It’s just too big, there’s too much, and I begin to feel shackled by the “shoulds.” Which decisions might, or might not, make me the person I’m supposed to be?
Whenever I think of those alternate realities, those theories of time where new dimensions split open every time you choose between hot or cold coffee, I feel like hurtling myself into the sun.
It’s just too big, there’s too much, and I begin to feel shackled by the “shoulds.” Which decisions might, or might not, make me the person I’m supposed to be? And, sometimes when you order cold brew they give you yesterday’s coffee on ice, and it’s like: Great, why can’t I be in the dimension where I have drinkable coffee?
There’s something so freeing about abandoning it all, or maybe just the urge to. The way in elementary school my paintings just ended up being a puddle of gray, and the art teacher would sit down with me and ask, “What were you going for? What happened?” And I would stare down at my gray puddle, unable to explain what happened.
In the vast mythology of New York, it’s the place you go to become who you always wanted to be.
You move here and everything finally happens for you in the way where you feel like you’re struggling, but then you eventually get it together enough to look back at it with enough material for a humble-yet-thoughtful memoir that includes a passage about the way there used to be neighborhoods, before the city became a strip mall.
And the people back home who never understood you still don’t understand you, and their lives are so nice looking. Good for them.
Maybe it’s the obnoxious way I was, you know (lowers shades), born here. Or maybe it’s because my former co-workers, annoyed and fed up, eventually renamed our group text to “True New Yorkers,” where they began composing paragraph-long fictional texts from the perspective of a rat-battling landlord named Sal who couldn’t find a ride to Fairway. It seems like being from here is the most obnoxious thing I could have done, but also it’s probably that I can’t walk down Second Avenue without mentioning my first kiss, when I sneaked into Lit Lounge at 14.
When there was a pipe bomb explosion a few blocks from my apartment last year, a friend in the Bay Area checked up on me before I knew that anything had happened. He texted, “hey, you ok?” And from bed I replied, “Yeah, do I not seem it? Am I being too sad online again?”
There is something humbling about someone conflating the response to an explosion at Port Authority and the fear that people know you’re vulnerable. He said he couldn’t have imagined a “more New York response than, ‘yeah don’t I seem ok?’” He also said he constantly misses New York and thinks he’ll come back, because no one out there would have posted that meme of a bunch of rats eating a birthday cake captioned, “brunch with my girls.”
Another friend who left New York missed it because “there was the sense that we were all in it together.” That sentiment turns on a dime, though, when transplants reminisce about how “back home” people don’t need an excuse to say hi to you.
I have to remind myself that the default is community. That intense or potent solitude is abnormal and even perverse. When I worked in an office, I’d often go home Friday and return Monday without having spoken to another person. Like other quests for the bottom, I began to fetishize how unhealthy that isolation was to the point of asceticism. Maybe it’s that I’ve always been single when I’ve lived in the city.
All my relationships were in college or on brief stints away. Maybe, for me, the community I’ve always known and my ability to really “share my life” with another person are mutually exclusive.
There was a time when I yearned to live in Los Angeles — obviously a sign I was deeply unwell — and before that, a list of smaller cities I’d idealized. In high school, I thought I hated it here, or I did hate it here. (Is there a difference?) But: Have you ever looked a rent-controlled apartment in the eye and told it, “No”?
Everyone used to say that if you grew up in New York, you’re destined to die in New York. There is always something pulling you back during those brief stints elsewhere: the energy, the pacing of time, family, the golden handcuffs of a good deal on an apartment. Or the way the older Upper West Side women would tap me on the shoulder and kindly tell me I had “a run in my stockings,” when they were so worn and tattered they more resembled those webs when they’ve given spiders LSD.
Or the way I will say hello to familiar faces in the neighborhood for years without knowing their name, occupation or anything else besides the casual conversation of which gym they belong to and what they think of the weather.
The casual anonymity is another facet, the adjacent face of the diamond of intimacy, the way small talk and cute sayings on mugs of coffee are joyously cynical, like how standard it is for spouses to joke about hating each other, or for parents to mockingly roll their eyes about their kids.
The permission to be fed up with each other is the highest mark, to me, of intimacy and trust. A casual elevator conversation that includes an eye roll, a complaint, shared grievances. Keeping satisfaction, the good things, close to the chest.
Why should we commiserate so often about gratitude? Are we bragging? There is a togetherness in the low-grade annoyances, the permission to share that fleeting intolerance, the striving for something better, the simultaneous ungratefulness and optimism of, “Eh, could be better.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Source: Pulse. Ng