled, and I am far away from all this, and I long to return. And now, living in a slower town, where tea breaks are actually observed and night is not just an extension of the day's work, I have come to understand that New York obsesses a person, it embodies that person, and that person no longer belongs to anyone else but New York. I finally understand, being away from all that, that achievement and managing to stretch a day to fit a thousand things is not all there is to life, that perhaps one even accomplishes more when one doesn't have a city weighing on one's mind, when one has a little room to think. Someday perhaps I will even act on this gathered wisdom. But for now, I am still young, and in love and lust with New York.