New York, I Love (Hate) You

Dear New York,

I remember the first time we met. It was a freezing December night, a Tuesday and already well past midnight. I had just flown in from California – a last minute trip to see some friends who were in town for New Years Eve – and wasn’t ready for the bracing cold that hit me as soon as I stepped out of the taxi. As I pulled my thin jacket around me and tucked my ungloved hands under my armpits, I stared up and down 5th Avenue in complete wonder at the level of activity, mayhem even, on the street around me. People everywhere, car horns honking, sirens blaring. It was everything I expected from New York during the day, but at 2am on a winters night? This was something else! It was love at first sight.

During our first week together, you wooed me with your bright lights, your energy and your diversity. I was a poor student staying in a crappy hostel that I pretty sure doubled as a half-way house. A grown man roamed the corridors wearing a nappy and I avoided using the grimy communal bathroom as much as possible. But I didn’t care – I was in New York! As I flew out of JFK there was only one thing on my mind – New York, I’m crazy about you.

Ten years later, I am back, ready to pick up where we left off, but this time I am here to stay – ready to take this relationship to the next level. I am nervous – were you the same city I had fallen in love with all those years ago? Could we go the distance?

I arrive to find my pre-arranged sublet in trendy Williamsburg is a crappy fourth floor walk-up on a dodgy street. It has no air-conditioning, the fridge is on the blink and it boasts a mattress on the floor for a bed – not exactly what I would call “fully-furnished”. I am hot, sticky and uncomfortable.

New York, we are not off to a great start.

I start to explore the neighbourhood and find it rich in history and diversity. Hipsters, Hispanics and Hasidic Jews live side-by-side. I can get a perfect green smoothie at one end of the neighbourhood, freshly baked challah at the other end, and amazing empanadas in between. This is what I’m talking about.

New York, I love you.

I awake one night to a twitching sound. I turn on my bedside light just in time to see a massive cockroach scurrying past my head. It is so close I could reach out and touch it. I can’t sleep the rest of the night – or the night after that. I have to find somewhere else to live, but without a credit history landlords are demanding a six month security deposit. I calculate I can afford a three month deposit, but would have no money to buy furniture.

New York, I hate you.

After spending numerous weekends traipsing up and down the city trying to find a liveable apartment in my budget (Yes, I do mind if the toilet is in the kitchen! No, it is not ok if there is an old man who sleeps in the living room behind a curtain!), I follow a tip from a colleague and secure a decent apartment. My husband arrives in the city and I feel like I can finally start to settle. We start to explore – trying out new restaurants, local theatre, comedy clubs and cool bars.

New York, I love you.

I quickly realise that I could go out every night of the week and still not try everything New York has to offer. Friends and colleagues are constantly asking me whether I have tried this new restaurant or that new bar. I can’t keep up and quickly develop FOMO (fear of missing out) – always worrying whether I am making the most of my New York experience, while watching my bank account dwindle.

New York, you have so much energy, but I often feel like you sap all of mine.

One night out with friends, we wind up at a karaoke bar in Korea Town. Someone puts on “Land Down Under” by Men at Work and everyone jumps up to join in. I look around at our little group, which hails from England, Germany, the Netherlands, Belarus, Korea, Singapore, Eritrea and America, all singing a song about my homeland and it is just a surreal experience. Where else could such an eclectic group come together?

New York, I love you.

My husband and I notice that in certain neighbourhoods we tend to draw attention. As we stroll around hand-in-hand – he with his brown skin and dark hair, me as white as they come – we find in certain areas people stare to the point it makes us feel uncomfortable. One night while sitting in a bar in Chelsea, a drunk man confronts my husband, yelling expletives and calling him a traitor for fucking a white woman. We never experienced this at home and never thought for a second that as an inter-racial couple we would stand out in New York of all places.

New York, you confuse me…

A blizzard hits the city and my office declares a snow day. My husband and I spend the day curled up binge watching Netflix. In the evening, we go outside to get some fresh air. The city is eerily calm and quiet, our normally bustling street deserted. We walk hand-in-hand and stop in the middle of the street to kiss, snow swirling around us. We feel like we are in an old romantic movie.

New York, I love you.

Days later, the beautiful soft snow has turned to ice and sludge. The snow ploughs have pushed piles of snow up onto the footpath. To reach my bus I have to climb over a pile of ice almost as tall as myself. Despite my ridiculous looking snow boots, I slip and fall in brown sludge. I am cold, wet and dirty, not a good start to the day.

New York, I hate you.

We return to Australia for a holiday and I find myself excited by the things I used to take for granted – fresh air, clean streets, friendly strangers and amazing coffee.

New York, I think I might be over you.

After a long day of travelling, we go for a late dinner. We wander the Sydney CBD trying to find something open but keep getting the same message – the kitchen closed at 9pm. I remember the hustle and bustle of that first cold night in New York all those years ago and long for the ability to find whatever you need at any time – day or night.

