New York is Magic and I Couldn't Find It There
Every time I see a show about New York City, I swoon. Whenever I watch How I Met Your Mother or Friends or Sex and the City, I think to myself New York is Magic. There’s something about the idea of grabbing a bagel and a coffee at the corner store on the way to work in a bustling city that fills me with inspiration. When I imagine New York, I imagine loft apartments and huge canvases that need to be filled with paint and writing in diners and cafés all through the city. I imagine dinner parties in Brooklyn and book shopping at the Strand on weekends and filling my apartment with huge leafy plants. I imagine surprise visits from friends of all backgrounds, dancing until dawn, and rooftop views. When I imagine New York, I see only daydreams.
And that’s exactly why New York wasn’t the place for me. I didn’t fall in love with New York because all those movies and shows skip over the simple, grinding day-in, day-out reality that is New York City. They show you what New York can be and not what it is. In fact, I came very close to swearing off the city for good.
When we visited the city, I was certain I would fall in love. I imagined moving there before I even arrived and knew I’d be able to see my way past the nitty-gritty and through to the sparkle and magic. But what I actually was, was anxious. There are people everywhere. And I mean everywhere. As someone who struggles with anxiety on a good day, I still thought the crowds of New York wouldn’t bother me. But then I found myself second-guessing everything. Part of that comes from adjusting to a new city whilst traveling. But the other part was the intense feeling that I didn’t belong. We would walk down a street and I would see real New Yorkers and think ‘wow, they are so put together and clean and confident. They order coffee confidently, they walk with flair, and don’t-even-get-me-started-on-the-way-they-dress. Why am I not like that?’ And I compared myself to these people, these regular normal people, of every step of every day through that city. They were everywhere and so there was no escape.
The crowds were everywhere. The dirt was everywhere. The smell of garbage was everywhere. And my low self-confidence in that city followed me around all day long. I’m surprised there wasn’t a sign floating above my head all day announcing, ‘INFERIOR SELF-LOATHING AWKWARD GIRL RIGHT HERE. EVERYONE LOOK AT HOW AWKWARD AND WEIRD AND BADLY DRESSED SHE IS.’ Clearly, I’m exaggerating, but I’m not kidding when I say that New York brought out my absolute lowest of the low self-esteem wise. And I wonder why that is.
Because New York was still magic. In spite of my self-loathing, New York was everything I ever dreamed of. We really did buy bagels from the combination bagel/pizza slice shop while walking around NYU’s campus. We shopped for books at The Strand and celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday at a rooftop pizza place in Brooklyn followed by shots with strangers from New Jersey at a bar in DUMBO. We looked at paintings in The Met all day, toured Central Park and were tourists on a Toy-R-Us ferris wheel in Times Square. We stayed up late, we ate amazing Indian food and falafel, and we even stayed at a loft apartment in Brooklyn where we had no curtains and woke up early for morning runs across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Even reviewing the trip now, I can look back through our pictures and find a magnetism that was missing from the city while I was there. I see magic in every surface and memory of that whole trip. I remember the rainbow reflection the Met’s windows scattered across the floor of that museum, I remember the allure of wandering through Central Park while it was raining and deserted, I remember the glasses of wine Chris and I sipped lazily in an Irish bar in Hell’s kitchen. I remember the ferry ride to Staten Island and the strangeness of visiting Ground Zero.
But even still, that trip remains overshadowed by the fact that I left New York feeling like I never wanted to set foot in the city ever again. Maybe it overwhelmed me. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe the trip was perfect and my anxiety was more in control of my life than I like to admit. Whatever the case, I owe it to myself to make it back to New York. In spite of all I felt while I was there, I think I still love New York City: magic, harsh reality, people, bagels, and all.