A Never Ending Love Story
Below is my tribute to E.B. White’s “Here is New York,” the best essay ever written about New York City.
New York City: A Never Ending Love Story
New York City is an impractical, yet awe-inspiring, relationship you cannot quit. It took eight years of living in the city of paradoxes to finally begin to understand and appreciate the kind of love my parents have for one another. This correlation dawned upon me when a friend visited the City, her first short visit some years ago, where we only had three days to experience and explore the “not-so-touristy” along with the landmarks. My friend was impressed that one could live a lifetime in New York City, if only in the borough of Manhattan, and still not see all of it—ever!—even if it was your day job to see all of it! Upon her departure she said, “I could visit here again and again, but to live here every day—forget it.”
On November 12th, 2009 my parents will be married for thirty two years. That is a long time. And they are relentlessly in love. To my and the siblings embarrassment they still flirt, along with keeping up with the new technology they have even learned to send cute texts to one another. Their cell phones’ ringtones are love songs that either remind them of one another or the love that has endured tremendous adversities with a sense of humor.
My mother says after the first eight years she gave up trying to pick up and organize my father’s clothes. My father reminisces about the days when, he claims, there was a method to his madness: “I was the most ordered man until your mother came along.” It would take my mother another few years into their partnership to feel absolutely no agitation, not even a kernel, whenever he would just drop his tie and suit jacket wherever in the house instead of taking the extra time to walk to their bedroom closet. They were neither the parents from the Brady Brunch Family nor the Cosby’s. Growing up we heard our share of fights between them, result of multiple stressors due to life’s curveballs.
Their love seems all the things we are taught “real” love is not because such ways are not love but merely a glint of romance that vanishes like the morning dew, after the first few weeks, months, or years. Not between them. In fact, they claim, it is this very romance that has kept them going for so many years. However they caution us, mainly those of us who carry honorary badges from the battlefield of failed relationships, that without a real commitment there is no freedom to practice this romance. To truly commit to love is to have the maturity to take responsibility for yourself and another.
Those of us that transplant ourselves to New York City make a commitment to thrive in a city infamous for gloating: “If you can survive living here, you can survive anywhere.” And hence, even when we are jobless, unsatisfied with the living conditions, or have to defer our dream(s) that originally brought us to the wormy Apple in the first place, we remain content with just walking the City streets. NYC can hardly be described as “romantic” when there exists the Romeo of all cities: Paris. But this is a different romance—it demands you practice it every day; it is not handed to you as in Paris where the smoky cafes that play Edith Piaf coy with you constantly.
The romance of NYC is certainly unique. After all, where is the “romance” in waiting for the Cross-town 86 bus that carries you from the obnoxiously uppity East Side to the elegant West side of Manhattan while it is pouring? You can literally watch your post-yoga bliss begin to wear down rather quickly because the weather, within two hours, just crashed from a lovely breeze to God’s wrath, a rain that pricks your skin with each drop due to the wind gusts. And the bus does not come. You calculate the cost of cabbing it uptown on the Westside (as if you have not done this before and really need to do the math again). Then your eyes meet a stranger’s who is also waiting for the bus. Instantaneously you both know that both of you are doing the same math. So you ask, no introductions needed given you can barely hear yourself think over the downpour, “Do you want to split going cross-town?” There is a nod, then your hand goes up to hail a cab, next you are sharing a cab with a stranger, drenched. The cab driver already knows the deal but you tell him 86th and Central Park West just to confirm. He nods. You tell the stranger the thunder stole your yoga high, she tells you she is late for a meeting and last time she was high was in Amsterdam. She is not originally from New York. You respond: who is. The cab ride costs $9.40 total which you both had decided to split. She gives you a five dollar bill and you give the cab driver a ten. The moment was not that sensational that you both exchange emails or phone numbers, it was just a New York moment.
Those who cannot live anywhere but NYC have more than a mere juvenile ‘love-hate relationship’ with the City. This would be to say, it is beyond an unresolved adolescent ambiguity of puppy-love. It is not a question of simply living here or living somewhere else. We are well aware that it is more like a dysfunctional relationship that would be in our best interests to leave. Friends tell you it consumes too much of you and simply put, there are other healthier options; family, although supportive, are fed up when you complain of the harsh winters or humid summers or rainy springs leaving only the perfect fall weather that lasts barely three weeks; strangers are impressed, intimidated or disgusted. And you continue to balance your own disbelief for having stuck it out here as long as you have against the pride of the almost forgotten good memories.
Realizing this tumultuous affinity, from time to time, those who live here have had their share of consummate affairs. San Francisco, for example: it felt just like NYC—the obnoxious real estate and rental prices, the diversity, the parks, and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge which literally took your breath away (although in NYC you would never walk across any bridge for any reason, with the exception of the notorious Brooklyn Bridge, unless there was a transit strike). So you decide, for once and for all, this is it, you have found the solution to all the heartaches and nuances that NYC has weathered upon you. You are not completely depleted. You are, as a matter of fact, capable of falling in love again and starting somewhere anew. This time when you go back to the City, it will be the final time.
You are moving. Done.
