Three years ago, my husband and I arrived in New York City, our Ford Focus packed and overflowing with things that only very young married couples own – plastic drawers from The Container Store, old camp T-shirts, a Swiffer Wet Jet. Since we only had one month to prepare for our move, we were starting off our New York life in a unique living situation. The plan was to sublease an apartment for the summer while the owner was away at a yoga retreat, and in exchange for caring for her three cats, we would pay a reduced rent of $1,000. It was the best deal we could find by a mile.
However, that day as we circled the block looking for a parking spot in Ditmas Park, our new Brooklyn neighborhood, I remember feeling a deep sense of uneasiness. What if this was all some sort of scam? What if we got to the apartment and no one was there to greet us? What if there was no apartment at all? Or worse, what if there was an apartment but inside it lived an ax murderer waiting to chop us to bits and steal our Swiffer Wet Jet refills? Maybe we had been too hasty in deciding to sign on to a Craigslist sublease. Maybe we had been too hasty in deciding to move at all.
But as we walked into what would be our new home for the next three months, my fears subsided. The apartment was real and as far I could tell there was not a murderer in sight. Every inch of the place positively reeked of cat urine. It was a cluttered mess, but it was real. This was going to work, at least for a little while.
As I look back on these past three years, that hoarder’s nest of an apartment stands out as a metaphor for my life here. New York is a place that always feels like a sublease. You can’t quite own it no matter how hard you try. Even though my husband and I have since bought an apartment here in Brooklyn, there is still this sense that it doesn’t quite belong to us. Everything here belongs to history, to the millions of people who have come together over hundreds of years and collectively declared, “Let’s all live on top of each other on this tiny island! Let’s spend way too much money, work way too hard, and get our asses handed to us on an almost daily basis! Let’s deplete our savings accounts, question all of our major life decisions, but still, let’s somehow find beauty in the small threads of hope this city dangles in front of us.” Just like that cat-filled subleased apartment, New York often fills with me anxiety, it smells vaguely of pee, but dammit, it’s home.
|Daniel and I in front of our second NY apartment, but just pretend it's our first.|
And for better or for worse, this place has changed me, irreversibly so. It’s made me tougher, more vulnerable, more suspicious, more appreciative of small kindnesses. It’s made me a better sharer, a more intent listener, a faster walker. At times, this city has made me radiate positivity and hopefulness. Other times, it’s made me a petulant child crying on the B train. I have been my best and worst self in this place, as in BEST-best and worst-worst-worst-worst.
And I’ve got to say, through it all, despite how Carrie Bradshaw-esque this is of me to say, I’m still in love with this city. After all, it’s the one I chose. In my life, I’ve had three important relationships with cities: my hometown of Helotes, my college town, Waco, and now New York. I look at my hometown as though it were a dear family member whose quirks I cherish and whose cooking makes me feel safe. I look at my college town like I would a friend who makes me laugh hysterically every time I see them. But I look at New York with romance. I see New York as the one I pursued, the one I decided on even though it continually rebuffed my advances. I’m stupidly, crazily in love with this city.
And it’s been that way from the beginning. For proof of this, please enjoy this excerpt taken from my journal the first week I moved here, dated May 28, 2012:
Every day here is like a small battle, but I’m kind of falling in love with it. New York summer is going to be uncomfortable, possibly more so than Texas. I get sticky everywhere I go. My feet are already hideous. Today is the first day I’ve worn eyeliner since I got here. I feel like I am getting tough, and I adore this.
And if that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.
Now, look, folks -- I have no idea what my future here entails. I’ve already told you that, and don’t press the issue any further because I’ll get all sweaty and develop hives on my neck and it won’t look all that dignified. But in the meantime, while I'm unsure of everything, I’m taking this time to look back. It's been three years since I moved to this weird, wonderful town. My life was one thing back then, and now it’s something else, and maybe that’s all I need to know to move forward.