Katherine Gallagher, 131 YinD
Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan, there is a sign (an actual legitimate road sign) that says “leaving Brooklyn, Oy Vey!”
If you want to sum up how I feel, that’s probably the most concise way to put it. There are Joan Didion quotes waxing poetic about New York City, comedians joking about our attitudes about living anywhere else, and countless essays, songs, and poems written about the city (BKNY by Fat Tony is my personal favorite). I am not the first person to write a breakup letter to New York City, but one difference I can’t shake is that this breakup feels a little premature. It feels like we broke up because of distance, because we don’t know when or if we’ll ever be in the same place at the same time again. I left to give myself room to grow, and I don’t regret that decision, but a little piece of me is still there. Maybe we’re just taking a break, maybe I’ll find my way back there after everything I have ahead of me. The trouble is that I don’t know, and I hate ambiguity.
I think I find it hardest to say goodbye because I can’t grasp the concept that I could be permanently done with a person, place, or thing. It’s why I kept a broken water bottle, why I’ve kept all of my textbooks, why I still have flappy bird on my phone. How could something or someone who had impacted your life in any, no matter how miniscule, way be gone forever? Or what if (in the case of all of my thesis notes and flappy bird) I need it again? I know I’ll see many of these people and places again, but I’ve said goodbye to people who, realistically speaking, I will never see again: coworkers who became work friends, friends of friends, people I had just met. I found myself saying, somewhat awkwardly to these people: “have a nice… life?” I suppose “I wish you the best in life” or something along those lines would have sounded sincerer — or at least nicer.
I had to say a lot of unceremonious goodbyes, and make an unceremonious exit from the city. An Amtrak to Boston is just not the same as a flight out of JFK, and that makes it all the more difficult. I didn’t watch the city shrink away in the distance, and I spent my final moments in a tunnel leaving Penn Station. It just doesn’t feel right. But as time has gone on, and I’ve had to say goodbye to the city I love so much, I’ve realized that I can’t say goodbye to every person and place that has been meaningful to me — there aren’t enough hours in the day (or days until I leave). So as I’ve said my goodbyes, it’s only hit me after time has passed that what happened was goodbye. I shouted “bye!! I’ll miss you guys so much!” over loud disco music in a bar, I gave a hasty but teary-eyed hug as I tried to get to my Lyft before it left without me, I said “if I don’t see you again before I go…” to people I never did get around to seeing again.
I expected it all to hit me when I closed the door to my apartment for the last time. When I got on the L train towards Manhattan for the last time, when I transferred trains for the last time. The reality was that I had to take an Uber and run down the stairs to catch it because I was so tired, late, and had too much stuff to carry to the subway station. I was so preoccupied with moving my belongings from one place to another that it didn’t hit me till the train pulled out of the tunnel and I saw that on my very last day in New York City, we had our first snow. It felt poetic. Then I fell asleep, and it stopped hitting me. Later, I had to trek through the snow in Boston in Adidas sneakers. Less Poetic. Then it hit me another time, and so on and so forth. It comes in waves, but the waves get gentler with each goodbye, as I become more sure that many of my goodbyes have just been “see-you-laters.”
I didn’t get the chance to do everything I would have liked to before leaving. The urgency to see things and relive moments hit me in the weeks before my departure, but working two jobs and seeing friends took precedence over my nostalgia. Last night, I was sitting in a bar somewhere in the 7th ward of New Orleans that gave me powerful nostalgia for Three Diamond Door, or Union Pool, or any number of divey-but-still-hipster bars in Brooklyn, and it hit me that I don’t have the time or the money to do everything I want. It also hit me, however, that that’s ok. I’ll find my people wherever I go, and these places I love aren’t going anywhere (provided New Orleans doesn’t sink into the gulf, but that’s another issue). I’ve slowly realized that it’s far better to enjoy what I have gotten to do, and not get bogged down in what I won’t be able to.
I’ll miss my life in a place I had come to call home. I’ll miss my friends, the food, the bodegas, the bodega cats, the 24-hour schedule that the city runs on. I’ll miss being on the train at 5 a.m. and seeing a combination of people coming home from a night out and people going to work. I’ve even reached the point where the smell of stale beer wafting from a bar makes me a little misty-eyed. I grew into an adult there — I learned to manage time, money, to be wholly responsible for myself, and to live stacked on top of several other people. It keeps hitting me that this isn’t another winter break — I’m not going back anytime soon. Adding to that, the preparations for the Peace Corps have been … less than smooth and are still not done, so I am very stressed and experience frequent second thoughts. Luckily, I am reminded all the time that the experience that I am looking forward to is one that is worth the stress.
Life in New York was not always so magical, and I expect I’ll continue to shut out more and more of the little annoyances, the times I felt lonely or stuck, as I get further away. I’ll romanticize it more and more until I shut out the smell of hot garbage and pee (or: a summer breeze) completely. I’ll forget that the day-to-day of my life was very ordinary to me. It was only certain moments that reminded me of the extraordinariness that I experienced on a daily basis. I sat on my roof on the fourth of July and watched the fireworks go off over the east river and all around me and I experienced magic. I had a friend visit and we sat on my roof for an hour while he looked, amazed, at the view of the Manhattan skyline and the rest of Brooklyn, and I was again reminded of how beautiful and extraordinary New York is. Sometimes the right song was playing while I walked home from work at night and I thought about how different my life will be a year from now—for better or for worse (Oy vey!).