The other day I was going through an old stack of New York Magazines. I came across their annual ‘Reasons to Love New York’ issue and for a few seconds some tears dripped from the corners of my eyes. People had been listing their favorite restaurants in the city, their beloved spots for late-night food or sandwiches or what have you. Many of them I had never been to, but there were also several I knew better than well, places I haven’t seen in several weeks, and maybe won’t see for several more. I mourned for the New York I loved. I was having, I am having, trouble recognizing the one I’m in now. I’m sure many of us are.
I know it won’t be this way forever, but in the same way it’s harder waiting for the subway when you don’t know how long it will be, the waiting is difficult because none of us know when this metaphorical train will please leave and we can just get on with our lives, thank you very much. I miss the dirty subway tile teeming with dirt, how the arriving trains fill the station with the shrieking of their brakes and then the rumble of bodies.
The last time I took the subway was March 10, before everything exploded, before it became irresponsible to gather in public, before we arrived where we are now. While I’ve never had a problem walking around my neighborhood, and in fact I quite like the walk down the river and seeing the fluffy pups in the small dog park, it’s nothing in comparison to the days I loved best, the days spent rushing around the city from coffee shop to meeting to lecture to gallery opening to dinner--with SC at Peacefood, with HS at Beron Beron, with NE at Corner Bistro, with HanOre somewhere in Brooklyn off the Bedford stop because I hardly know anywhere to eat there--or “dinner,” hobbling into the bodega exhausted, my office in a bag on my shoulder, asking politely for a spinach salad, please.
The weeks seem to galumph along--oh, Wednesday, we’re almost done. Thank God it’s Friday. How is it Sunday night already?--in ways I never thought they did before. One of my worst habits as a New Yorker (as a human?) is making plans for every night of the week. I’m home often for work, which has not been a difficult transition, but the emptiness of my evenings has been one I’ve, well, also filled with work. After finishing my freelance work for the day or doing interviews, I go for a walk along the river (wearing a scarf around my face, keeping my distance), then work until about 10 or 11pm, and try to unwind by watching some television before bed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m getting a ton of research done, scheduling more and more interviews, organizing my thoughts. Sometimes they are difficult to organize, a symptom of our current state more than not, I’m sure.
Texting with HanOre this week, we came up with an idea to describe how we’re feeling--homesick for New York as it was. As it gets warmer out, killing time by sitting on the steps at Union Square watching skateboarders. Hosting my Miss Manhattan reading (in person! We’ll be digital tomorrow night on IGTV @MissManhattanNY if you’d like to check us out). Listening to Chet Baker and Prince and Wheatus at Everyman Espresso. Working at the Performing Arts Library and seeing the expanse of Lincoln Center from their window on the second floor. Wandering into The Strand for no reason. Walking the cobblestone streets in the West Village. The lunch counter at B&H for thick slices of challah swathed in butter to dunk into hot borscht. Tequila and sodas at Rise and dancing until late at Hardware to Kim Petras. Poking around Bloomingdale’s for no reason.
I remember in middle school and high school I was so desperate to leave the suburbs behind, to go someplace where I knew I would have the freedom to become the person I always wanted to be. Rather, not someplace, New York. My days and nights would be filled and I would never be stuck home alone on a Friday night again (that is, if I didn’t want to be). And yet, here we are. The “we” there is important, of course--that this is by no means a situation that’s unique to me, and the idea of such a thing is in its own way heartening even if it is sad. But there’s a low-lying ache that runs through me just the same, the one that’s homesick for the life we used to have here, the one I escaped the suburbs for. It’ll be back, of course, though it will take time. I want the city to bustle again. I want it to be safe for the city to bustle again.
In the meantime, I’ve bought ingredients to cook things with instead of feeling mournful in front of the microwave yet again. I take my walks every day to maintain some semblance of health. It feels like I know the view of the East River better every day. I eat probably more frozen vegetables than I should, but hey, it’s better than nothing. I pop into the bodega on occasion for a small coffee with milk and two Splendas, please, to my bagel place for a bacon, egg, and cheese on a whole wheat flat bagel and can you toast it please? I spent last night cooking Jacques Pepin’s mustard chicken recipe in The New York Times and, while watching Cary Grant movies, painted my nails that luscious purple color SD bought for me many years ago when we went to go see Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions done entirely as plays at Theatre for the New City on 1st Avenue. I spent Friday night talking with AS about raccoon Instagram accounts. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed, some days it’s easier. Some days I sit at my desk, some days on the couch. Last weekend I did laundry for six hours, put everything away, and cleaned the house. I’ve gotten used to the quiet and it’s manageable, but at the same time, I hope it doesn’t last.
I once said to someone that the New York you make for yourself is the best one. I know what mine is now, after nearly a decade. I’m just waiting for her to come back. We all are.