ANDREW DRESSNER/THE OBSERVER
I know I can be awfully sentimental.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, ten days before my return flight to Amsterdam, I was wandering around Greenwich Village when I caught myself thinking, “I want to marry New York.” What can I say: I have fallen head over heels. It’s a god-awful cliché. The endless rows of brownstone buildings and fluorescent yellow cabs left me strangely bittersweet, feeling torn between wanting to weep and wanting to possess the rationality to see how deeply fortunate I am. I walked past a small Italian deli — a man making fresh pasta by hand in the window. He gave me a smile as I walked by. I felt at home.
I have always felt this way in New York. I first came here at 13. Boom. Swept off my feet. I was mesmerized by the grandeur of the city that never sleeps. Ever since, it has held a strange gravitational pull on me. I returned at 15. But when I came again at 17, it changed me for good. Stuck in the lowest point of my short existence, all it took was three weeks in the New York summer heat to bring me back to life. “I am here,” the city said. “And I will rescue you time and again.”
New York can be a lonely city, especially when you can count those in your social circle on a hand or two, when you long for a laugh or a hug from your oldest friends, and they’re halfway across the world. But when I find myself wandering the New York streets at dusk, looking up from my phone to be endlessly captivated by the Empire State Building, I feel almighty. I don’t need anybody, I tell myself, I have the city. Because at the end of the day, what is more romantic than being 22 in New York City? What is more romantic than being endlessly ambitious in New York? Not knowing where the road is taking you, but somehow knowing it is taking you someplace great. This is New York. There is no place on earth where I belong but here.
Halfway through the semester, I got a brutal wake-up call. In the blink of an eye, I was hauled back to European grounds. I was confronted with the deepest loss I have ever suffered. The most profound sense of grief I have ever been exposed to. I already had the smallest family in the world; how could it possibly shrink even further? How could I return to the city? How could I leave home like that? How could I leave my mom like that? How could I?
It was unbearable. My return to the city made me so far removed, not only geographically but emotionally. I was at a safe distance. Now I’m apprehensive of returning home. What’s waiting for me but heartbreak? Yes, there is my family. Of course we have longed to be reunited. But what’s the point in Christmas when there’s an empty seat at the table? Who cares about a decorated tree when I can’t buy you presents to put underneath it? It all doesn’t quite make sense.
I recall a Friday afternoon in June. I was wandering around my favorite Amsterdam neighborhood, trying to take it all in. The picturesque canals lined by the backdrop of oddly shaped townhouses. The majestic sight of the Western Tower over the midsummer sun. I felt tears sting in my eyes thinking of how I would miss it. But now I can’t help but feel hopelessly lost at the thought of leaving the city that has stolen my heart from the very first day. I’m not ready for the breakup.
Of course, there are things I have missed. My Nespresso machine. The cheap European wine that is better than many a hefty-priced bottle I have acquired here. Impromptu nights at that cute café, spent debating with my friend on whether the bartender is flirting with me or just being nice. My cat. Texting my best friend on a Monday evening, saying, “Come over, honey, I’ll make us some pasta.” My washing machine that didn’t require me to hoard quarters like some crazy person. Proper bread.
But I don’t think any of these things will compare to missing my commute into Manhattan. To going over the bridge on the Q train and being overwhelmed by the skyline time and again. Sunday mornings in Central Park, admiring the elderly couples, the playing children, the tail-wagging dogs and the surrounding skyscrapers. I will miss feeling like Nora Ephron, who, when she was my age, couldn’t wait to come to New York, so she could start her life. I will miss my favorite class, with my classmates who exclaim that I live in the sitcom-version of New York when I arrive with yet another crazy adventure to lay upon them. It’s these experiences I will miss most of all. Of seeing something so outrageous, so absurd, so heartwarming, all I can think is: I love New York. Because by heaven, I love you.
I knew when I arrived in August that my time here had an expiration date. I gave myself a cautionary mental note: blink and you’ll find it’s over. Every now and again, I’d force myself to stop and put it all in perspective. I’d remind myself, “I’m here, and this is happening.” I have met the inspiring, fabulous, fascinatingly interesting people that make New York what it is. I have walked the grounds of the places I want to go. And guess what? I blinked. It’s over.
But this is not another version of Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That.” I am here to say, “Until we meet again.” Because I know we will. Until then, thank you for what you have given me. I have been privileged to temporarily call you my home. I will long for you from Amsterdam — and every now and then, close my eyes and silently wish it were Amsterdam Avenue instead…