I keep waiting for you, New York. You have me only one more day, and still you haven't appeared with my parting gift -- a piece of your soul that you haven't shown anyone else.
I know that's a lot to ask of you, New York. After all, your paramours number in the millions, and that's to say nothing of your past. You make everyone feel so special in your embrace; even your fits of cruelty have a way of suggesting that our strong feelings are mutual. But then, when we leave, prepared to explain, "it's not you, it's me," you offer no hint that you'll miss us, or even remember our names.
I can never forget you, New York. When I moved here, I remember staring at city maps -- the ones that were plastered in every cab before Bloomberg replaced them with TVs -- and wondering how I would ever make sense of you. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island -- it felt like the first time I watched the opening credits for Game of Thrones. In the middle of Season 3.
But station by station, block by block, I did get to know you. Within each borough, different neighborhoods took shape. Then eight years flew by in 30 seconds, and now, nearly every street corner is thickly painted with memories.
I lived in Astoria, Harlem, the Upper West Side and the Financial District. I got my first job at a small PR firm near Herald Square -- funny to remember how cool I once felt, working so close to Macy's and the Empire State Building. Back then, New York was still the place I knew from the movies. Now, I go to the movies, and even a fleeting shot of a crappy deli wraps me in the warm, fuzzy feelings of home.
For New Yorkers, the most mundane landmarks can hold all the history of Ellis Island. At a Starbucks in the Upper West, I earned my master's degree. I walked into strange apartment buildings, responding to roommate ads on Craigslist, and walked out with some of my best friends. First kisses were stolen on the High Line, in hookah bars and by the green glow of TD Bank. And on a Penn Station platform and in Tompkins Square Park, I still sometimes step on shards of broken heart.
Such familiarity with this town is hard earned, and at a very high price. Perhaps this is why we New Yorkers are so eager to foist our help on anyone who looks the slightest bit lost: We are proud to have learned our way around; to have conquered the leviathan that is the MTA; to ask the cabbie, with an air of authority, why the hell he's taking Lexington and not FDR.
But it's not only pride that drives this peculiar behavior. It's also the need to affirm, more for ourselves than for anyone else, that we've been where these people are trying to go, and that the experiences we had there were real.
Maybe, New York, these times we've shared are more important to you than you let on. Maybe they are what give flesh and blood to your bones of concrete and steel. Maybe these memories at every corner are the glimpses of your soul I've been seeking all along.
Now I know what you're thinking, New York: Get over yourself. You've always had a great way of reminding me of that.
Still, I can't help hoping that you'll miss me, just a little, as I make a new home in London with the Italian man I met dancing Argentine tango at a Spanish restaurant in Chelsea (it's your fault, you know -- that wouldn't happen anywhere else).
But I know you won't admit it, so I will part with you just by saying thank you -- for the few times you made me feel like "someone," but mostly for the times you just let me be no one. For as all your lovers learn, it's a great gift to be anonymous -- to sing in the streets, sob on the subway and stumble home drunk at 5 a.m., without having to answer to anyone.
You're the only place I know where all the world's a stage, but you can still dance as if no one's watching.
Photos by Meghan Feeks