I grew up in New York and I don’t like to visit now that I don’t live there anymore. A good friend pointed out why it might make me sad: because being there I notice that everything’s the same but older, and it reminds me that I’m older – older and somewhat different for having been away. This leaves no feeling other than being disconnected. I avoid going home because I know that when I do I will be confronted with things I once used to use and no longer need, people I once saw every weekend and now talk to once in a while, stores I used to shop at and now don’t even think about. In other words, I will be faced with the reality that I had a life once that was not indispensable, and like after any sort of loss, I end up feeling sad. I end up feeling sad and guilty for leaving. Like my life here was a garden and I’ve abandoned it to a bunch of anonymous weeds.
It’s not an accident that it’s been so long since I last visited New York. I left there because I didn’t like it, because I felt crowded and claustrophobic and alone and I’ve been avoiding a visit like I’ve been avoiding a heart attack: not by doing anything to prevent it, just assuming that it’s never going to happen. Suddenly, one Monday morning in early May, that assumption was broken by a phone call from my mother. She was crying and mumbling stuff about my stepfather having had a stroke and the family business needing to be watched and that I have to get on a plane because she needed me there. So I did, and five hours later I was at JFK.
It was late at night when I arrived and I was tired so I got in line to take a taxi. There were tourists all around me, all tired but eager to be in New York but for me the line was long, it was cold outside and I couldn’t comprehend their energy. I will even say that I resented it. This is the place I left. I left because it was no good. Could they not see that? I mean, visit Paris, Rome, Shangri-La or something. Why would you want go to New York? New York is a place where people work. The subway is practical, not quaint like the wooden streetcars in New Orleans. The tall buildings are offices, not museums. Moreover, no one will treat you hospitably here, because no one will notice you’re a tourist. I kind of felt sorry for the suckers in line behind me. I was at least from here and knew what not to expect. They, however, were in for a big disappointment. I thought.
I eventually got to the front of the line and the taxi dispatcher asked where I was going. Queens, I said, with a little bit of ridiculous superiority, because I knew for sure that I was the only one in that line not going to Manhattan. While he filled out a sort of trip ticket and hailed a cab, another dispatcher clapped a handshake with one of the idle drivers. “How you been, man? I ain’t seen you.” “Oh, you know, just driving around,” said the cab driver, in a slight accent. Right then I looked behind me and saw a couple, Caucasian backpackers, standing there just staring at the two cabdrivers, and I realized: oh, all these people behind me are really enjoying this.
The yellow cabs and the banter and the mannerisms, that’s what they come here to see. They come to gawk at the tall buildings and jaywalk and rush on the subways with the rushed New Yorkers like they see it done in the movies. They come to see if the cab drivers really talk like that and if the women are really just like in Sex and the City. It’s like one big virtual reality movie for them, and for a week or five days or whatever, they feel like they’re part of a big, interesting story. It’s different when you’ve lived your life here. It’s new for them but it’s old for me and that’s why I left. Well, maybe I also left to find more room. But really I left to find something new and to find it on my own and to drive around in California with a convertible like they do in the movies. My cab pulled up and I got in and I told the driver my address and he drove and I looked out the window and the places that were there before I left were still there and I realized that my life in New York is not a garden devoured by weeds. It is a movie that plays on without me, and all I have to do to get back in is buy a plane ticket.