Why I Cry When I’m In New York City

Dear New York,

As I write this letter, I’m sitting on my couch in the suburbs.  The dog is sleeping beside me, her soft breaths filling in the spaces between my thoughts. My eyes lift up and down from the computer screen to the window, where the newly green leaves have formed a soft wall between my neighbor’s house and mine.

I want to be like my fellow suburbanites and sink into the beauty of the season.  To walk my dog in yoga pants and get coffee with a friend and wave to the old man down the block who is always smiling. I want to fall in love with the giggling toddlers in the park and the vibrant daffodils in my yard and the Billy Joel songs blasting from open car windows. I want to let the heady smell of freshly cut grass and fragrant lilacs fill up my lungs until there’s no room for anything else. I want my heart to fall deeply, madly in love with this small town paradise where I lay my head each night.

But my heart is unfaithful. And I blame you.

My dear city, from a very young age you have bewitched me. As a child growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I would come to you during the High Holidays or Passover. I’d wander through your streets, lingering behind my Brooklyn cousins to catch the eye of the sad violinist in the subway who was always playing my song, to pick up a few precious bits of the nonstop chatter in Arabic, in Mandarin, in Spanish, in Dutch, in French, in Hebrew, in Zulu, savoring the exotic purrs and clicks of foreign tongues. I’d beg my mother for a dollar to buy steaming bags of hot roasted chestnuts that would explode in my mouth with a smoky sweetness that satisfied something deep inside of me.

You were everything my rural town was not.  Bold and juicy and gritty and alive with a million different voices.  I didn’t just want to visit you, I wanted to be part of you. I wanted to dance through Time Square like everyone and no one was watching, to sink my teeth into the origami-shaped fruits that spilled out across the sidewalks of Chinatown, to learn the name of the homeless girl with the sea foam eyes and matted hair, to run my fingers over every statue and bench and dirty subway railing, leaving behind pieces of the country earth I always seemed to carry.

To leave my mark.

But, fate is a fickle friend. And, alas, circumstances kept me from ever committing to you, my beloved muse.  I married and settled into the suburbs to raise my little darlings. I built a good life full of love and stability. I did my best to forget the way you made my heart pound, my knees quiver, my soul come alive.

And then…

It started as I imagine most affairs of the heart do.  Quietly, innocently. A trip to see the holiday lights with the kids, a visit with an old friend, a work opportunity. Each time I’d linger a little longer, stray a little further into your depths.

Soon, I found myself making excuses to see you. Telling little white lies to have just a day or two alone with you. Getting lost for hours in your hidden shops and secret gardens.

When I wasn’t with you, I’d be thinking about you. Remembering how brightly you sparkled at night or how sweetly you smelled in the morning.

I’d find myself crying when we were together sometimes.  I’m not sure why really.  Maybe it was the intensity of my feelings or the knowledge that our time together was stolen, fleeting. That we could never really be together.

But, perhaps that’s part of the magic of our connection.  Those that are truly with you all the time walk around with vacant eyes and tightly clasped lips.  They rush past your magical streets with impatient footsteps, missing the elderly Pakistani woman with flowers in her hair and dreams in her eyes, the crackly-voiced teenagers freestyle rapping on the corner, the frum girl gleefully splashing muddy water all over her white dress, the rabbi swapping jokes with the Imam, the storekeeper giving chocolates to the homeless veteran, the wild-eyed horse in Central Park, the secret room in the downtown bookstore, the sweetness of corn flavored ice cream from a side street cafe, the buckets of frogs and snails and unidentifiable sea creatures that fill the groceries in Chinatown, the willowy man twirling down the sidewalk in a red dress and stilettos, the madwoman howling about the coming of the messiah, the colors and lights and pulsing energy that never ever stops, the entire world neatly packed into one tiny, living, breathing island, an island where people who live as strangers and enemies in their far-flung homelands find peace in their neighborly congestion.

Perhaps New Yorkers miss all the beauty of their city because they’re dreaming of a life in the suburbs with big grassy yards and dozing dogs.  Craving all the things that I take for granted.

Isn’t that always the way with love…

There are those that will say that this isn’t real love. That unless you live together, see each other every day, go through hardships together, it’s nothing more than a fantasy. That what I feel for you is only a superficial projection of my own ideals.

And, if that’s the case, what of it? Does the moon shine any less brightly because its light comes from the sun? Couldn’t we all use a little fantasy to get us through the monotony of life?

If you are only a fantasy to me, then you are the greatest fantasy of all.  One that gives everything and asks nothing in return (except for bus tickets and overpriced hotel rooms).

So, instead of grieving the distance between us, I’ll try to appreciate the wonder that distance allows me to retain. To find every opportunity to walk your streets with my eyes and heart open to you magic. To cherish you with the kind of light that new lovers feel before familiarity and hardships dull the glow between them.  To let you be my forever fantasy.

Until we meet again.

Forever Yours,

Lela