When I first touched down in New York City, it was a warm summer night, and I went straight to a bar. It was a very New York thing to do, or so I thought. I was your typical West Coast girl who'd decided to uproot myself to start a new life in the big city. I was bored. I needed some excitement, and I had concluded the best way to do this was to purposefully inject it into my life.
I quit my job, gave notice at my apartment, packed my bags and left for — you guessed it — Manhattan. Little did I know, I was about to embark upon one of the most tumultuous relationships of my life with New York City.
The bar wasn't anything special. It was a hotel bar. It had high ceilings, chandeliers and comfy chairs. It was, in my opinion, very New York. It kept me from seeing the reality of the city I was about to encounter. When I walked out of the comfort of the bar, I was immediately greeted by the sounds of angry honking, of blaring sirens and of traffic. People were rushing around in the streets like they really had somewhere to be.
I'd imagined leisurely strolls through the West Village and lazy afternoon coffee breaks at 4 pm. No, I quickly discovered I had to be light on my feet to survive these city streets. New Yorkers have a way of walking that is unlike the way people walk anywhere else. They walk with a dogged determination. It's an unwavering, laser-focused conviction, and they threaten to knock anyone over who dares walk in their paths.
You see, walking in New York isn't walking. It's bowling for people. And in this bowling match, you're either a ball, or you're a pin.
I absolutely hated Manhattan. I hated the buildings, I hated the noise and I hated the fact everyone rushed around the city as if they were late to see the president. I hated how the people who were trying to make the 12:08 train would knock you over just so they wouldn't have to wait an extra minute for the 12:09.
The intensity of the city, compared to the relative peacefulness of San Francisco, was almost too much for me to bear. As I lay down on my sister's couch to sleep one night, the not-so-familiar scent of cigarette smoke wafted through the windows next to the fire escape. A siren blared off in the distance. I remember lying awake that night wondering if I'd made a huge mistake.
I really missed the stars. I missed the mountains. I missed the fresh Presidio forest air that would stream into my window at night. I found myself waking up every single day struggling to keep myself afloat with optimism. Hating New York became one of my favorite sports.
I joked with friends in California about living in an overpriced rat hole. I joked about the trash on the sidewalks. I joked about how it cost $18 to purchase a cocktail, when in California you could get one for $8. I remember lamenting the fact that New Yorkers seemed to take so much pride in what to me was a sub-par city. I hated New York for six months straight.
What I didn't realize was New York is a gift. It's a gift wrapped in deceptive clothing. It is nothing like you thought it would be, and it gives you things you would never have even thought to ask for. When you receive those gifts, you realize your life would never have been able to reach its fullest potential without them.
You feel more than you have ever felt. You know more than you have ever known. You realize exactly who you are. You understand exactly who you aren't. You've seen real pain, you've seen real joy and you know that one cannot exist without the other.
Suddenly, something clicks. And it's not the drinks you've shared with the strangers you've turned into friends. It's not the amazing little coffee shop or bar you found at 2 am. It's not those impromptu nighttime walks across the Brooklyn Bridge toward Manhattan. It's about the realization New York is life itself, magnified and in extreme concentrate. It's flawed, imperfect, intense and incredibly beautiful and horrible at the same time. And in an environment of such intensity, you are pushed to your limits. You learn more about yourself and life than you ever thought possible.
Here's to the things you'll never forget.
The first thing I noticed about New York was the people, and it has quickly become one of my favorite things about New York. I'd come from California, the land of the "Hey, how's it going?" "Good, how are you?" "Can you believe how gorgeous today is?" and the "Let's hang out someday (never)."
I came to New York expecting rudeness, callousness and an overall disregard for others. What I experienced was the opposite. New Yorkers are some of the kindest, most helpful human beings I have ever encountered. You don't get many congenial smiles from strangers while you're walking down the street, but what you do get is the most inspiring acts of kindness.
