Do you know where you are now?
Do you know if you’ve been found?
Do you know how long you’ve been away?
54-40 remain the soundtrack of my years in Canada. Not because I necessarily sought out 54-40, but because that band was everywhere in my existence. 100.3 The Q (The Island’s Rock) played 54-40 incessantly in the 1990s. 54-40 played Arts County Fair so much that they asked for an honorary degree at ACF 12 (the year I stocked their hospitality suite with granola bars). Still, it’s these lines from “Miss You” that I keep hearing, especially the last one. Do you know how long you’ve been away?
I do know how long I’ve been away. It’s been eighteen years and counting since I left the Salish Sea in my Saturn. And over half of those years have been spent in New York City, which is where I am sitting now, in my apartment, which we technically still own. The difference is that I am now passing through New York City. I do not live in New York City. I live on the Main Line, outside Philadelphia, in an affluent suburb not unlike the one where I grew up.
It’s strange to think of the familiarity of Brooklyn or Manhattan and then recognize that I actually no longer have any claim to the city. It was strange to be riding in an Uber back to Brooklyn this evening, looking out at Midtown across the necropolis of Queens, a vista so familiar and yet no longer one I’m connected to. I had to unsubscribe to Gothamist today because I would read about a new restaurant, or development, or Mayor Adams policy, and it would slot immediately within my brain into the familiar context of the city, in the knowledge base I worked so hard to build over the last decade. And then I would realize, the thing that I was reading about would have no effect on me whatsoever, that I was no longer part of New York City, and the thought would send a physical pain through me.
New York City was my birthright, the place my ancestors came to a century and change ago. My grandparents lived within two miles of my co-op, in Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, before they even met. My mother was born in Queens. When I log onto US government websites, it says my birthplace is New York (it was assigned to me because I’m a US citizen born abroad but still). Most of all though, New York City was the place where I spent a decade, more time than I’ve lived anywhere else since I was growing up in Victoria. I dream of the cities on the Salish Sea but New York has also become a place I know by heart. I can walk this city and know that I have a memory for the majority of the blocks of Manhattan below Central Park and that I knew the chunk of Brooklyn from Wallabout Bay to Green-Wood, from DUMBO to Crown Heights, as well as anyone. I came here a young mother in a new-ish marriage, and really learned how to be a parent and a partner here. I built my career here. I had some of my dearest friends in the city with me. I made my life here thinking I’d always be part of this city. Sure, my apartment was small and narrow and weirdly laid out, but outside this apartment is New York City and really, isn’t that enough?
I know exactly how long I’ve been away. It’s only been a month since I officially declared my moving date and changed all my social media to say I live in Wynnewood PA but it feels like so much longer. Doesn’t time always move more slowly when one grieves? And that’s honestly what I need to do right now. I feel like my heart is breaking, like I need to mourn my relationship with New York City. I feel the same sorrow I do in a breakup, knowing I’ve lost a presence in my life. Perhaps I need a new Sorrow Mix, because the last one was made when I was in Los Angeles and mourning Vancouver.
Maybe if I made a new Sorrow Mix, and gave myself the space to grieve, I would be a little more prepared to reconcile myself to a life in which I do not live in NYC. In the next few decades I have allocated to me, I will live in Philadelphia or back in the Northwest, but I will never again really be part of this city the way I have been for the past decade. I am moving on to a new phase in Philadelphia, and I’m excited for that, but I still need to process this loss. Miss you, indeed.