A Twinge of Nostalgia

Confession: I miss New York. Or to be more precise, I miss living in New York.

It’s been a little over a year and a half since I said good-bye to the frenetic city streets, concrete and high rises to follow my heart to New Jersey. To be fair, I feel perfectly at home and content in a town 15 minutes from the beach, where, on a quiet and clear Friday night the light of the full moon blankets my bedroom in a luminescent glow. But lately, when I travel to the city for my weekly NYC work day, I find myself falling back into my old rhythm, taking up that brisk-paced walk, weaving through throngs of tourists and motoring to my destination with a longing in my heart for this loud, dirty city. It’s a comfort, a place I know well, even though it’s constantly changing – small bodegas being gobbled up by Starbucks and now (gasp) Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It is always New York — vibrant and alive, diverse and eclectic.

It’s the distinct New York-ness that kept me there, longer than I thought and made it hard to say good-bye. But this new feeling of “missing” my old place of residence has me wondering, why?

At the age of 35, I’ve been fortunate to meander my way from the West Coast to the East Coast, with a jaunt or two overseas. Every time I departed for a new destination I was sad to leave, but felt deep down it was time to go. After all, I was headed someplace new. New adventures and life changes lay before me, even though the gnawing in my stomach confirmed the nervousness and uncertainty that awaited me.

In trying to decipher what it could be, I thought of that old Chicago Tribune op-ed that was all the rage in 1997 (side bar: could it be classified as one of the first internet memes?). The column, by Mary Schmich, was meant as a commencement address of sorts to the graduating class of 1997. It was a lovely piece, both inspiring and beautifully written. One piece always stuck with me, and as I took the train back from New York last Thursday it came back to me:

Live in New York City once, but leave

before it makes you hard.

It may be clichéd, but for me it was true. New York for all it’s energy, lights and vibrancy can suck your will to live. It favors the wealthy or those with a large disposable income and no student loans. Apartments are tiny, food is expensive and going out is obligatory and the $200 you took out of the ATM will disappear as you hand the taxi driver your last $20 of the night. Yes, it’s that reality of New York that made me realize I was ready for a change. After all, that graduate degree student loan from Boston University wasn’t going to pay for itself. I had started to formulate a plan for heading back out West, when I met Marc and my life took a different direction (a.k.a. New Jersey).

So I knew I was ready to leave New York, I was happy to embark on a new chapter and can still recall my excitement as we saw Exit 109 on the Garden State Parkway come into view – Red Bank. I knew that this was the next step, the right place to be – my new hometown. And yet, here I sit, 18 months later…feeling oddly sentimental for my old hometown.

Talking to a friend about it last night – she and I spoke about the nostalgia of New York as two former inhabitants who made a break to leave it. An artist, she told me that people come to New York, not for what it is, but for this illusion of what it once was – “New York is the ghost of its former self,” she proclaimed. Her words struck me like a slap across the face. I miss what New York represents, an important part of my past — where my professional ambitions met my path to self-discovery and ambition slowly faded into the background.

Mulling it over, nostalgia is the best explanation I have for why I miss New York. It is a truly marvelous city and I consider myself lucky for being able to spend a portion of my grown-up life there. So next Thursday, if I find myself crossing 6th Avenue and feeling wistful, I’ll chalk it up nostalgia and consider myself lucky that I was once former resident and can now be a day-tripper in the city that never sleeps.

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