Loving and Leaving New York

Photo by paulrommer/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by paulrommer/iStock / Getty Images

When I first moved to New York I arrived with everything I owned tightly packed into two suitcases, one big and one small.  I got a job at a gallery just across the street from the Whitney Museum and somehow survived on a salary below the poverty line while living in Manhattan, as was required by my new boss.   With all of my closest friends heading off to graduate school, I was virtually alone in my new city after graduation.  My boyfriend at the time came with me, but as soon as his summer internship ended he was gone too.  I bounced from sublet to sublet six times in that first year and when I was finally able to scrape together enough to afford a lease of my own (this cozy brick-walled gem on Crosby, truly mythical) I naively chose the wrong friend to share it with.  I found myself packing up and moving for the seventh time soon after. 

After each set back I could feel the eyes of even the most supportive family and friends wondering if I might finally return to my senses and come home to Michigan.  But despite all of the heartaches and challenges, there was nowhere else I could imagine myself.  In my mind, I had made it.  I came to New York pursue a career in the arts, and I did that. But really I came for New York, and just being there was enough.   It’s the longest relationship I’ve had to date, and if you asked me eight years ago, I would have told you that I would never leave.  

I’ve heard the theory that for the non-native New Yorker five years is just enough time for the city to chew you up and spit you out. And that’s for the strong ones.  I wear my eight glorious years as some kind of badge of honor, in gratitude that the city embraced me for longer than most and I left on my own terms.  I worked hard for her, I appreciated her for who she was, and even though I left, I love her still.  I had dreamed of her since I was young, but old enough to know I needed to get out of my small town in Michigan.  The first time I came to visit the energy was palpable; it almost lifted you off the ground.  I turned to my friend, a fellow Michigander, and said, “I will live here one day.”   We spent the afternoon pointing to buildings we hoped to inhabit.  So cliché, but equally true.

That lofty addicting energy.  It’s a constant hum.  And when you tap into it for the first time no other feeling ever matches it.  And so, you chase the dragon.  My time in New York was filled with my highest highs and my lowest lows.  There were big loves lost and bigger loves found.  There were horrific days, saved by extraordinary “only in New York” moments.  There were wild nights out and rough mornings at work the next day.  There were many mistakes and a few triumphs.  There were delusions followed by harsh snaps to reality. There was everything. There was loneliness, there was lots of seeking, and ultimately there was finding myself, harnessing my own energy, and realizing that I am not defined by the job I have, the person I’m with, or even the city I live in. At a certain point, I started to recognize that the exchange of energy between me and my beloved city had reversed.  I was giving a lot more than I was getting, and just like in any relationship, that imbalance is the first sign that it’s time to go.  I no longer wanted to be lifted by her humming vibrations.  I wanted to feel grounded, and connected. 

And so it goes in life.  We plan and work hard towards one thing, growing and evolving along the way, usually without even realizing it.  Our desires change and suddenly we recognize that that one thing is also constantly growing and evolving.   We’re chasing an idea, not reality.  When we realize that our truest reality, is within us, and has been waiting for us to find it, the journey becomes much easier and undefined by our surroundings. 

So, I left New York.  What started as two suitcases turned into thirty-two boxes, eight years, and one husband later.  We’ve moved to New York’s arch nemesis, Los Angeles, and traded the hum of the city for the sound of the Pacific.  Venice is not exactly the middle of nowhere, but it’s our transition, our halfway house for now.   There are new lessons to learn, new chapters to write, and new stages to live.  Instead of feeling lifted by powerful City vibrations, I’m lifted by sunshine and sunsets, year round bike rides, my yard (what a concept!), my lemon tree, avocados, our lovely friendly neighbors (also a new concept), and the overall happy energy I find all around me.  You might even call it joyful.  

As Joan Didion writes, “I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.”  Ours was at times a tumultuous relationship, which forms the worst kind of attachment.  It’s hard to let go of all of the effort and energy you’ve put towards making it work.  But all of that attachment only creates suffering, and the only way to relieve the suffering is to let go, to practice non-attachment.  

Saying goodbye to New York means a lot of things for me.  In many of the most important ways, I grew up there, and I am so grateful for the experience.  I didn’t leave because I became bitter and jaded.  I didn’t leave because I couldn’t take it anymore, or because I was no longer up for the challenge.  I left to avoid all of those things.  I left because I knew it was inevitable and why not, for once, have a healthy break up where we can both wish each other well with no hard feelings.  Maybe even stay friends.  Los Angeles will be a new adventure, with new challenges I’m sure.  I’m still a foreigner here.  But I’ll learn the language soon enough and find my feet all over again.  This time firmly planted on the ground…or in the sand.