I read Joan Didion’s essay ‘Goodbye to all that’, I read ‘Goodbye to all that: writers on loving and leaving New York’, I tried saying my own goodbye; yet, here I am, still thinking about it. Three years later.
In ‘Goodbye to all that’, I noticed that almost all the essays start with a proclamation of a ‘starry-eyed youth’ moving to New York, or a native New Yorker describing what it was like growing up there. It is as if there are only two kinds of people: those who have spent their past imagining the life in New York and then moving there (only to leave), or the ones who are from there and need to get out.
My story is as similar and as different from these stories, as stories can be. I was not a starry-eyed youth, already in love with the idea of New York, when I arrived. I was not burnt-out and anguished when I left. I lived in New York for two years. A New York minute. Actually, I didn’t even live in New York City, I was out in one of the suburbs. Far enough not to call myself a “New Yorker”, close enough to make it there every weekend.
New York, to me, became about independence. I had never lived on my own before that. It became about being comfortable with being by myself, to spending afternoons walking around alone. It became about doing the things I didn’t like, but doing them because they are good for me. It became about being unafraid, self-sufficient, and knowing that nothing is impossible for me. It became about moving boxes and suitcases, on rainy nights; knowing that I could do it alone. New York is where I learnt to drive on the highway and reading complex parking signs.
But it wasn’t just that. It was also where I found a different me, a liberated me. It was stepping out of my comfort zone, and realizing that I liked being out of my comfort zone. It was about hating bananas, but then falling in love with banana bread pudding. It was breaking into Bryant Park, after 2 a.m., not once but twice. Lying on the damp grass and looking up. There are places in the city where you can see the stars.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the city, it was who I became in the city that makes me affected by its skyline. Every time I get off the plane now and drive towards the city, I watch it take shape against the sky. Every time, I am reminded of the young girl who moved there and the self-assured woman who left.
Maybe I will always stay in the process of saying goodbye.
And maybe, that is okay.