why i left new york

love, loss, and thanksgiving

hard-boiled romance

My freshman year of college, I would schlep down to New York City once a month to see a boy from high school. We had a great time going to the Met and eating oversized pizza. By the start of sophomore year, however, my trips had become more of a chore than anything else. I booked two tickets for the first Saturday of the semester—one arriving in the city at 4 p.m., and one departing at 7 p.m., post-breakup.

We met at a wafel stand, and I broke the news. He remained surprisingly stoic; instead of the usual “what why is there someone else what will I do without you,” he asked me to walk with him to Central Park. We somehow ended up in Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, where we had met for our first date. We walked by the Barnes & Noble and the Whole Foods, and I remembered that 16-year-old me had found the idea of eating a hodgepodge assortment of foods while browsing books to be the height of teen romance. I also began to suspect that this boy was trying to retrace our path from that first date in some eerie, morbid, and unnatural attempt at closure.

When we finally made it through the gates of the park and took a seat by a fountain, he let out a sigh, said “that’s better,” and started crying. Instead of addressing this, I took some pictures of the pigeons at my feet. I offered to get him a hot dog. He said he should go home.

I bought two hard-boiled eggs and an iced coffee from some soulless, stainless steel chain in the heart of corporate Manhattan, got back on the bus, listened to sad girl music, and cried for having made him cry. Then I cried about being a girl who eats hard-boiled eggs with her hands while sobbing on a public bus. Since this was New York City, no one seemed surprised by any of this. I mourned the love affair for the 5 hours and 33 minutes it took to return to campus and promptly got over it during a walk to the lookout over Prospect Terrace with a supportive friend. The modest Providence skyline felt homey; the coffee milk we’d smuggled out of Andrews in the hood of my coat affirmed that New England was an infinitely better place to be than New York. Oversized pizza exists here too, along with a different Met and another art museum. There would be other boys to go to them with.

a scene of grief in a midtown theater

We arrived at the small theater, turning off Broadway onto one of the numbered streets. The theater’s entrance was wedged between a pub and a Jimmy John’s, and had a dark, cramped entryway with out-of-date posters hanging in a glass display. From her pocket, my mother pulled out our printed tickets, stained and soft from the rain, and we found our way inside into the small elevator.

The theater lobby was on the second floor, painted a pastel yellow with photos from different plays in wooden frames across the walls. It felt like a small-town theater, with only the noisy traffic from below tethering us to Midtown Manhattan. We found our seats, worn from use and surprisingly close to the stage, which was meticulously decorated to resemble someone’s home.

The play was a drama, well-acted and comforting in the way watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit reruns can be. Its plot wound circles around its actors, and my mother and I shared glances with every new twist. The theater was barely heated, so we were freezing, but it felt like that was part of the play, like we were meant to shiver through each scene.

Afterwards, my mother and I were introduced to an actress, and we talked while sitting on the edge of the stage and examining the various stage fixtures. She spoke about what it felt like to perform in a play after so many years and about the significance of her character. She talked about her attachment to the play in the way that people talk about their romantic partners.

The conversation moved to discuss life, which led us to discuss death, and my mother and I confided to the actress about the loss of my brother nine months prior. The actress spoke about her loss too, and eventually we were all crying. The actress passed around tissues, and my mother apologized for making a scene even though she didn’t have to. Through the tears, the actress and my mother exchanged a few thoughts about the world that helped them cope. I fidgeted with a prop and felt like everything in my life was doomed to lead back to his death. In the days following spring break, while sharing experiences with other Brown students, I told people it was a decent play and acted like the moment had never happened.

the shawthanks redemption

A freshman at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, I had recently come to loathe every aspect of my existence: the meaningless feedback I received in workshop, the professors who woke up after election day and declared that ALL ART WAS SUDDENLY MORE IMPORTANT, and most of all, New York herself—the grime and dread and chaos and good people never getting heard. All it took was an extra banana pepper in my Chipotle one day, and I knew I would be transferring schools.

Suddenly, my grades were of crucial importance; since I was attending art school, this fact isolated me from everyone I knew. While my peers were out performing improv comedy, attending gallery openings, and generally saving the world from Donald Trump, I sacrificed myself upon the altar of common core education.  When “The World of Antiquity” assigned a 12-page paper on Jesus Christ, due the day after Thanksgiving break, the biblical parallels could no longer be ignored. I had denied my body in order to free my captive soul, and now, here, was the final judgement. To fly home for a quiet family Thanksgiving, however tempting, would be to invite damnation. I called my parents and convinced them that all my friends were staying. As a byproduct of my argument, I also convinced them that I had friends.

Alone, raised above the city in my towering Third Avenue dorm, I spent five holy days perfecting my thesis. Spoken human contact was nonexistent. If I exited my suite, it was to jog in the vast stairwell system or to eat at the only vendor still accepting meal credit: Dunkin’ Donuts. Like a true Christian, capable of mixing meat with cheese, I would subsist upon its breakfast sandwiches. Each night, after work was done, I would thank God for his harvest and pray for escape.

Finishing my paper, I relaxed and treated myself to a Thanksgiving dinner—two strawberry Pop-Tarts, a bag of SunChips, and some turkey jerky. That night, my grandmother emailed me a Youtube link to Simon & Garfunkle’s 1970 tearjerker, “The Only Living Boy in New York.” I listened to the song on repeat, thumbing my cursor over the “submit” button as I pondered the destiny of my hard work. Years later, I would trace my attendance at Brown University to the B+ I received.