To get back into the writing groove, I signed up for the Scintilla project. Learn more here.
Prompt 3: What’s the story of the most difficult challenge you’ve faced in a relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?
My relationship with New York City is long and complicated. I’ve had my doubts, but it is the only romance I have ever been all in.
I’ve been here seven years this year, but this past year has been a serious look at what that relationship will look like in the future: why am I here? Why does this feel so good and so bad? What kind of person am I in New York City?
I left the city for a handful of months in 2009 — months during which I was putatively based in Washington, but was mostly on travel and spent every weekend commuting home. Those months were a series of firsts and lasts, and I find myself going back to my notes about that time to uncover what it is about New York that keeps me here; what it was that I missed then; what drives this relationship in my moments of doubt.
I said to a friend last night: Please remind me not to go through these old notebooks so I can “write” about this stuff after I’ve been sick all day.
He replied: Time to move on to fiction rather than historical reflection.
Ironically, this was the friend who had, in the thick of the darkest days of that chaotic year, sagely told me to go back to New York and sort my life out. At the time I had refused to accept a single bit of advice from anyone, except for that one piece of wisdom.
New York is an easy place to love; it is a hard place to live. Likewise, people say that about me: you are easy to fall in love with, Meredith Ann; you are impossible to live with! And I am. I am selfish, and mercurial. Like New York, I am not one to compromise and I am composed of a bunch of discrete, prickly little extremes. In Manhattan, each block is its own extreme — New York is notoriously, fiercely protective of its individual localities. Chelsea is distinct from Soho is distinct from Tribeca is distinct from the Financial District. Indeed, one can feel the difference as one crosses into a new sub-city.
For an illustrative transcontinental comparison, one knows when one has left West Hollywood and is now in Beverly Hills.
But that isn’t my point. My point is that, I frequently hate this place. From time to time, I wonder if this is the seven year itch, or if I have come to a point where I do not like the New Yorker I have become.
Example: yesterday, a woman passed me on the street as I walked Roo, and she screamed (unprovoked), Not on the tree! as he went to lift his left (insofar as he lifts his chubby little legs) next to a tree. This woman must’ve been twice my size, and bore striking resemblance to Rebekah Brooks. In other words, she was scary. Unthinking, all 5’2″ turned and screamed: Who made you mayor of this block?!
Imagine me, the pugilist — petite, blonde hair in a ballet chignon, wearing the quilted jacket that is the uniform of a certain type of woman. On the other side of this fight was a now-legendary henchwoman.
A verbal scuffle ensued. During the melee, Roo peed on the tree anyway.
My takeaway was: this would only happen in New York. And I am sick of this. I am sick of the filth, and the nasty people. I am sick of feeling lonely in a crowd of strangers.
So was my friend right? History or fiction, did it not matter?
I had once written:
I’m homesick. I’ve never been homesick for a place like I am for New York. My friends; my dogs; my can openers; my steak knives; each and every one of the things that I had always dismissed as “just things,” and now I crave with a passion like none other. The shoes that I only wear a couple of times a year. My stuffed monkey. My cashmere shawl from Kashmir. Every little glorious thing; every detail; I miss it. I want it. I want to kiss and hug and touch all my things and say “Thank you, things. Thank you for existing, and anchoring me, and being MINE. All mine. I am so blessed to have things, and to be and to exist and to have one place to go to, and one place to be, and to not have to run around any more. To exist in just this one place, and not fragmented all over the country, world.”
Maybe all romances are history and fiction. Relationships are the work of navigating filth, and mess, and loneliness — and surviving it together. They are the history of a New York remembered through cards and letters and margin notes, and they are a fiction based upon that and the dreams to come.
I think relationships are over when there is no longer fiction; when there is nothing left to romanticise but the past; when the loneliness is such that the flirtation with other cities consumes. And I don’t swoon any more when I land at JFK after being on travel. I don’t tolerate the noise and the dirt because it is so charmingly New York. That bit is over. But on quiet mornings, when the City is perfectly still; when I see the sun rise over the East River my heart skips a beat. And there is history yet to be made; fiction left to create…whether both feet are on the ground here, or merely my heart.