Once Upon a Time, I fell in Love in NYC…
Once, long ago, I spent a micro-eternity in New York City. I fell in love with a boy there. And I fell in love with NYC. The first lasted only a year, but my love affair with the city itself will last a lifetime. Seeing it for the first time through the eyes of love painted an indelible portrait on the canvas of my mind that will forever remain vibrant and alive.
A while back, I found my tattered copy of “Here is New York,” E.B. White’s marvelous tribute to NYC. As I reread it, I began to better understand the longing and loss that many hearts endure when they lose a place they truly love, either left behind or lost through years of inevitable change (change in both city and self), for even as E.B. White celebrates the New York that is, he mourns the New York that was.
I recently found an old New-Yorker-friend’s Christmas letter nestled in a stack of long forgotten memories. Reading it, I felt his longing and loss woven into the simple words he chose, though he only meant to tell me he had finally moved to the west coast after so many years of weather-induced jealousy. He didn’t need to say why, for I know as well as any the New York winters sing a bitter song in the bones.
In the letter, he referred to New York City in the feminine, and called his relationship with her a “love affair,” as if New York had been the love of his life, a grand dame that sets the bar too high for all who follow… a lady of light and song that will live on forever inside him. And I understand the truth of this, as well as one can who has never found home in any single place. I see that she will never leave-be the hearts and souls of those who have willingly followed her siren song, and been all the richer for knowing her.
Yet there is a solace to be found between the lines of both E.B. White’s words and those of old friends, for even as I see the hold she has on them, so also I see the hold she has on me. I believe I subconsciously chose to set the first book of The LightBridge Legacy —The Secret Half—in New York City to live there a while longer in the recesses of my mind as I do with any place I write about. When I write, I fall in love again and again, with people, place, ideas, and it’s pure magic—one of the great joys of being an author.
As a young teen living in the city, I found a picture with what is now one of my favorite quotes and tacked it up on my bedroom wall. It had a lovely photo of sunlight streaming through the branches and leaves of a massive oak tree standing alone in a field of tall yellow grass. I used to stare at it and imagine I was back on the ranch where I was born. I longed for the solace of trees, animals, blue skies, and tall yellow grass. But even then I knew it no longer existed except in my mind. What I really longed for was my childhood. But the memories of childhood are inexorably woven into (and from) place. The words at the top poster said, “You never really leave a place you love. Part of it you take with you, leaving part of you behind.” It was a comfort to me then. Now, I carry the ranch inside me and know a part of me is still there and always will be. As an adult who has fallen in love with many places, fictional and real, I have discovered the evergreen truth of this quote and the feeling it provokes.
Yet, I have also seen that it does not heal the wound ripped from a choice one regrets in solitude, like that of my old friend, whose decision to leave New York was more out of necessity than desire. It is human nature to want that which we have loved and no longer have. But there is hope. Always. Even for the hopeless romantic who sees the city as a lost love.
Perhaps my friend will find a new love in the California sun to spare him such loneliness and longing by loving him so well and so completely that the call of New York will be but a faint and distant echo. Perhaps this love can drown out that haunting melody that plays so faint it strains the ear even on the quietest of nights during those fallen moments when he loses his sense of place and finds himself wondering why the sounds outside his window don’t seem right.
But alas, the me that has known the passing of love in years gone by knows that new love cannot spare the heart its yearnings for very long. For though it is true that love is a magnificent distraction, it is also true that love brings to mind all love, new and old… love lost and love found. And the heart will have its chambers, door open or door closed. It makes no difference, for, in these chambers, old lovers dwell and will always look their best. No time can touch them in our evergreen memories. And that includes “the city that never sleeps.”
As Rodger Angell said in his introduction to E.B. White’s book, everybody wants New York back. His choice of words, or rather, his choice of omission, is very revealing. He didn’t say, “Everybody wants to go back to New York,” because once left, no one can go back to the New York they knew. It is forever changing and transforming itself in a constant metropolitan metamorphosis. Everyone wants to have again what they had when they were there.
Even I sometimes long for a New York to which I can never return. A falling-in-love-New York, a safe and sane New York. A grand, romantic, almost filmic version of New York where the lights sparkle and shine a little brighter than they could or should and the snowfall is music… where there is kindness at every corner café and love in every face. Where the frigid, chill-to-the-bone winter cold is the perfect compliment to an all-encompassing warm embrace. To see New York through the eyes of love, and not just any love, but new love, epic love, is to behold a place of unfathomable beauty and grace that exists only for that moment in time and no other.
As if in suspended animation, the city exudes perfection in all forms. For a single extended moment in time, the cars and crowds are waltzing to the pulse and rhythms of all life on earth, there is no crime in the streets, no homeless in the subways, no angry voices on the sidewalks, no sirens screaming down Broadway, just the art of a vast and complicated Oz, slowed down to an impossibly beautiful dance. New York is a city of dreams found and hope lost. A city of seekers, searching for what is elusive to all but those who truly see… see through the eyes of love. Such beauty is transformative. Those who experience it are forever changed. We swallow its beauty inside us and it grows there, fed by the soft light of memory and the fuel of longing.
E.B. White describes in his book three separate New Yorks. The NY of the native born, the NY of the commuter, and the NY of the seekers… those who come to New York to find something they could find nowhere else. This last NY he regards as the greatest of the three. It’s my friend’s New York, E.B. White’s, and mine as well, for each of us came to New York City searching for something we needed and could find nowhere else.
And each of us indeed found what we were looking for. NY whispered some of her secrets to us, took our broken hearts and made them whole again, gave us new dreams to replace the old, lost, or shattered ones. NY restored our faith in the existence of inner beauty by being bold and unapologetic of her rough edges and gruff exterior. For a time we were inside that beauty, inside her skin, seeing her magnificence, which can be missed by the commuters eye or the native born who takes her enchantments for granted. And still, each of us ultimately left NY to return to a place that is called home but somehow falls short of that one-word description.
E.B. White looked upon a very different city than I, as did my friend, but we all saw the same thing. We saw its hidden wisdom, distilled to its purest form; love. We saw its great heart and for a brief time, were taken into it, becoming that which can not be, yet is. For me it was but a moment in time, for my friend, two decades, for White, a lifelong dance in and out of the circle, with death singing the final tune, but for all three of us it was and is forever, because that moment will never cease to be and we will never leave.
Our souls haunt the streets of New York like ghosts searching for home. We look everywhere but inside us. New York isn’t three thousand miles away. It is here, wherever we are. It is not lost to the past, it is now. My New York, my friend’s New York, E.B. White’s New York has not been torn down by progress, or lost to the ravages of time… it stands in all its splendor and glory, performing for an audience of one in the vestibules of mind and heart, serving as portals to our dreams. But that “one” is a hundred thousand ones. A million ones. Ten million ones, for all who have truly known New York carry her torch within them and that fire will never be doused.