It started with Ghostbusters.
We have a movie night here on the ship, where we’ll gather in the theatre to watch some random classic. As I sat in the dark watching Ghostbusters, my heart ached seeing New York City.
I missed it.
I’ve always wanted to live in New York. Really, I can’t think of anyplace else I’ve ever consciously thought I would grow up to live. Staying in the Jersey suburbs was never an option. When I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Notre Dame, I knew it was temporary. I knew I’d end up in New York.
It always filled me with a sense of possibility and joy, driving up the Garden State Parkway, and seeing the city skyline when the landscape opened up somewhere in the milemarkers of the early 100’s. Still forty-five minutes away from Manhattan, it was like a little giddy preview to see the Twin Towers gleaming and tall, waiting to welcome all my hopes and dreams.
Part of that decision to head west after college was that it was less than a year after September 11th. It was all still too raw. I was scared of a location so volatile. I wasn’t ready to go home yet.
Then, too, once I finally moved to the City (it’s always “the City” to Jersey kids) three years ago, I found it wasn’t quite as welcoming as my childhood fantasies and the movies made it seem. I’ve written before about my struggle to feel at home in New York, my fear that I just didn’t quite fit.
So now here I am, far, far away in the Mediterranean for six months, and Ghostbusters makes me homesick. Then I found myself watching bad movies just to catch a glimpse of the city: Death to Smoochie (yikes), P.S. I Love You (double yikes).
I knew I was really homesick when scenes of Times Square made me feel a twinge. Times Square is the cesspooly bowels of NYC as far as I’m concerned, to be avoided at all costs. And yet seeing it on the big screen made my heart ache.
I also read three books in a row that take place mainly in New York, all beautifully written: Half-Empty by David Rakoff, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteynhart, and Just Kids by Patti Smith. (You should read them all, they are tremendous.)
Reading them, I could visualize exactly where the characters were. For the first time I realized how well I know the city. Oh, I still have a lot of streets to walk, and a lot of restaurants to try, a lot of people-watching to do. But I’m amazed to discover New York is no longer just a fantasy, the romantic Upper East Side dream of When Harry Met Sally (another movie recently screened on the ship that I watched with envy.) New York isn’t a movie. New York is a grid, and I get it. It’s where I live. It’s home.
Home. That funny word.
I haven’t been sure before now that New York was home. Like I said, the City isn’t kind to the new, the friendless, the not-full-time employeed. I have floundered just to stay afloat in New York, and I have taken it personally every time the city has slapped me down.
But now that I’m far away, seeing some really tremendously beautiful places, exploring foreign cultures…I don’t know. I love Italy. It’s actually the first place I’ve traveled in a long long time that feels exciting in a way I recognize, that I feel some connection with.
But I couldn’t live here. It’s not home. I gotta go back to New York. And the best part about going home will be taking my explorer’s heart and experiencing New York with the same thrill and sense of wonder that I’m seeing Italy with.
New York is difficult. Rent and groceries are mind-crushingly expensive. The people can be loud, obnoxious, rude, 8th Street between Broadway and Lafayette can smell like shit, the subways can make you claustrophobic. New York won’t care about your needs, it won’t respond to your pleas for mercy.
But it can give you the most unexpected gifts: quiet moments on new streets, sunlit days stumbling upon a park with frolicking concrete seals, exuberant nights with friends (too countless to recount), new discoveries that could literally be just around the next corner. You never know where you should turn, and sometimes you might miss the block, but keep walking. You will most assuredly find another adventure – or at least a comforting cupcake (or dive bar, burger, Chinese food: whatever comforts you, 24/7) – if you keep moving.
So for better or worse, I’m a New Yorker now. It’s good to know it definitively, to let go of the gnawing sense that I don’t know where I belong. And I look forward to going home in a few months, with a stronger sense of who I am from having been absent, and a better sense of how to get what I want from that city I love that will never quite love me back.
The thing about New York is, it shows no judgement toward misfits. It’s impossible NOT to fit in there. I might feel like an outsider still, but I’m getting there. New York only reflects back to you what you feel about yourself, but it doesn’t look down on you for being awkward, freaky, abrasive. It celebrates weirdness. I should too.
Anyway, I still get giddy when I see the skyline.