The Joys and Sorrows of Loving and Leaving New York

February 4 2015
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When I told my friends at work about the financial problems my family was facing, I described it like a temporary bohemian adventure set in Brooklyn. I thought my husband and children and I emanated an underdog success-cum-romance that would end with us finding the perfect rent-controlled apartment. Some kooky coincidence would pave the way for us to stay. Of course it would.

When I next confessed that we were thinking of leaving Brooklyn altogether, no one was the least bit surprised. “That’s what happens!” they exclaimed, a little too supportive. “Everyone’s moving to Jersey!”

The truth is, when you have to leave New York, for whatever reason, there’s nobody to talk to. You’re on your own for that one.

Leaving New York City is a loss. You grieve it. It’s who you were. It’s your middle name. New York. When you leave, you are missing something. In New York I found myself. I found my people, my tribe. I found my mate. I opened my arms to welcome everything I ever wanted and feared. Joan Didion, in the essay that gave its name to Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York wrote, “I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.”

I couldn’t read Goodbye to All That for a long time after I left Brooklyn. I brought the book home from a business trip and unpacked it with my dirty underwear and contact solution. It sat on my bedside table for weeks. Weeks and dusty weeks. During that time, friends from the city kept emailing or texting or IMing with articles I didn’t want to read about how Brooklyn was so overpriced now, and everyone was getting squeezed out. My publishing friends would write, “Have you read Goodbye to All That?” I’d change the subject.

I try to think of my move back to Denver, husband and kids in tow, as an adventure. I try to see it in the same light as my move to New York eight years ago, but I can’t. And even though my parents still live in the house where I grew up, on the same block where I first learned to drive and where I fell in love when I was sixteen, I can’t really think of it as coming home. Some people fall in love with this city the first time they see it, I’ve heard. They breathe in the mountain air, climb to the top, ski down, then drink a craft beer. Denver friends keep reminding me that this there is a lot of adventure to be had in Denver. Maybe they’re right, but I really hate skiing.

I knew I was ready—both to say goodbye and to read the book—when I started to feel tingling affection for Colorado’s blue skies, warm days, and starry nights. I may never love Denver the way I loved New York. I may not even stay, though I’m certainly grateful for the chance to stretch, breathe, and grow here.

I finally picked up Goodbye to All That: Writers On Loving and Leaving New York after I’d been in settled Colorado for six months. I read about the exoduses of authors I loved: Roxane Gay, Emily Gould, Cheryl Strayed. I gasped at Rebecca Wolff’s high school experiences as a New York club kid from her essay “So Long, Suckers.” I ached with the broken hope in Elisa Albert’s essay, “Currency.”

Goodbye to All That simultaneously bandaged and poured salt into my New York–sized wound. Reading these essays helped me feel that my intermittent joy and sorrow upon leaving New York City was not out of place, like a book on grieving might help a new widow find solace. These essays were written and compiled for me. Anyone who ever loved and left New York will find a sliver of themselves in this book, a reflection of who they used to be and who they left behind.

And for those who have never visited New York, this is a book of dreams that will transport you to a busy street corner, snowflakes falling gently, taxis whisking by, and the smell of your lover still on your clothes.

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Goodbye to All That
Sari Botton

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