I used to love the 3 train – it would whip me down to Atlantic-Pacific from 96th (transferring after one quick stop on the 1), bundled closely by the tunnel and the people. It was best at 11 PM on a Wednesday coming back up, seats available up and down the car. That was when you could really feel the curves in the track, coming in vibrations and these awful loud groans that, if you hadn’t heard them fifty times before, would unsettle even the savviest rider. It was the emptiness of the train then that un-muzzled the beast and kept me awake until at least Fulton Street. From there, we were all napping together.
He seemed oblivious to the snow, this man naked but for the shirt on his back. We were out to buy bagels, fresh baked, doughy, Absolute Bagels. In the summer, we’d get them fast and then walk to the ledge in the park that overlooked the soccer fields. With feet dangling, we were hard pressed to pivot attention from the awkward dance of children’s soccer below to the brilliant decadence of bagel sandwiches above, and back. The fall brought students back uptown and announced the end of no-wait bagels. By the winter, the students had learned that cold weather was no deterrent. Neither was the first snow. He strode down the street, either the victim of a one-night-stand gone wrong or a more tragic victim made whimsical by the snowflakes. That day we regretted the line. There goes our chance at ring toss.
The fur coat hugged me quietly, curling up around my neck when I sat, and whispering “luxury” to the vaulted ceiling and panoramic view of Columbus Circle ahead. We aren’t jazz connoisseurs but magic is hard to miss. Walking home the city shimmered, the heat from the fur and jazz enduring, persuasive. Mirage-worthy.
It’s tough to move away from a place. I remember when I was about 7 years old, tucking myself away behind my father’s brown chair and penning a note to the world at large that declared my stubborn dissent from the impending move, Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. It turned out fine. Frankly, memories of my cherished Pennsylvania life are so few that I sometimes worry about my early mental faculties. Either that or fret over what the amnesia may foreshadow for my old age.
In any case, I don’t miss Pennsylvania very much. I don’t know what to miss, save a few scenes aided into being by my parents’ stories and a set of lively photo albums. I do recall the flash of never wanting to leave – a sentiment matched and magnified in every subsequent move since then. This time, I’d like that feeling to extend indefinitely. I always want to regret leaving New York.
To be clear: New York isn’t the greatest place on earth; it’s not the only place worth succeeding; it’s not an ideal to be tamed; it doesn’t promise love stories; it doesn’t even promise stories. I still got a few out of the deal, but you can see from above that they’re hardly the stuff of legends. No, I always want to regret leaving New York because of the finality that leaving imposes on the content of my time there. It necessarily petrifies those experiences, stores them in a file (or, in the case of the second story – an adult snow globe), and commands me to move on.
I may miss New York now, but that’s not the primary value I’d like to assign to my relationship with the city. To miss means that we must remember that which we have lost, so that we might continue to notice the absence of that thing. Memories of the city in snippets, the packets of detail that were my own? Some of those are already fading. One day they may all go the way of Pennsylvania, and then where will I be?
I also regret leaving the city, and that’s what I’ll keep fresh. Regret doesn’t require us to recall and reflect on the details of our experiences; it just needs us to feel sadness or disappointment that they are over. That’s a sentiment I want to live with. It substantiates the good of my city life: it didn’t just sound or look good, it was good. I wasn’t nearly done with living it when it was prematurely shelved.
Digital cameras and social sharing have made common a practice of recording and announcing one’s activities, sometimes at the expense of indulging in a moment as it occurs. Moving away from a place I lived, and experienced, is producing recorded and announced memories of those experiences for me. I’m their public (and now you are too, for some). We could look and reflect on them together, and say – huh, these things happened and they were x. But that’s not enough. I value those moments by wishing they went on, were going on now, not by reviewing them. I would prefer to continue as the indulgent subject of my experiences in the city, not the audience. Put me back in the snow globe.
So I always want to regret leaving New York. I hope I’ll say the same for every subsequent place I live. It shouldn’t just be a narrative of our experiences that assures us of their worth – it should be the impulse to continue that narrative.