John Steinbeck said, “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”
Oh, how right he was.
I was lucky enough to call New York City home for the past few years, yet it feels as if those years lasted a lifetime. I truly believe there are certain spans we cross during our lives which, through experience, if not through time, cause us to age more than others. For me, this was one of those times.
When I first came into the city, it was with the fresh, bright-eyed, shy wonder of one’s early twenties. When I left, it was with a steadier gaze and firmer feet, the weight of understanding that sombers the soul as it leans forward, the closer side of thirty.
Each moment, from the first to the last, is a fresh memory. Even now, I can feel the heat of city summer on my way home from class, its relentless beat against the pavement, the stick against my skin and the sudden cool, stepping into a subway car. I can see the swell of umbrellas, rise and fall, as I step out for lunch, the rain pouring unceasingly as people flock for shelter beneath side-shop awnings. I can smell autumn sneaking in with the wind, crisp leaves and crisper pages, the turning of the chapter of an unfolding story, racing along the subway tracks.
In one moment, I am on the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise, on one side of me, the fading moon, and on the other, the rising sun. I am on the steps of the MET late at night, lost in thoughts too large for the walls of my city-sized apartment. I am in Piccolo café, following Jean Valjean through winding Paris alleyways, and on a bench in Central Park, alongside Jane Eyre, wandering misty moors. In an instant, I am falling asleep to the blare of Gotham sirens, and waking, to the sound of snow pattering against the window. It is Christmas Day and we are exploring empty streets, making our way to that bridge in the park, overlooking that frozen pond — the distant sound of violins hanging over us like wisteria, lacing through the trees.
Towards the end of my time in New York, I would grab my jacket and head out the door to, for the final times, immerse myself in a city which had become familiar the way the face of a stranger becomes a face you don’t remember ever not knowing. Pick a train, any train. Pick a stop to get off. Find a bookstore for exploring. A café for writing. A pause in the bustle to remind you: every moment that you are alive is a chance to learn exactly what living means.
When you have seen so much of you pass through such a short period of time, you find yourself thinking about that time often. It is not the streets themselves that cause such a particular pang as much as it is the pieces of yourself that you left trailed across them. You find yourself remembering that unmarked heart which had so much yet to learn at the beginning – and those lessons, both infused with light and riddled with pain, which became its teachers through the end.
When you glance upon the surface of memory, you see first light begin to fall against the buildings as you rush to catch the train. You see last light begin to fade as you make your way home, exhausted from a busy day. But when you look closer, you see that between those two memories lies something much deeper. Between them, exist singular days, each guided by a Divine Hand, and each with a unique message to convey. Days filled with seeking and learning, serenity and aching, hitting the target and falling wildly off mark, filling pages upon pages with the ink of certain words, only to wipe them all clean and start from scratch, realizing all you did not yet know.
It is then that you understand, that it was the days spent in this city which made you. It was the realizations, grasped along the tunnels of this underground, which revived you. It was the battles fought in your heart, weaving through these crowds, which unveiled you. And it was the meeting of fate, at the corner of 80th and 1st, where you finally came face to face with yourself.
You have lived in New York. And it has become your home.
And no place else will ever be good enough.