This is a thank-you to New York City for being such a comfort when things are so scary.
The first time I ever heard of a place called New York City, it was my dad saying “We’re visiting New York City!” when I was 4. This obviously meant nothing to me, so I asked my dad what that meant. “It’s the place with the Chrysler Building,” he told me.
I gasped. I was a fan of the musical Annie in those days. In the film, the evil Miss Hannigan insists that Annie and her friends must make the orphanage “shine like the top of the Chrysler Building,” a line I often repeated without understanding its meaning. I didn’t know it was a real place. To me, the Chrysler Building, and whatever city it existed in, was analogous to Oz or Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Before that moment, I didn’t know fiction and reality could blur together.
I don’t remember much about that New York trip, except that my dad punished me for something by making me stand behind the hotel room toilet, since he couldn’t send me to my room. Apparently, my dad was considering a job in the city and was visiting for that reason, but he ultimately turned it down. But New York was persistent about edging into my family’s life, because later, my dad got another, better job offer there. Before my 5th birthday, we were all moved in to our apartment in the West Village.
Besides a couple of friends, there was nothing for me to miss in California. My first vivid childhood memories started to form in the city, until California became a blurred dream, a relic of infancy. If I listed every memory of New York from my childhood, this post would be a novel long.
I remember tackling snow piles taller than I was. I remember, at age five, stepping in front of a man hailing a taxi to hail it myself, not knowing I’d stolen someone’s cab (he let us have it). I remember my joy at seeing the Lion King on Broadway, and the feeling of self-importance when one of the crew members told my sister and me they had an important job for us (we were tasked with “guarding” the backstage area and informing people they weren’t allowed through. Several of the performers in act two’s first scene shook our hands and thanked us for it–they even knew our names). I remember the crosswalk where I vomited up Doritos after a playdate. I remember twin towers in the distance. I remember yellow-painted streetlights and perpetually-honking horns and mismatched skyscrapers and the smell of wet asphalt and the security of living four stories up, where no burglars could sneak in.
All this formed the backdrop for the life I loved. I treasured the candy store on the corner near my school, where I bought Spice Girls-themed treats (the store is now a Subway). I bounced eagerly on the sweltering days when Bleecker Street Playground turned on the water fountains for sweat-drenched kids to play in (the playground’s still there, and their Instagram follows me). I shopped in the quirky and adorable Peanut Butter and Jane, a clothing store for kids (no longer there). I know Magnolia Bakery as the first place I ever bought something “by myself” (read: without an adult), because my little brother’s stroller couldn’t fit in the store. Every time I bite into a Magnolia cupcake, I’m six again.
Then, when I was 7, my dad lost his job. We had to move back to California. Not long after we did, my parents divorced. My mom wasn’t a stay-at-home mom anymore because she had to work. Our family started struggling financially and never bounced back to what we had in New York, which meant adjusting to a different lifestyle. I began to hate school, because public school in Southern California is nothing like the alternative (expensive!) private school in New York City that didn’t make us do homework. Then my teenage years started, and later, I experienced some trauma that I’m not gonna get into. In other words, we moved away from New York City and BOOM! Life sucked.
Now, let’s be real here: the difficult events that popped up in my life didn’t happen because we moved from New York. My parents would’ve still divorced, which meant my mom would’ve had to get a job. I wouldn’t have avoided the aforementioned trauma. And yes, good things happened to me in California, like my acting career and meeting my fiancé. But because of the timing, New York captured my joyful, seemingly-perfect childhood in a little bubble. That feeling seeped into the city streets and stayed there.
That feeling revisits me now that I’m here again, a New Yorker again, 16 years later. The air is charged with those three years of my life, with untainted happiness and comfort. I know it’s a false sense of security. I know my circumstances are different, and those terrible things still happened, and I don’t actually have parents caring for my needs and paying my bills anymore. I know New York will not truly take care of me and that I have to work for that. But still, I visit the Village, a 45-minute train ride away, almost every day. Because there, I can sit in a café and effortlessly feel something I haven’t really felt since my parents divorced: I’m home I’m home I’m home.
I’m thankful for that feeling. I need it. Especially now.
“Now” is terrifying. Now, I am job-searching. Now, I am apartment-hunting, which is interwoven with said job search. This all means uncertainty and failure and rejection. Those are hard enough for anyone to handle. For me, they’re unnecessary ingredients added to the anxiety-disorder stew I inhabit. Since I arrived, I can count the number of good-night-sleeps I’ve gotten on one hand. My body, always aching thanks to the anxiety it carries, pulsates with extra pain. I oscillate between days where I’m motivated to work for hours and days where I don’t wanna move.
But also “now”: when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can bite into a Magnolia Bakery cupcake. I can lounge in Washington Square Park. I can go to the museum that now sits across the street from my old building as an excuse to revisit my home neighborhood (which, unless I win the lottery or something, I’ll never actually live in again). I can explore five different bookstores in one day without having to travel far. I can sit by the Chrysler Building and watch it shine.
Plus, I have good, kind, wonderful friends here. I have people who want to help me, who are boosting me up, who want to see me succeed. I have my endlessly encouraging fiancé. I even have a brand-new novel ready to burst from its cage in my brain, urging me to write it down so it can share itself with the world. I’m not alone. I have people and I have the city and I have my words.
I’m home I’m home I’m home. And I can do this.
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