Here, people open doors, carry your suitcases up flights of subway stairs and carry your groceries into your apartment all without expecting anything in return. Many times, they do these things for you without even a backwards glance. They just help. In California, people will smile at you all day long and tell you things you want to hear, but they'll never go out of their way to help you in a way that inconveniences them.
In New York, I have encountered the most interesting people I have ever met, including musicians, actresses, yoga teachers, burlesque dancers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and writers. There are very few people I have met who have not been passionate about something.
The city has a way of weeding out those who don't have some sort of dream. This is a city of people who feel, and as tormented as some of them might be, they all have fascinating stories.
New York is a place of people and of crowds, and it is a place of stories. Every person you push past in the subway has a story, and all of the stories compound when you realize that people in the city all have a story in which they are the main player. In a place as dense as New York, you encounter masses of people all in the midst of their own stories, and you overhear dozens of conversations every day.
You see these people in every state – poverty, wealth, sickness, health – and you see them in every ethnicity, every size and every walk of life. Here, you are filled with the overwhelming feeling of being of the same human race. You begin to recognize the shared experience of suffering, of loneliness, of loss, of love, of connection, of desire and of want. You find we are all a lot more similar than we realize.
New York is loud, alive and filled with music. At 9 am in Penn Station, you are roused by loud Caribbean music playing live on the platform. The 34 Street stop is a party, and people are dancing. You notice a man playing the violin on the corner of the street at 96 when you're on your way home from work, and you smile and drop a dollar in the bucket he has next to his case.
One night at 2:30 am when you're least expecting it, you'll stop dead in your tracks on your way up the stairs in the subway as a lone guitar player fills the station with rich, deep sound. And as his voice travels through the station as you make your way into the night, you'll think to yourself, “This is why I love New York.” And it's in these moments that you fall in love.
When you have bad days in New York, they are really, really awful. I've never cried harder than I have in this city. When you have great days, you feel like you're on top of the world. You feel invincible. There is no in between.
You learn in New York that no day is exactly the same, and that as each day passes, a new one comes. One terrible day does not mean another one. In fact, a very bad day is usually followed by a very good day. You learn that stars shine the brightest against the darkest night skies.
You'll never forget the swirling, rushing, spilling, unstoppable life overflowing in this city. Life here moves forward at a relentless pace, and it vibrates with color and energy. Here, you can feel its force beating like a pulse. You feel the pulse so hard sometimes that it drowns out everything else.
There are moments when it's hard to believe that life exists outside of the city. Yet, it does, in all its different shapes and colors and forms. But, life outside of this city will never feel the same. The colors of life in this city are colors so vibrant that they can never be replaced, and they are often the hardest to forget.
Here is the funny thing about New York: It has an odd way of turning the very things you hate about it into the things you love. New York is the urban embodiment of a whirlwind toxic romance that leaves you reeling. It is the lover who drives you mad. It throws you into pits of despair, and then it lifts you to euphoric heights.
If ever you thought you'd reached complacency, rest assured New York makes you feel feelings you never thought possible. You will cry in this city, you will hate in this city and you'll be thrown to your lowest lows, only to be returned to your highest highs. You will complain about the noise. You will complain about the heat. You will complain about the crowds, and you will complain about the stench. But when you leave, you will feel the absence of the clamor and the chaos so intensely you will miss it more than you've ever missed anything else.
Compared to New York, everything else feels silent. You can't help but wonder sometimes if you truly miss the commotion, or if it's simply an unhealthy addiction formed out of habit. At one point or another, each person who comes to New York makes the decision to either to leave the city, or to settle down indefinitely. Many end up leaving. Only a very specific type of person can last a lifetime in the high intensity, polarizing environment it creates.
But whether your relationship with New York is short or long, one thing remains true: You cannot be unaffected. You don't have a relationship with New York and forget it. You remember it for the rest of your life.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said,
There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.
New York leaves a mark in your heart forever. It is the lover who teaches us what we want, what we don't want and that the incredible beauty of life is found not in our surroundings or in what happens to us, but in what we choose to see. When you fall in love with New York, you realize quickly that it's not New York you've fallen in love with. You've fallen in love with life.