About 5 years ago I was at a dive bar with a friend who has having some personal struggles. She was going through something that not only did I relate to; I’d been through the same more than once. She vented with me about a city that offers every opportunity to make every life experience much harder than it needs to be. We fantasized about what it would have been like to have never left home. To stay where it was familiar. Where there was unconditional support and the future felt somewhat drafted. We were complaining about living in New York City.
“New York is a place that eats you up and spits you out, over and over and over again.” My friend said.
“Yes”, I agreed.
I took a moment from our conversation and stared at the bar.
“Think of it this way,” I said. “Some have the choice between a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of vodka. We have an entire bar. It’s better because there are more options. But it’s also worse because there’s more risk. You may get stuck with a bad cocktail”
As sophisticated and classy as my analogy was, it stuck with me. From then on, I would need to remember those words now and again. People always complain about how difficult it is to live in New York; but this was something else.
It will be 8 years this July since I first moved to NYC. July will also be the month I move back home.
When you’ve moved to NYC from elsewhere, people always want to put an expiration date on your stay. They want to decide if you were made to live in NY forever or if you’re a passing tourist who got distracted by something shiny for a year or two. I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to establish a timeline. How could I?
I was 19 years old when I first arrived. I was shy, innocent, wide-eyed and delusional about what my experience in New York would be. I’m 27 years old now and my time in New York is not explained by school, a job, a person, an age, or a phase. But rather defined by an interlace of bits and pieces I now put together to form one non-linear experience.
People always ask me, “Are you excited to go home?”, “Are you sad to leave New York?” I never have a “yes” or “no” answer. It would be deceitful to pretend that I know what this new road entails. I would be lying to say that I don’t have doubts about leaving New York and fears about going home. Doubts about staying in New York versus trying something new.
That is what this is. I’m going home; but what home? I was 19 and I’m now 27. I’m not who I was nor is everyone else, who they were. This to me, is a new experience.
New York is not where I attended college; grad school, took my first job, went through relationships, made friends, met mentors, lost my direction, learned to pay bills, learned to not want to pay bills, learned to play the guitar, encountered the drunk and the homeless, the funny and the hilarious. Put up with the disgusting smell of the subway, the heart-stopping cold when you need a cigarette, the dingy smell of the best bar you’ll ever go to. Saw the most beautiful humans to walk this earth, the ugliest, the nicest and the meanest. Got yelled at by strangers, was comforted by them when I couldn’t hide my tears. Where I learned to speak up and out and see what I’m capable of. Where I sat at restaurants, cafes, and bars alone; sat at restaurants, cafes and bars with friends. Learned the meaning of loneliness, learned the meaning of family. Where I mastered the art of properly using my MTA pass without it saying “swipe again”. Found my love for art, found my love for social issues, found my love for truth, and found my love for knowledge. Quit smoking. Yelled at cab drivers and was yelled at by them. Where I dated up and dated down; smoked pot for the first and the last time. Where I found Seamless and quinoa, and my addiction to coffee. Where I realized I’ll always be the first to arrive for a restaurant reservation but will find someone to chat with, all while being relentlessly impatient with a beer in hand.
New York is the city I grew up in.
Those girls in the dive bar complaining about New York City, chose to live in New York City. That’s how it goes. While many choose to live here, New York feels more like its happening to you. You don’t do New York, it does you. It takes everything about you and augments every character flaw, strength and quirk you have. Everything about you is pushed to an extreme; tested to see what you are made of. New York can see every pretense and every lie. Every crack in every sentence. It’s the best place to play any role you want and the worst place to try to. It’s not about making it in New York. It’s about realizing what you are made of.
When I think about going home there’s a sort of numbness I feel. I’m not sad or panicked (at least not yet); I’m curious and interested. I want to see what me does somewhere else. I want to test what makes me me in a (relatively) new environment. I want to enjoy and have fun during my last couple of months and breath in the gross dirty smell of Manhattan, while I can. I’m excited to see old friends and indebted to my newer friends. I look forward to mountains but will miss walking anywhere I need to go. I’ll miss encountering every type of human and the diversity of this melting-pot. I’ll miss having my nerves shot because the train won’t move. I’ll miss meeting strangers everyday, because why not. I’ll miss wondering if my neighbors like me or hate me. I’ll miss speaking English and being Mexican among hundreds of nationalities. I’ll miss my routine and my space. I’ll miss my apartment and my bed. I’ll miss getting excited about fall, winter and summer. I’ll miss hating winter. I’ll miss how socially acceptable it is to have a drink past 12PM and I’ll miss having ten restaurants at a 2 min walking distance. I’ll miss having the deli open at 5AM in case I need to take a walk and a coffee shop literally downstairs from my home. Most of all, I’ll miss knowing that I am not the only one who feels this way. If anything, I’ll miss the collective that is New York City. A city that happens to us.
Thank you New York City, everyone and everything in it, for making me be me.