On the shallow end of what would have been my third summer in New York City, I fell back, a bit bruised, retreated west into the dry, gilded arms of Los Angeles, and watched the city grind on without me.
Two months before I’d been bestowed both a gift and a nuisance: options. The Park Slope apartment building I squeezed into with three women from Craigslist was being sold. We received the preemptive boot far in advance, so when a room opened up with one of my best friends in Los Angeles, and my job approved a transfer since I was primarily working from home, it felt like a sign. Liz Phair whispered in my ear, “go west, young man.”
But then, a wrench. A new job offer appeared, with a boggling salary increase, a bonus, and paid rent if I lived walking distance from the office. Which I did, and still could, because suddenly our building was no longer being sold. We all could stay. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw myself in New York. After two years I was finally getting comfortable—in the jaws of the city, in the culture of my industry, in the community of diamond people stuck in my orbit. Even a budding romance rose at the sun, the soil of everything all tilled and breathing.
Despite all that, though, at the end of the day I deeply missed Los Angeles, wanted to slip back into the skin of it, and yearned to be near the family of friends I’d left behind two years before. The money couldn’t cover that and honestly, California was better for my mental health. So I returned to my kith and kin while the new life I’d developed in Brooklyn rolled on, slick and polished, past-less and strong.
Here’s one of my curses: I’ve never made the right decision. Or, it never feels like I have. A lifetime of buyer’s remorse. Back in Los Angeles, I began to worry. Everything felt wrinkled. Maybe I should have stayed, and the money, and the girl, and the humid beer-blistered patios…
When you leave a city, the people still there figure out how to live without you. They have to. They grow into each and every corner of this new landscape, and when you return there might not be enough room for you. And even if they had locked in their layout, you’ve changed too. You’re no longer the same puzzle piece you once were. Maybe you won’t fit.
There I stood, shiftless in Los Angeles, sussing out how to rework my footing, soaking up all that might have been back in ebullient summer Brooklyn. Which to me, gut-socked and city-sick, beamed like a steel oasis in the mirage of social media. How easy it was to picture my ghost runner lingering on, in the Instagrams of rooftop sunsets and sandwich board snark and Prospect Park leg tangles and boundless summer Fridays. It sure is the rainbow in the oil, I know, what we show, what we share, in the best-foot-forwardness of our digital presence. But when you’re removed from the good-looking package your friends have chosen to present, it looks even better. It’s the highlights, of course, without any of the lows the city floats atop. It creates a mosaic of hyper representation, sans any NYC reality of swamp-assing the R platform and inhaling electric piss just to get to the rooftop party where everyone, seemingly, is upset about something. Oh, to have all that wiped away, it’s a dream. My ghost runner with someone beautiful, maybe in Crown Heights, supine, naked, AC growling, Caribbean music bouncing off the brick below, satisfied and anchored.
Sometimes, I wonder…
My current adjustment period in Los Angeles did nothing but amplify that fantasy, that fake summer in Brooklyn that I was darkly missing, and I couldn’t stop imagining the If.
Who would I be had I taken that job? Would my career be drastically different? Would that extra step have kept me in New York even longer, years and years later, becoming more Brooklynite than Angeleno? Would my coward friend still go for the girl I was seeing had I stuck around? Or would we even still be seeing each other? I don’t know and it doesn’t fucking matter. Thinking like this only torqued up my stress and made me nastier.
And that’s all. It happens and then it stops. There was no lesson gleaned from this uncomfortable shift—some summers just boil on without you, whether you’ve physically left or have just come home to difference. It’s rough and it’s clunky, like you, like all the lives still living after you’ve gone, all the shadows not Snapchatted. As I get older it seems that growing pains just come in new colors, and we, the highly emotional, will feel these stretches each and every time, while the fresh forces out the decay. What doesn’t happen doesn’t matter, and the paths untaken aren’t lives unlived. You can’t watch your life like Tetris, bricks falling into locked place from your job, your city, your friends. It’s not like that, packaged, contained, different versions coexisting. It’s happening wild all around you, and any minute it might explode.
Now I will swim another summer, my body a mix of all I’ve done before, all my shatters and decisions, and the things I didn’t do, with that little bit of New York seared into my Californian hide.