They say once you’ve lived in New York City for ten years, you can officially call yourself a New Yorker. Today, that’s me. It’s my day of becoming, where “New York City” allows me to evoke her name and become a shareholder in her legacy. It’s a day I never imagined would happen and a day I imagined over and over.
On August 14th, 2010, I landed in New York to begin a marketing internship at an Off-Off Broadway theater with the hopes of finding a job that would allow me to remain in the city when that internship came to an end. I was brimming with optimism—if I’d had a hat I would’ve thrown it into the air on 10th Avenue a la Mary Tyler Moore—and while I was nervous, any anxiety was overshadowed by the fact I was in the city I loved, not for a vacation but for real. I would wake up here every day and nothing had ever felt so full of possibility.
In many ways, New York has retained that feeling. There’s always been more to see, more to do, more to experience and more to take in. There’s always a new building or monument or parade or festival or street fair; a new coffee shop or restaurant or bar or cookie place; a new musical or museum exhibit or art installation; a new friend or visitor or colleague. But the New York of today, the New York in which I can officially call myself a part, is a very different place than when I moved in. Frankly, it’s a very different place than it was six months ago.
There are facets of New York that won’t ever be open again; places and faces that’ve been shuttered because of the pandemic. There won’t be another late night talking with friends at Saloon. It’s gone. No more queso and margaritas at one of the few real Tex Mex restaurants in New York. It’s gone too. There won’t be another Mulled Latte from my favorite coffee shop either. It was open one morning and completely gutted the next. All over the city, restaurants and bars are shuttering, closing under the weight of the rent they couldn’t pay during the year that’s changed the face of our world. There are plays we will never experience, traditions we will go without, and most of all, people we won’t see again. There are faces at my office I won’t return to, hands I won’t ever shake again, laughs that won’t again be shared. People who died from the virus. Joey’s vet, the kindest, most attentive woman in the world, passed away early in the scourge from the virus as well. These are just a few among the thousands lost. New York City exists today in an enduring cloud of loss and it’s one that won’t dissipate any time soon.
I feel conflicted about my New York anniversary because today, I’m not actually in the city. I wish I was but at the same time, the aspects of New York that make it that place I love aren’t open, available, or possible at the moment. There would be no brunch to celebrate and clink sangria glasses with friends who’ve become family. There would be no night out having dinner and strolling through our old stomping grounds. There would be no boat ride around the island at sunset, taking in the views of the city against the watercolors of the sky. There would be no tickets for a musical to cap off the day like there was on my first day in the city ten years ago. It’s a tough reality.
The 65th Anniversary of Disneyland was earlier this summer and of course, the park was closed. I was disappointed, not just because I happened to be in Los Angeles and would’ve loved to have been at the park, but because I have such a penchant for anniversaries. I love commemoration. It’s why being incapable of commemorating my big milestone in New York has been so difficult.
I’ve spent the past two months outside of the city, first in Dallas where I grew up and then in Los Angeles which has grown on me. After 99 days of being alone inside my tiny apartment—a place I love but was in desperate need of a respite—I took the opportunity to get out and be with my people. That’s the other thing about New York, it’s not the places or shows or restaurants or shops that make it such a meaningful place, it’s the people with whom you go to those places that do. When you can’t be with those people, everything loses a bit of its sheen and sparkle.
So today has shifted a bit. A day intended for commemorating something so momentous has shifted to becoming more about remembering what was and recognizing the start of a new chapter. The New York that existed will continue to exist, locked inside memories and feelings and photographs, but we will be entering something new. Eventually. The city won’t look or even feel the same as it did six months ago but it will morph and change into something new; another life in a city that has had many.
As I pack today to head back to my apartment in Harlem where I’ve lived for most of my ten years, I’m thankful for the New York I’ve known for a decade. I’m thankful for the shows I’ve seen and the salsa I’ve eaten and the picnics on the water and the late nights under disco balls. I’m thankful for Friendsgivings and eight years of BLEEP Magazine and for meeting the love of my life. And I’m optimistic about what’s next both for me, a newly-minted New Yorker, and my city. It’s still the place I love most in the world and every day, I can’t believe I get to live there.