By Willa Umansky, PZ ’27
I’m thinking about all of this for the silliest of reasons, but I was playing my favorite game on my phone (Hinge) and I found myself in conversation with someone and they asked me what New York is like. Now I’m fully aware of the bullshit small talk status of this question, but I found myself frantically responding with a far too melodious, mini ode to New York. “Well it’s busy—like I can’t go to get a sandwich without seeing a million people and nights out always lead you to crazy places and food is great and everything is expensive but even scrounging there is fun so whatever.” I know what you’re thinking, ‘wow Willa you’re a great conversationalist who totally didn’t get to a cringe level of poeticism about your hometown via a terribly shallow question, I totally want to match with you on Hinge’ and to that I say—get in line, fellas.’
As this wildly sentimental devotion to my city spilled out of me, I realized that I think I miss New York. I think I miss New York, but the weird thing is I miss a bunch of New Yorks. Those bunches of New Yorks are the thousands of different lives that I’ve lived and moments that I’ve had. Those bunches of New Yorks are the only New Yorks I can confidently miss without the words ‘I think’ pacifying the statement, because they’ve passed and my retrospective lens is lined with rose colored nostalgia. I don’t know how else to describe it other than I long for every New York in my scrapbook of New Yorks. The other oddity about me thinking that I miss New York is that I’m entirely unable to wholly admit that I do miss the New York that tangibly, currently exists, so I resort to adding a passive “I think” before admitting my heart’s longing.
I think of college, in what is shamefully the most rural environment that I have ever lived in, as my modern equivalent of a Victorian boy traveling to the sea to get the health benefits of the salty air. I’m like totally getting the health benefits of salty air, but in the form of a reprieve from the fast-paced life I have lived until now—and will most definitely continue to live after college. Even though Claremont is just an escape and my return is impending, my tendency to glorify the past kicks in at full steam and allows me to unhealthily conflate definite missing and longing for what no longer exists.
Circling back to my point about missing a bunch of New Yorks, I miss the New York that was my mom dragging me to work at the hospital with her on a sled through a snowstorm. I miss the New York that was Shasha and Pops taking me out to dinner at that old school Italian place on a side street in Times Square before I saw Newsies for the first time. I miss the New York of shopping with my Mom for a dress to wear to a Christmas party in a brownstone on the edge of Washington square park that my Dad’s crazy ex-girlfriend insisted on bringing me to. I miss the New York of Dad and Uncle Eric taking me sledding before visiting Bubbie Claire all the way up in Riverdale. I miss taking the train to Soho with my friends to make our rounds to the Brandy Melvilles in the area and how my first tastes of freedom allowed me to paint the city as my own. I miss going out to birthday dinners with friends. I miss knowing my way around something that people can only dream of. I miss holding the city in my palm. I miss building the biggest apple out of every version of myself and every memory I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. These I can fully assert that I miss, because they’re distant memories that don’t patiently await my return.
Do I find myself yet again writing about crippling nostalgia that lives in the pits of my stomach? Yes! Yay! Gosh, I wonder what it’s like to not pine for something that hasn’t existed in forever. The “Yes! Yay!” were deeply ironic by the way, if you hadn’t gathered, because the voice in my head won’t stop shouting ‘fuck me’. What’s wrong with me? I sit to write a beautiful piece about how I long for this place that built me, that I’ve molded into my own as I’ve learned to tame its grandeur. But all I can do is ache for something that no longer exists. Am I only looking at memories that I paint enchantingly in retrospect?
Anyways, I think I miss New York. I hadn’t thought about it really since coming here, whether for the melodramatic reasoning of not wanting to let myself miss it or simply because I was too caught up. I’m not so sure, but I truly hadn’t thought about my burning desire for it since my arrival to college. But I think I miss New York. I think I miss going to my deli and getting my sandwich. I think I miss walking from my Mom’s house to my Dad’s house and vice versa. I think I miss going to bars and feeling better than everyone because I’m living what they all wish they could have had at my age. I think I miss taking the subway with friends, or popping in headphones and taking a solo trip. I think I miss strategically blasting Welcome To New York by Taylor Swift as I emerge from the steps of 34th Street Penn Station on my way to voice lessons. I think I miss deciding to walk 20 blocks downtown to sit at Madison Square park and write songs. I think I miss fall. I think I miss fall in New York. I think I miss New York.