And then you land back in the City (after the long flight back—all flights to NYC are long, even the one hour flight from D.C. due to the everlasting issues presented by JFK and LaGuardia airports) and regardless of the bridge you take to get back into Manhattan you are awestruck by the feelings you cannot place your fingers on and words fail you. The dilapidated relationship seems salvageable: you are exhilarated and consumed by the physical. You are almost glad to be back and it is not because you are complacent—did you not just exercise the nerve to leave with the intent to stay away? But you feel your senses giving in; the ecstasy is worth the delirium. You decide it is okay to feel this for just one night because soon you are moving out and on. The following morning you even boast about your grand decision to relocate to San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, London , Paris, Geneva….and the list of all the other cities that had you convinced that you can, should, and will leave New York City.
But you don’t.
And you unexpectedly find yourself back in the honeymoon phase of your defective but worthwhile relationship, where you are pulled by the undertow of earthly magnetism and buoyancy of lunatic tides that sway throughout your system. It’s exhilarating and you laugh at the absurdity of ever having considered moving. You cannot make it anywhere else! What were you thinking?
I was thirteen when my parents relocated from New York City to Kansas City due to their jobs. I was devastated—writing depressing poems which never rhymed did not help, making new friends in Kansas City did not help (but for one friend because she was trying to flee Kansas too), and day-dreaming certainly did not help. So I found the only way to “move on” for the time being: I resolved to return one day. My thirteen year old self did not know when that one day was going to be, but one such day it was going to be. I informed my parents of my decision when I was thirteen and although I cannot recall if they believed me then, I do not recall them mocking the idea either.
In 2002, upon graduation from college, I moved to New York City (of course I wasn’t brave enough like some who literally just pack up without a job or a place to stay and just move!—that’s how fervently (or foolishly if you wish) they believe in what NYC means to and for their lives). Unlike these “cool” people, I had a plan—I got accepted to a Master’s program on scholarship and taught for three years, something I wanted to do regardless of the location. My parents thought I had gone mad but they couldn’t really commit me anywhere. Did they forget what I declared when I was thirteen?
I looked at over 80 apartments in 2 weeks…around the clock. Yep—I am just that stubborn: when I know what I want I do not settle for less than something that feels right. These top NYC brokers learned the hard way that, although I may not have originally been from New York but my spirit always had, they could not fool me. Each one said they had never dealt with a customer like me. I believe those agents still working at Manhattan Apartments will remember me as long as they stay in business! It was more work, but I refused to deal with brokers after my experience with them. I have lived in three different apartments in NYC and NONE through a broker—whenever I have shared this information with any New Yorker, they are bewildered at this feat, especially because I do not come across as a patient person and nor do I have the luxury of time—however my indefatigability usually trumps my impatience.
Those that continue to live in New York, at least those who choose to stay after having lived or visited other places, and not just for the sheer proximity to one’s family, are a testament to John Keats’ eternal line: “beauty is truth, truth is beauty.” It is the collective energy of many opposing truths that define New York and like all that is truly beautiful, the City is palpably transient. Before you can learn to pronounce it, the new “it” exhibit of the season is replaced by another, a celebrity has opened yet another five-star restaurant that even a teacher can afford, and overnight your favorite pizza joint was somehow swallowed by the streets. One can never successfully keep up. Unlike other major cities, here the individuals end up defining New York and the neighborhood you call home can never alone define the person. In a metropolis of 18 million people that is a lot of definitions. The self-proclaimed elites, the existence of whose identities hangs upon a comparison with others, may choose to never leave certain “designated” neighborhoods but they too will run into the homeless man that flips a finger to the world that has forgotten him. They too will endure the traffic, the crowded subways, the “regular” folks seated next to them on the opening night of a Broadway play. New York necessitates accepting one of the most blatant truths of life: you are no more important than the next person but you are equally unique.
I think there are some who merely want to “visit” such a romance and others who want to make a lifetime of it, despite its imperfections and turbulences. My mother takes no notice of the annoying fact that my father sometimes drives 10 miles below the speed limit—yes, he is that driver—no different than the crater sized pot holes throughout Manhattan avenues that go unnoticed by those who routinely drive in New York.
This is not to say New York City is for everyone, just like many may claim the romance in my parents’ relationship borders repulsion. My parents’ love is not perfect and I have long wondered if this is what I want in a partnership given the transparent flaws that cannot be concealed; it is a treasure of inconsistencies. Moreover, it is not what it was once. It morphs into a new entity each passing year, and yet it somehow retains that flicker of its original essence.
When it is the “real deal” you are certainly faced with the abstraction of impermanence. It is natural to wonder what will happen after years of being together when you will learn all there is to know about another…is the grass really not greener on the other side? Is this it? But then, if you are really lucky, you realize, like New York City, you can never know the other in his or her entirety, and even when you think you do, something has changed. New York City impels us to recognize that what’s most complex about life—changes—is indeed what gives life value. It is these transitory opportunities embedded in the windows of refinement that allow one to create, interact, and evolve. This is what attracts new bodies from world over each day to New York City. This is probably also one of the reasons my parents’ relationship is enviable to many who meet them: it is and is not what it once was.
I will never forget my first night alone in NYC: midst the anxiety, hope, chaos, stillness, joy, aloneness, and a plethora of other emotions—there were two sentiments which I never entertained: doubt and regret. I was just where I wanted to be and beneath the canopy of clammy uncertainty that humid June night, there was also an inner peace and security.
In the end perhaps it matters not where one ends up counting life’s paradoxes—a farm in a small town in California where my parents live or the The Big Apple—but what matters is with whom you participate in an ever lasting opportunity to grow presented through the chasm of oppositional forces that govern existence and love.
Personally, I have finally accepted the rarity that is my parents’ relationship and New York City for what they are: a never ending story that I will always want to be part of.