The end of my time in New York approached slowly, then came all at once. I seemed like there would always be a tomorrow, until one day there wasn’t. I always knew that day wouldn’t be easy, and as excited as I was for graduation, I was all too aware that the excitement would be quickly followed by a move that I wasn’t at all looking forward to.
Why were there so many things I still hadn’t done? Why did I never go to the Brooklyn Museum, a mere 20-minute walk from my apartment? Why had I spent so little time in Prospect Park? So many things on my New York City ‘To Do List’ that weren’t crossed off. So many shops and restaurants I walked past and told myself I’d go into next time I was in the neighborhood. All the things I didn’t do began to echo louder and louder in my head. Had I taken it all for granted?
As the day grew closer, I began to take note of the things I would miss. Simple things. Unexpected glimpses of the Empire State Building and unplanned visits to the Met. My regular coffee shop with perfect bagels where the baristas knew my order. My commute to work, or to class, or to run errands when I could read on the subway and walk and not worry about being stuck in traffic. Seeing something new every day. I started walking slower, enjoying every moment. Since moving to New York I had become a fast-walker. But knowing that those walks were numbered, I wanted to make them last as long as I could.
I spent my last New York weekend walking around the city by myself. Over two days, I walked 15 miles. From Union Square to the High Line, back to the Flat Iron Building and up Broadway to Central Park. The next day, from DUMBO to Brooklyn Bridge Park, then onto Soho and the West Village. I just walked. My New York had been a city seen on foot. I loved walking for miles, through quiet parts of the city, through parks, through midtown, along the Hudson River. Some days, while riding the Q train home, I would make an impromptu decision to stay on until the last stop, Coney Island. The train goes above ground after Prospect Park and I would watch Brooklyn pass by below until I could see the ocean. I’d walk along the boardwalk and to the end of the pier. It was always best in the fall and winter, with almost no one around, with locks on gates and big metal doors pulled down on Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. It was all a little grayer than it was in the summer, and that was how I liked it. Even better was the snowstorm in early 2016, one of the biggest in the city’s history. The snow didn’t melt for days, and after class one night, I walked all the way home. Even New York City becomes silent under three feet of snow.
On my last day in the city, I woke up surrounded by boxes of my things, packed and ready to load into my car. The morning was uneventful. I took the subway to a doctor’s appointment on Wall Street then had breakfast at a random diner where I had not-so-great pancakes served by a not-so nice waitress. I felt hyper-aware that it was my last time doing something “normal”, like going to the doctor, in the city. As I sat on the subway going back home, I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t read. I just sat, watching and listening. A woman got on the train yelling at someone on her phone. A cheating boyfriend. When she lost service, she continued to shout about what he had done to, I suppose, everyone on the train. Just another average day in New York. Maybe it was good that it was average. Even an average day in New York would leave me with something to remember.
Now, I’m living in Connecticut, though it’s a temporary stopover on the way to whatever is coming next. I have my car. I drive to the gym instead of walk. I drive everywhere. But I have Lyle, and Edgar and Aria, and that counts for a lot. Still, I miss waiting on the subway platform, leaning out over the tracks to see if the train is coming. I feel a pang in my chest when I think of the screeching of the train, car horns, or the sound of the elevator doors in my building. The New York Subway app is still on the homepage of my phone, and I don’t plan on moving it any time soon. I like seeing it there. I don’t want to admit that I don’t need it anymore.
The city is only 2 hours away, but I feel that I need to let a little time pass before I return to visit. I need to let the feeling of not being there sink in. I suspect that when I do go back, it will all come back to me, that it will all feel natural to me still. The crowds and the noise won’t bother me. The subway will be easy. I’ll always know my way around. The map of New York City is forever burned in my brain, partially because of my studies in graduate school, but also because of the hours I’ve spent studying it, dreaming of one day calling it home.