I am in love with a city. I realized this yesterday as the big ol’ Peter Pan bus lumbered its way into the Port Authority Bus Terminal and delivered me smack dab into the smelly, noisy, dusty madness of midtown Manhattan. For all its disgustingness, I can’t help but love New York. If only I could be so forgiving with the men I have dated over the years.
Why do I love it here? For one, I love that anything can be had or done within seconds. I can walk one block through Hell’s Kitchen, take cash out at the ATM, pop into an optometrist’s office to get my eyeglasses adjusted, grab a Slurpee at 7-11, buy tickets for West Side Story, then duck underground to the subway and be whisked across and uptown... all in under 38 minutes. People, ideas and feet move as fast as the taxis racing up Park Avenue. New York moves, and I get such a rush moving along with it.
I am pretty sure, however, that my love is unrequited. The city is hard on its inhabitants and visitors. She never lets up. She plays games, teasing us with a stunning moment, or a breathtaking evening, or a spectacular experience, then in a flash turns against us and stirs up a storm. This city wants to know how much we can take, how badly we want to be here. She tests us and takes us to the brink.
For a long time, I wanted it. I was willing to put up with just about anything - rats, roaches, blizzards, sweaty summers, ceaseless noise, endless crowds - to stay. A few months ago, I thought I had finally reached my breaking point. I thought I was done. Yet now that I am back after only a week away, I am quite certain I could take a whole lot more of whatever New York wanted to dish out. The question is, do I want to?
I have returned to the city after a short reprieve in Bridgewater, Mass, a Desperate Housewives-esque suburban town somewhere south of Boston. The homes in Bridgewater are large and spacious, neatly arranged side by side but not too close to one another; lawns are expertly manicured. Summer evenings bring the entire town out to the soccer fields, where overbearing parents shout at their 4-year-olds to play harder. Everyone in Bridgewater – really, everyone – is white. It's borderline creepy. My sister and her family live here, and I am actually enjoying the weirdness of this sleepy little town, the large open spaces, the trees, the fresh air. I am grateful my family has taken me in and welcomed me so easily into their home. I am loving the huge swimming pool in their backyard. And most of all, I am utterly relieved any time the very demanding 2-year-old takes a nap.
New York and Bridgewater. The two cities could not be more different. Yet strangely, I look forward to going back to Bridgewater next week. It is not my home, any more so than the apartments I am surfing this week in New York. But the thing about family is that with no one else, even with our closest of friends, or even sometimes when we are alone, can we be so totally ourselves. Despite the wonderful network of friends I have here in the city, and despite missing them when I am away, I often feel disconnected and lonely when I am in New York, as I do now. The city has a way of separating people and shrouding them with a degree of anonymity that can feel downright depressing. When I am around my family, especially my sister and her three crazy kids, I never feel alone.
So although I know I can handle just about anything that New York throws my way, I wonder... can I continue to put up with the loneliness?