New York is the refuge of misfits and dreamers. It gathers to its heart those who could not be contained by small Midwestern towns, Southern backwaters, and Northern villages. For what it lacks in literal space, it makes up with wide open avenues for the dreamers to turn ambition into achievement. And to the misfits, it opens warm arms of welcome. Here you will be loved. Here you will be accepted. As long as you learn how to dress because we’ll forgive you anything except a lack of style. It takes a certain type of person to thrive here because it was built by and for the people who would thrive nowhere else. Where would Harriman, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan be if they tried to build their empires from the vast corn fields of Kansas or the hills of Kentucky instead of the concrete and steel beating heart of NYC? They needed a place as hard and vital as they were, with the barely controlled violence of rush and dash that is the pulse of this city. And when the fortified isle of Manhattan proved unequal to the barons of business, they built it higher and greater to suit their ambitions.
On the other side, you have the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. They were the rejects, the malcontents who couldn’t make their way in the world, so they made their way here. They huddled in slums and tenements, struggling in the dirt for the promise that drew them. Some never make it. After all, NYC can be a cruel mistress and she doesn’t give her love easily. She doesn’t welcome you with a Southern twang and two hundred years of gentility and breeding. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t welcoming you in her own way. Because even in the dirt and the pain, there was camaraderie and community. The fat cats in their high-rising towers might spit on you and grind you down, but at least you weren’t alone down there. Just as the wannabe rock star who bitches about rent and the Man has his cohort to nod and agree.
New York City is above all, a place of potential. Her face is constantly changing and she welcomes the change. She challenges you to do your best and make your mark. It isn’t exactly easy. She can be a hard bitch to crack. But what else would you expect from a chick with her history? We’re talking jealousy, destruction, violence, bombs, bitches, and Boston. Okay sorry, I had to throw that last one in. It made me laugh. You get the point though. She’s a tough broad and she’s been through more than most cities can even imagine. She’s a pock-marked old hag with a smoker’s rasp, but in certain lights she can still dazzle.
NYC and I have a funny relationship. I came into this life just inside her outer boundaries and lived most of my life on the outskirts. She was the pitbull in the backyard that could be a frisky, happy puppy one day and a snarling bitch of a weapon the next. But her blood runs in my veins and I could travel the world and still call that fucker home. She’s in me and a part of me whether I like it or not, and thankfully most days I like it. I’m glad that there’s concrete in my guts and steel bracing my bones. But NYC doesn’t own my soul the way it does for some people. Those dreamers and misfits step onto her streets and finally feel home. It’s the place they’ve been searching for their whole lives, the place that will allow them to be who they really are. But for me, NYC was always there. I didn’t have to run to it, I didn’t have to beg to be taken in because I had always had one foot firmly planted on her streets and one foot out the door. I am part of this city, but it is not all of me and it never will be. Because the other foot is dug deep in soil that nourishes trees as tall as any building. I know how to protect myself against or in case of a mugging, but I also know how to tell if snow or rain is coming simply by smelling the air and watching the trees. I learned the names of birds and the species of trees that surrounded my house in the woods. I say things like, “it smells like snow,” and “black bears are nothing to worry about” while my city friends stare in confusion and disbelief.
That’s why I know that one day I’ll leave NYC behind. One day, I’ll fall out of step with her rushing heart and we will part ways. I want my imaginary future kids to know how to climb trees and catch fireflies. They’ll have their entire lives to figure out the big city if that’s what they want. And maybe one day they’ll be among those misfits and dreamers that these streets reel in. But for me, the siren call comes from another direction. I don’t quite know where it is yet, nor when it will draw me inexorably from NYC’s grasp. But one day it will happen, and I’m totally okay with that.