This feels like the end to something
The eighty-three days I’ve spent in Manhattan this summer do not feel like almost three months. They do not feel like approximately one quarter of the year, nor do they feel like the better part of the summer. They feel, to me, like one long train ride spent counting down the stops until the destination.
Not that I’ve been counting down the days until I leave. OK, I spent the first nineteen counting down until I moved to a room with Internet, but that was in context of my Manhattan stay – of all the things I would have done for Internet access, leave Manhattan was not one of them. As with any finite length of time of which the end is in sight, my time in Manhattan felt like a slow burn waiting for the end.
Which is a shame, because for the first time in recent memory, I was actually content with where I was.
He’s not wrong. By all accounts, this summer should have been a disaster. For the majority of my conscious life I have disliked new things, large groups of people, and being away from home. Spending my summer in Manhattan – a city that I had only been to once before, for less than twenty-four hours – should have served as a culmination of all those things, one summer-long prison sentence. I should have spent this summer indeed counting down the days, miserable and homesick, despondent and unimpressed with the city. But I didn’t. As much of a cliché as it is, I fell in love with the city. I can’t really name you any specifics – it’s not the architecture or the crowds or the semi-famous people I’ve seen. It’s just the experience of it all, of living here. I can’t explain it and this won’t mean as much to anyone else as it means to me, but it’s astounding how many times in these eighty-three days I’ve stopped and thought to myself just how happy I am here. Never in my life have I been that conscious of my own happiness or contentment. I’m not going to say the city changed me. It didn’t. But I certainly feel different, now, on the other end of this whole experience.
I used to count myself in the “people don’t change” camp. Human nature is human nature, a person is who they are, at the fundamental level, and there’s not much he or she or anyone can do about it. I still think that’s true, sort of, that there’s a root to people that doesn’t change, but I think change is very much a part of human nature, only it happens slowly and unconsciously and the whole “people don’t change” thing is really “people don’t realize they’re changing” until they’re too far down the road, for better or worse. Thinking back now, I never recognized all the seminal moments in my life as significant until way later, in retrospect with what I’m sure are revisionist memories.
These last few days in Manhattan seem to me like one of those times where I think back and yes, I do seem to have changed. The eighty-three days aren’t what changed me, not in and of themselves. They’re the tail end of what has been building the past three years or so, I think, this is where I’ve been headed and it’s only now, reluctantly headed home after a summer in New York, that I realize things have changed since three years prior when I felt a sort of homesickness that I didn’t know I was even capable of. I’ve gone from going home every other weekend to spending eighty-three days away without even the slightest desire to go back, looking forward to the next time I stay in New York, hopefully indefinitely. So yes, something has changed. For the better, I think. I certainly feel better than I have in quite a while. It comes down to the difference between fleeting instances of happiness and fleeting instances of unhappiness. It took some time, but we got there in the end.
I swear I didn’t mean for this to be an indulgent self-analysis of my personality. But when I think about this summer, this is how I’m going to frame it.
But I’ll get back on track. In the end, I’m really going to miss New York. I’m going to miss all the train rides, the subway lines (especially the 2 and L), walking through Times Square every day to get to work, telling everyone at work I go to Geneseo and getting a blank stare of unfamiliarity, sitting in the New York Public Library wifi room after work. I’m going to miss the Westside Market, Shake Shack, Duane Reade, the trippy tunnel-like hallway with flashing lights and loud music in Uni Qlo, the health-inspection B-grade at Harry’s Burritos, and trying to explain garbage plates. I’ll miss the woman singing R. Kelly songs a cappella in the Columbus Circle subway station, the homeless man peeing in one of the fountains at Rockefeller Center, going to see Jimmy Fallon every week and the goddamn intern who still doesn’t know who I am, trying to make the express train and settling for the local because it’s less crowded. I’m going to miss Central Park and the Jackie Onassis reservoir, Strand books, free pizza with every drink at the Crocodile Lounge, the hot dog vendors on every corner, and the fruit stands with their 5-for-$1 bananas, oh god how I’ll miss the fruit stands. I’m going to miss sitting in Lincoln center at night and watching the ballet and opera audiences come out during intermission to smoke and make phone calls and watch the fountain. I’m going to miss the paranoia that everyone can tell I’m not from here, never knowing if I’m more than just a tourist, the sense of not really belonging anywhere but not wanting to be anywhere else. I’m going to miss walking everywhere, never having to drive, how everything is right there, how insanely big everything feels and at the same time how insanely claustrophobic it all is. I’m going to miss being alone all the time without ever actually being alone.
I’m going to miss being here.