Memories of the Third New York
I was in New York this past weekend delivering a paper at conference at Fordham University in midtown Manhattan. Over the last five years I’d been to the city more times than I can count but never for work. I was there to see friends too, but the fact that I had justified a trip along these lines for the first time was pause for reflection. Taking the train from the airport to a friend’s Harlem apartment, and then from there to the university, without getting lost once, served as a stark reminder to a passed, all encompassing ambition. To be one of them. Because to me I already was. Once.
E. B. White once claimed there are three New York’s. The first is filled with people who were born and raised there. They define a significant portion of the allure of the city, but are ultimately limited in fully understanding the scope of their hometown origin mentality.
The second type are the throngs of people commuting daily into the city to work. Each morning millions of hardworking men and women rush into the city on trains and through bridges and tunnels, the population swelling beyond what already seemed like capacity. They too are what make New York what it is, but again only partially. For their purpose in the city is one primarily of economics. It provides ample opportunity to make a living to take back home to their families.
Then there is the third type of New York, the one that draws people from all over the country and world, and for no other reason than to simply be there. They fall in love with the city, and if they are lucky, with some of it’s inhabitants, with the hopes of making it their new home. For them, just making it to New York is making it enough.
I read these words well after my time as a pseudo New Yorker had come to an end. I had spent three years of my life with someone who lived in the city and decided to remain. In the aftermath of the realization that despite all the time and effort spent preparing to become one the third type of New Yorkers, I would not be making it after all, I have come to miss the city, and those who live there, terribly.
One thing has remained constant. Everytime I have returned “home” from New York it was always accompanied by a feeling of loneliness, usually due to the people I was leaving behind. Suffice it to say I am struck by a similar feeling this time. Only now it feels like something more. It is probably time to leave that part of me there. He doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore. I’m just hoping that part of him finally wants to come home with me.
Before I left I had brunch with the close friend who introduced me to New York over five years ago. She’s right, it does feel like my adopted city. There have been many highs and lows since then, and not much in between. And as we stood together in Union Square Park, sharing what would seem like a mutual final goodbye in a place that has determined so much of who I am and who we are, I couldn’t help but just stand there in silence a bit longer. In my favorite part of one of my favorite places.