When I was 22, I lived in Boston. Just out of college, still thinking that whatever spirit or gumption or whatever else it was that college had spit-shined on me was enough to validate me in the real world. I was working not in “downtown” Boston proper, not where the real tall buildings are, but still in the city, around cars and buildings and corners that hummed with vague danger past midnight. I worked in the “theater district,” as it’s called in Boston, because there are a few theaters there. My theater was showing “Menopause: The Musical.” I spent a year organizing fun boozy trips for ladies of the North Shore, for gals from Scituate. For Rhode Island women who came up in clumps and wanted to revel, justly, in the strange and medicinal fact of their aging. Hot flash jokes, creaky joint jokes, women who didn’t get out much while their kids were still home, suddenly unhindered now that everyone was away. Shrieking into an afternoon of freedom, puking in the bathroom, women loosed. I sold tickets to a rescue boat. I sold tickets to a resurrected dream.
I spent that whole year questioning Boston. This city that I’d grown up in — a city I’d spent many many many cut-school days exploring — was suddenly this new entity. Not the place I’d gone to school, not the looming thing waiting just beyond my suburban college campus, but an actual city. One worth consideration. Did its bones match up with my own? Did the T do the service I needed? It’s a sudden concern; the having chosen, by sheer act of choosing, to live in a certain place. I spent a lot of time that year pushing at those borders, wondering what was beyond them. Here we are in the Common, there we are in the theatre district. I grew up in a city, went to the big public high school “downtown,’ but here suddenly was a place foreign and small.
I quickly made it my mission to move here, to New York, almost seven years ago. Since realizing that goal, I’m broke with a good salary, tired with a good schedule, sad but happy with a vast and expressive group of people I call friends. I’ve carved out a niche, I feel ownership. I feel owned. New York is very much the place I live, and that, cornily enough, lives in me.
When I was in Boston and thinking about moving, I used to walk from the T to work across the Common and the Public Garden. I used to listen to an iPod in those days — I’ve since given up for worry that I’ll ruin my hearing — and I had a rather marvelous collection of fast but uplifting songs on my playlist. “We All Become Silhouettes” and “Chicago” and all that plinky-plunky stuff that fills a heart with happiness and tinny, lonely dread. I remember walking across the snow fields of inner Boston, both encouraged and made limp by these songs, and bargaining with myself. “See, here, see there are tall buildings. There’s the city. A city! It’s enough! It’s enough.”
It wasn’t enough. I needed to move to New York. And, only a few months later, I did. With a job but no apartment. With the biggest of hopes — not ambition but hope — and no money. I moved on to Joanna Newsom and Mountain Goats — songs to illustrate my homesickness, my utterly beautiful isolation. But I can still hear those old Boston songs.
I’m caught sometimes by memories of this song, what it felt like to walk across the snow and listen to this, wishing. There were some good parts to that life, eager as I was to flee it.
Certain friends never made it to New York. Others never wanted to. Boston still holds enough mystery. St. Paul offered better help. Chicago said come be bold. But I was always headed here, I guess.
I think about moving to Paris these days. But the practical part of me knows that rainy Tuesdays, glum Wednesdays, uncertain Thursdays — they’ll all still happen in Paris. And in Sydney, and in London, and in Mumbai, where a rich prince who once loved me, in college, now lives. I think about looking him up, saying “I’ll be your rani.” But his long-ago crush and those old college years probably don’t mean anything anymore to him, not really.
I went to a Fashion Week party tonight and I felt fat and ugly and mostly old for ever having wanted this and now finding it so tiring. Previous to that I was at a bon voyage party, celebrating an old Gawker friend who left the fold and is steering herself toward great new things. It’s funny to live in a city you never thought you’d live in. Funnier still to be sick of it — or maybe just to know its rhythms and hums, its breath and its bones. I wish I could recapture, just for a minute, what New York used to feel like, used to mean for me.
But maybe that’s unfair. Maybe that gives short shrift to what it is now. The calm drone of a taxi taking you home. The sheer miracle of that place even being home. The night that it snowed but didn’t quite snow, when you drifted off into an old memory, but still found yourself, moments later, where you needed to be.