only forward

I’m leaving New York.

I’m leaving New York?

No, that makes no sense at all. How can you leave the place you’ve always been coming to?

Columbus, Ohio: an ever-receding shore, behind mists and clouds. Skinning my knee on a glass-strewn sidewalk. A concrete elementary school playground. Paternal grandparents’ house, full to brimming of tchotkes, photos, cameras and strange kitchen tools. The smell of film developer fluids. Gold Circle stores, gold circles on cafeteria tables. Little else. I don’t go back, ever.

Ann Arbor, Michigan: hormones, accellerating myopia, uncontrollable urges. Crushes, friendships, tiny heartbreaks. The single worst production of “No Exit” in human history. Baby sister born, father died, I’ll never have a girlfriend, oh my god I’m gay. A million miles logged on a Ross bicycle. Dial-up BBS systems and video arcade cathedrals. Caffiene and candy. Some memories still strong, others fading, blurring, melting into each other. I’ve gone back a few times: it’s a cute little college town, one of many.

Philadelphia: a shock to the system, a bit of an adjustment. Gunfire in the distance, gunfire nearby, bullets through the family room window, one gun pointed at me. Crack vials underfoot, helicopters overhead. The kindness of strangers and government assistance. Permanent friends, permanent entanglements, first kiss, first love, first lover: a woman so far ahead of me I could only gasp in wonder that she’d consider looking back in my direction. (Not the last to fit that description.) A weird place to do any growing up in, I left early, too fast and in the wrong direction, but leaving was right regardless. I go back to see parents and friends: happy to see them, happy to leave again.

Boston: Seven years of fun, no more and no less. From broke, unemployed and couch-surfing to internet rockstar in three years flat. I stood in the same place I’d always been standing, and it turned out there was gold under my feet: everyone rushed in my direction. Friends and lovers and minions and lovers and coworkers and lovers and sometimes all of the above, oh my. Signed a lease, bought a car, paid off loans. Did it all, and then was done: liked 2 clubs, 20 restaurants, one bike path, one radio station, one neighborhood worth living in. A person and a place called, so I walked away: No complaints, no prisoners, no regrets. (Well, maybe a few.) I still visit, still have friends and loved ones there. I swept out the last dust from the apartment in 1998 after the movers had gone, called a cab to South Station, and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket. I was going home.

But New York?

With New York, I fell in love. Big, stupid, come-abuse-me love. Love that merited full sentences.

“A city where every crack in the sidewalk is a symbol.” (Aesop Rock, our poet laureate.)

I’d been primed, god knows. Dad’s parents talked about the ancestral homelands: Coney Island, Brighton Beach, the Lower East Side. My mom’s boyfriend Greg told us bedtime stories of growing up in a strange land called the Bronx. Fantastical places like Fordham Road and Bainbridge Avenue, where graffiti sparkled, street gangs tussled, and sewer rats were pets. We had a rare family vacation in 1986 and drove there, crashing on a sofabed of one of Greg’s friends on City Island. I was 12 years old, walking around Manhattan, still in the seedy Koch years, and Nothing Had Ever Been So Big Or So Cool Ever Before.

And of course, Miranda. I visited at least once a month, and I’d count days, hours minutes until I could cram myself onto a crowded bus and emerge, sweaty and blinking, 5 hours later, inside the Port Authority. Long phone calls between visits, planning our next assault on the city. A tiny apartment on the upper west side became my other home, the place I was always looking forward to. I’d bring back bagels, lox and marks on my neck to approving friends and co-workers.

The subway I took to work looked out over the harbor where the Statue of Liberty was lit up. I could get on my bicycle and ride over the Brooklyn Bridge, and call it my commute. Get on the train, ride to Coney Island, call it my vacation. Walk to the Brooklyn Promenade, take a bus to the russian baths. Stare at the masters in the Guggenheim, then stare at the sunbathers in central park. Laugh at the tourists in Times Square, laugh at the trust-fund bohos in the East Village, laugh at myself for my all-too-willing assimilation of the local prejudices.

A million restaurants, a million neighborhoods, a million bands, a million parties, a million possibilities all beckoned, and if I wanted I could ignore them all, sit in my sofa and feel the N train rumble by every 20 minutes like clockwork, like my lover’s heartbeat.

I coupled, cohorted, commingled, finally cohabitated, and it was good. Got cats, computers, and kitchen appliances. I played dot-com bingo: saw an IPO, founded a company, watched the whole silly soap bubble finally pop.

I paddled through the toxic Gowanus Canal and said “wow, I live here.” A woman threw up on my shoes on the subway, and I dined out on the story for a month. A taxicab doored me on my bicycle, and I took pictures of the bruises. It’s all part of the meter, the flow, the scansion, the beat the rhyme and the life. Little inconveniences, big rewards: $5 coffees, but 50-cent knishes. $30 cab rides, but a 24-hour subway. $12 movies, but “suggested donations” at the Met. Giuliani and Bratton, but KRS-One and Jon Stewart. Litter on the streets, but the roof of the Chrysler Building in the sunlight.

Like all loves, it came complete with pain and shock and heartbreak. Rising columns of smoke, endless phalanxes of emergency lights, a light rain of ash and cremated bone. Holes in the sky, holes in the hearts of my friends. Lasting aftershocks: cringing at low-flying airplanes, jumping at fire alarms and backfires. A slow process of reassembly, of learning to trust again; a sad suspicion that it can never truly be patched up— but staying with it because love demands it, love requires it, love imperator, love rex-n-effects.

Leaving feels like a betrayal.

“Not goodbye then. Until we meet again.”

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Damn, boy, you can write? Who'd'a thunk?

I agree. Who needs E.B. White?