I love this city, I hate this city, I love this city, I hate this city. The city loves me, the city loves me not, the city loves me, the city loves me not.
How many other New Yorkers find themselves on this merry-go-round of affection and frustration? Does it happen to you daily, monthly, just on Mondays, or maybe when the weather's taken a turn for the worse? Perhaps a rat crossed your path last night, or this morning the subway stalled in the tunnel for the fifth time this week, or maybe the deli around the corner gave you food poisoning and you just can't take it anymore?
It didn't used to be this way. My first year in New York, I spent every day in a febrile state of joy: discovering the thrill of black-and-white movies in the afternoon at Film Forum, having Bloody Mary's for dinner at the Tile Bar, shaking Bill Clinton's handsome hand (have you seen them up close? those are some good-looking hands) at a book party, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset with goose-pimpled skin at the sight of a still-glorious Lower Manhattan, taking the bus all around town just so I could see each neighborhood all the way through, hearing the laconic subway conductor announce Times Square as the "crawwwss-roads of the world" on the way to work and seeing all my fellow passengers break out in a smile.
These moments and others made me feel like I'd won the lottery. I lived at the center of the world. I belonged here. I loved it.
After all, I'd dreamt of moving to New York since I was a kid - dinner at the Rainbow Room with my grandparents at the age of four (we had duck, I can still remember it), watching Henry V at the Paris Theatre the winter before I turned 13, seeing my father marvel at the kosher Indian vegetarian menu in Curry Hill, a Thanksgiving in college spent on the couch of a friend's cousin (he had a sunken living room, polished hardwood floors and a set of dreamy casement windows, lucky man) when we weren't criss-crossing the city in trains or walking through Central Park, feeling like characters in a Woody Allen movie - these moments all whetted my appetite for a life in The City.
And then the shock and horror of September 11th changed everything. For months, the sight of people falling from buildings was burned in my mind, funerals with bagpipes left me weeping on sidewalks, and I couldn't see an airplane overhead without my heart sinking in a sickening panic. Being here made me fiercely proud. But being here also made me enraged with grief. I read these obsessively. I couldn't stop worrying. I imagined my own death.
The wonders of the city couldn't reach me anymore, not when my neighbors, my New Yorkers, my people, were still being collected from a burning pile of steel and jet fuel and hatred. They could have been me, I could have been them. This thought was all-encompassing. It sometimes still is.
Another thought comes up, though: would the shiny, new excitement have simply started to fade anyway? Would the noise and the expense and the vermin eventually have become less easy to ignore? Was my love for this city like other forms of mad passion, eventually lessening and growing cold? Somewhere along the way, I got priced out of this city and a part of me is secretly relieved. I could use a break, I know it. But another part of me is terrified. I can't imagine life, a happy one (an accidental 8 months spent in Park Slope in '05 was nothing short of a disaster), outside of Manhattan. This is where I thought I'd always belong.
But that, dear readers, is exactly where I'm heading. In a few weeks, we're moving to Queens. It's official: on August 1st, we'll be living in Forest Hills, with more square feet than I can currently fathom, a balcony and trees out front, a kitchen with four whole walls and dear friends right upstairs (thank God). I'll only be 15 minutes away, but when I go to sleep at night, I won't need earplugs anymore.
I don't quite know what to think. I'm excited and I'm scared. Will I still belong to the city? Will it still belong to me? I've got new neighborhoods to explore: Flushing's Chinatown and the Queens Botanical Garden, the eateries of Jackson Heights and what I hear is quite a nice museum. But what I really hope to find is some of the inner peace that has eluded me in the past few years. I don't know if Queens is where I'll find it. But what I know for sure is that I'm getting a new adventure. And maybe that's all I need.