“New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it – once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”- John Steinbeck
I left New York in a panic. It was June 2020. New York had suffered more death than it had known since 2001. From March to June over 20,000 people had died in New York City because of Covid 19. It was a terrifying time. The entire city’s anxiety was palpable. My anxiety made me feel fatigued in a way I have never known. Trapped in a 600 square foot apartment with nowhere to go, I was depressed, lonely, and hated the shithole that was New York.
My wife’s family lives in Vancouver, Canada. In March 2020 she went to go visit her family. Soon after the borders closed. We were separated. I thought I would be fine, of course. But I wasn’t. I was soon left in a city that had shut down with thousands dying around me. I worked, of course. But as many of my patients could attest, my anxiety was high, and I was never as engaged as I would have liked. But on June 9, 2020, Canada and the United States agreed to allow spouses to enter the country to be reunited as a compassionate COVID measure. The second the news was announced, I bought a ticket and left. I was going to be reunited with the person I loved most in the world.
When I arrived in Vancouver and became situated, I became enamored the way a schoolgirl can be enamored by the new boy in school. I loved it here. I loved the perfect 70-degree weather throughout the summer. I loved the endless bike lanes against the ocean, the beautiful nature all within the city limits, the accessible beaches where I spent day after day swimming and reading.
I thought about New York in contrast. It was ugly. It was dirty. It cost too much. There was no accessible nature. Everything was difficult. Even doing laundry was difficult. It was noisy as hell. I fucking hated the place. I wanted to never return to that hellhole. I wanted to stay here on the West Coast and feel the ocean breeze every morning. I wanted to smell the enormous firs of Stanley Park and chat with the white-bellied Mergansers floating over the Pacific Ocean.
I planned to stay in Vancouver only a short time, however. New York for better or worse was my home, and I needed to return. But the days became months. Life got in the way. A few medical procedures had to be handled. COVID went wild throughout the United States. British Columbia by contrast had their COVID problems under control. There was no reason to leave Canada anytime soon. So I stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed…
Flash forward 10 months later. I have returned to New York City and my small dingy East Village apartment. The city has hardly recovered from COVID. The streets are half full. Many of my favorite restaurants and bars have shuttered forever. But I am in love again with the city at least for now.
How can I explain it? The sounds of the city, which maddened me and made me long for quiet, now feel like old friends who I have not spoken to for years. I whisper to them my gratitude and tell them how I missed them. The sirens, whose din used to drive me insane, I now chat with over a walk. “Hello, sirens, thanks for welcoming me home.” The smells of garbage bags piled up may as well be the wafted scent of lavender on an English hillside. The drunk homeless man, who stood in the middle of 2nd Avenue last night as a car whizzed by him and honked, is my best friend and companion. We all choose to live in this madness. We all need each other.
What a city it is. For so long I was in love with this place, New York City. I wanted to live here forever. The United States had no equivalent. By 2018, however, I had felt exhausted by it, longed for anything else. But maybe my love has returned. Like an old lover returned from the past, I feel a familiar warmth for New York. I see all of its wondrous qualities and can suddenly overlook its faults with acceptance and love. Will it last? Probably not. Feelings are impermanent. Life is in constant flux. But for now, I am glad to be home. New York Fucking City. What a horrible, dirty, ugly, amazing, energetic, beautiful place.