Leaving New York

“It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my  finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.”

Excerpt of “Goodbye To All That” written by Joan Didion
In 1967. Joan Didion wrote an essay on leaving New York [Goodbye To All That]. With it birthed a new genre of farewell tropes to The City.  Some are bitter and angry, while others are melancholy and nostalgic.  Everyone has their own unique reason for staying or leaving.  Leaving New York, I don’t think, is like leaving anywhere else. It’s not like escaping the home you grew up in (it was happenstance that you lived there); it’s not like departing school (you always knew there was an end date to that residency).
New York is somewhere you went to be bold – a place to throw in all your chips. It was a choice,  even if, sometimes, it seemed New York chose you.
You took on odd jobs. You had encounters that felt like fate and maybe panned out to be nothing at all. You made new friends. Tried on personas. Went to parties. Made mistakes. You spent money.  You lost loves and you found loves. You had more quirky neighbors than you could count.
Not one year was ever the same.  The city was constantly evolving; transforming. There’s an indescribable current of ambition that pulses within this city – the collective consciousness is palpable.
For us, it felt like our own movie.  Rooftop sunsets progressed into late night eats.  Flea markets and hidden shops you could only discover by making a wrong turn.  Everything felt like adventure.  Days felt like they built themselves, and we were the spectators within this incredible city of opportunity.
Then, two years ago, our beautiful daughter arrived. So began an entirely new way of life.  Sussing out priorities and sustaining our well-being came to the forefront.  Quickly, I realized that my own needs and desires fell lower on the totem pole.  Some days, I felt sad knowing that a segment of my life was coming to an end. Other days, hopeful for a fresh, new chapter.  For a time, these two sides were in a constant battle.  After Riley’s first birthday, I remember one specific day where I witnessed a few crude events as I commuted home. That started my pendulum swing towards our departure.
Far from Utopian, a rush hour morning commute on the L train is the true testament to ones sanity. With your shoulders hunched and elbows out, your music blares to drown out the altercations of fellow passengers trying to squeeze into an already packed train. The rise of condo buildings in the neighborhood paid little regard to how it would affect the only train that runs between Williamsburg and Manhattan.
The news of people leaving the boroughs for greener pastures was mounting. Over time it became hard to resist the siren song of quiet evenings on a back porch, a room big enough for large family gatherings (with all hands on deck in the kitchen). Not to mention, the thought of expanding our brood made our two bedroom apartment that much smaller.  To quote Joan Didion, we started to feel that we had “stayed too long at the fair.”
I will miss this city. But maybe more so, I will miss the moment in time. Brooklyn hit a sweet spot for a stretch. There is an energy here. There is a desire to change how we think, to restore some of the craftsmanship of the past, to refine our way of consumption, and to live in the moment.  All these things I will take with me, along with the hope that lightening might strike twice. Maybe we could find a new place with so many like-minded people, somewhere outside the City.
This discussion comes up a lot with other parents. The City remains right for many families and I can understand that choice as well (especially amidst my new hour commute to work).  For me, I tell them, New York was always my boyfriend I knew I would never marry.  Most everyone has one of those flings. He is so not right for you, but you delay breaking things off because hes just so damn fun..  Like any important breakup, you are happy and sad at the same time.  Years after, though, you might come across some memorabilia of that relationship and pause to think, “Man, did we have a good time.”

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2 Responses

  • I lived in Manhattan for almost 4 years before becoming pregnant and moving to England (where my husband and the father of my child lived). I share so many of your sentiments, it was if it poured from my own heart. I am a Mother of 2 now and living in a beautiful English Suberb and I know in my heart that I am exactly where I am meant to be for this moment in time. However, the memories of that city still poke and prod at me and I still have dreams of reuniting with my favourite home. Of living under sky scrappers and boisterous streets and rekindling with my long lost love. Thank you for reminding me that Im not alone. – Michelle Nyulassie xo

  • Yes, yes, yes. So true. I did not have children in New York, knowing that it wouldn’t be realistic, but having lived and loved that city for so long (great analogy with the boyfriend, by the way), when I had a child long after leaving the city, that child became the final verdict of my never moving back. But a girl can dream, fantasize, visit, and imagine how one actually maneuvers their way around a subway platform with a stroller…and in my mind, man, is it sweet. Thank you for this post. I’m passing it onto all of my fellow mamas who left the city in search of other things, always looking back at that amazing home we all once knew.


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