New York, I think I miss you.

We return to New York as the weather starts to warm up and it feels like the city takes on new life. Fresh blooms sprout up around the city – hydrangeas, tulips and daffodils fill the parks and line the streets. After months of hibernation, people start to come out of the woodwork. Rooftop bars teem with happy revellers, sidewalk cafes are filled with people enjoying bottomless brunch, and parks spill over with families and couples taking advantage of free theatre and movies.

New York, I love you.

The weather quickly tips over from pleasant to sweltering. It is so hot it feels like the footpaths are melting. Descending into the furnace that is Union Square subway station feels like plunging into the core of the earth. The city is overtaken with the smell of rotting garbage, as bags left out on the street bake in the hot sun.

New York, I hate you.

By this time, we have found our favourite weekend routine. Saturday morning wandering the farmers market in Union Square, coffee in hand. Afternoons at the Met, followed by a slow walk through Central Park. Sunday brunch at a sidewalk cafe, followed by hours lazing at Washington Square Park, listening to the busker on his baby grand piano and watching the cast of colourful characters go by – pigeon man, fortune-telling guy, lady taking her cat for a walk in a stroller. But we also start to venture further and discover a million little worlds within the city – Puerto Rico, China, Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Greece – every weekend a different country and cuisine.

New York, I love you.

Each day I walk to work past one of the busiest public hospitals in the city. People with gaping wounds and blue swollen limbs camp outside, begging for money for the medical care they so desperately need. We notice a stark increase in homeless people encamped around the subway station near our apartment. One afternoon while waiting a the bus stop a homeless man comes up and randomly punches a woman standing next me in the face, before running off. I feel for the homeless people, particularly as the temperatures start to drop, but I am also shaken and start to actively avoid the area when I am on my own.

New York, I hate you.

It is Christmas Eve and my husband and I find out we are expecting a baby. Suddenly the city seems to take on a cheesy magical quality like in all those Christmas movies I used to watch as a kid. The day-to-day annoyances dissipate and all I can see is an enchanting, twinkling landscape. Our family is far away but we are confident we can manage. We start looking for a bigger apartment and daydream of afternoons in Central Park or at the Natural History Museum with our little one.

New York, I love you.

We find out our baby doesn’t have a heartbeat and our world comes crashing down around us. Our family is so far away and we don’t know if we will be able to cope. Suddenly the city seems louder, dirtier, meaner. At the doctor’s office we feel like a number, shuffled in and out with words like “common occurrence” and “routine procedure” thrown at us with little compassion. At the pharmacy the man stares at me blankly when I ask for help, shrugging his shoulders as if it isn’t his problem. A woman on the bus screams in my face when I don’t get out of her way fast enough. The city feels cruel and unforgiving.

New York, I really really hate you.

I escape to the comfort of my therapist’s apartment. I feel like a complete cliché – move to New York and get a therapist (on the Upper East Side no less) – but I honestly don’t care. I never would have been brave enough to see a therapist at home but she makes me feel safe and cared for amongst the commotion of the city and my mind. I cry loudly and openly on the subway not caring if I look like a crazy person, because I know that I am far from the craziest person on the subway that day. I am slowly but surely leaving my inhibitions behind.

New York, you soothe my soul in unexpected ways.

I realise one morning that it is our two year anniversary – two years since I left everything behind to embark on this crazy New York adventure. As I sit by my window watching the world go by, I reflect on the time we have been together and can honestly say that New York, you have changed me – I am tougher, more resilient, but also becoming more open – less afraid to show my true self.

New York, we have had our ups and downs, but the love between us runs deep. Will we be together forever? I’m not so sure, you don’t seem like the marrying kind. I have a feeling that our love will be more like a passionate love affair – one of those crazy, wild relationships where you fight and scream and say hurtful things to one another, but the connection is so deep and the passion so real, that it feels like it is worth the trouble. It probably isn’t sustainable and one day I will return to somewhere quieter, easier and more forgiving. I will look back on our affair with great affection and the love will never die. But that is for the future.

For now, New York, I couldn’t bear to leave you.


4 thoughts on “New York, I Love (Hate) You

  1. Kind of love and hate relationship you have with this city right Sarah?? It just makes me feel about the impossibility of indifference to this amazing city 🙂 stay safe and greetings from Lisbon, PedroL

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  2. I guess then we can call this city to be full of unexpected moments with both joyful and downcast experiences. I think all the cities have a similar thing about this. In some ways, a city can have so many different things that put us in awe and then there are things that make us feel to leave and go. Cities are just like people. We love something about them, we hate something about them. I have read many articles on New York city but this post really made me imagine the real city and what it entails. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post.

    Best wishes from The Strong Traveller and have a great day

    Do have a look at my blog whenever you find the time. There are some travel and lifestyle content which you may find interesting. Your thoughts will surely be very valuable. Stay connected. 🙂

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