Welcome (or Not) to New York. It's Been Waiting for You.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

I was supposed to go to New York City last weekend for what would've been my first visit since spring 2019. It was the third time in three years that I have canceled a planned trip to the city.

I don't know why, but visiting New York seems incredibly overwhelming to me post-pandemic. Obviously many, many other people live there, and they're managing just fine, but to me, New York seems very much like the before times, like a different version of my life wherein I was a different person who had different abilities that I have now inexplicably lost. 

I used to pride myself on how easy it was for me to manage in New York, even as this lifelong Midwesterner who should, for all intents and purposes, have absolutely no idea what to do in a city that damn big. It always felt normal to me, the rushing and the observing and the rude-when-you're-in-a-hurry-but-kind-when-you're-not vibes that New Yorkers have.

It helped, too, that I had friends and family there, a job and an office and coworkers who'd lived there their entire lives. It made New York feel a little bit like home to me, even if it never was. It meant that I always had someplace to stay, whether in the spare bedroom at my friend's mom's apartment or the spare bedroom in my mom's cousin's penthouse or even just sharing my best friend's bed in her one-bedroom in downtown Brooklyn. One time, I stayed on the couch of a friend in Queens and woke up at 2a.m. to someone singing Katy Perry lyrics right above my head, so loudly that they might as well have been laying there with me. It was obnoxious but somehow also charming, as so much of New York is.

But these days, New York feels like too much. I don't know if it's because I've gotten older or wiser or more anxious or less adept, or maybe I've just become a little bit lazier, a little bit more attached to the creature comforts of knowing exactly where I am and how to do things. I used to love to travel, and New York never really even felt like travel. But now, it all just feels a little bit unfathomable.

Mike and I were supposed to go to Park Slope for a bat mitzvah. Flights are wildly expensive and unreliable these days, so we were going to drive to New Jersey and stay with a friend, my former boss, who lives in the suburbs with her teenage son. We were going to spend time with another friend and her husband, who we haven't seen since... God, has it really been since our wedding? That was five years ago! That can't be right. What is time, anyway? 

But anyway, Mike found out the weekend beforehand that he'd have to stay in town for some unexpected work stuff, and I balked at the idea of driving eight hours alone, not necessarily because of the driving itself but just because, well, ugh, you know? It sounded like so much.

And there was this niggling panic, too, about New York in general because I feel like I don't know how to do it anymore. 

The first time I canceled a trip was in early 2020 because the morning I was supposed to fly out for a work retreat, I learned that I'd had a miscarriage. I took a hotel and airline credit for the trip, and then I simply never returned, not only because the pandemic began soon afterward but because in just over a year, I had left that job and taken a new one, closer to home, one where I'll never foreseeably need or be permitted to travel on the company dime. It's one of the things I miss the most about my old job, which now feels like a dream (and some days, when I'm being realistic, a bit of a nightmare). 

The second time I canceled was this June, when I was going to make my triumphant return and just... didn't. I never made the plans, never followed through, I think because on some level I just didn't feel like I could. Why, though? What am I even getting at here? I don't know, really, but that time, I canceled because I knew, deep down, that if I really wanted to go, I would've been gung-ho about planning, about arriving, about all of the doing. And I just wasn't.

This time, canceling didn't feel nearly as satisfying. I felt like I'd made the right decision, but it was also a very hard decision. I didn't want to drive 16 hours alone in one weekend; that was the crux of it. If I'd been flying, I would've kept my plans to go alone, I think. I would've ripped off that Band-Aid that has come to feel more like a plaster cast, suffocating and paralyzing despite the fact that, beneath it, the bones have probably healed by now. 

Maybe I'm just clinging to this inexplicable internal insistence that New York is a place of my past, not of my future, that it's a place of pain, not of growth; it's a place of versions of myself I've left behind. Even my best friend, the one with the kind mom and the large bed she's always been willing to share, no longer lives there. Without her there, who I am? But perhaps more importantly, without me here, who am I?

I don't want to be a person who's scared to do new things or, for that matter, scared to do old things. I'm going to Napa in January, and I'm thrilled; I can't wait to go someplace I've never been, to see friends I haven't seen for so long, to explore and adventure and feel that exhilaration of doing something brand new to me. And yet, I still can't seem to get myself to New York, can't seem to shake the strange terror that has set in whenever I think about returning. 

As much as I want to be there, it just doesn't feel like it's time yet. I can't help but worry, though: If I keep putting it off, will it ever be time again? 

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