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My Little Imagined City

Updated on November 27, 2012

My Little Imagined City

“Honey, this is New York. I’m sorry, it’s gone.” My mom tries to comfort, while at the same time give a life lesson, to my 4-year-old brother, who is two years older than me. We had been walking to dinner (apparently walking to dinner, as this story is entirely from the memory of my mother and father) and sometime along the way, my brother dropped the teensy tiny sword that was clasped in the hand of his little action figure, which may or may not have been Hercules. He didn’t realize this, however, until we reached the restaurant. When he broke the devastating news to my parents, my mom stated the famous line about New York. Little did she know, that meager sentence has a monstrous amount of meaning behind it. Or maybe she did know and I just don’t know. I actually definitely do not know, but the point of this essay is to discover what it is I know for sure about New York. And whatever conclusions I come to, may they help the next confused and exhausted new New Yorker.

Dylan, my brother, was unable to focus any of his attention at dinner on anything except for that sword that had, in his mind, disappeared into the awful, treacherous land of New York. After dinner, on our walk home, Dylan’s eyes were glued to the sidewalk. He penetratingly scanned the sidewalk, as my parents looked at each other powerlessly. What else could they say? They knew he’d never find it. The best parents in the world are no match to the infamous New York City. But, all of a sudden, Dylan bent down and called nonchalantly, “Here it is!” He actually found that miniscule sword. I wonder if New York can tell when you whole-heartedly (like a 4-year-old with a toy sword) want something. And then how many chances does New York present you?

When I was very young, probably around the age of 5 or 6, my parents had a little apartment somewhere in New York and we’d go there. All I remember was playing Nintendo with those thick, clearish blue controllers. We’d play the game with 1,000 games inside of it. That was my New York. Mom and dad would come and go, each time leaving us with that woman who was so nice and just let us play our game. My first taste of New York was in this room, and it was so great, and I thought that’s all New York was. It was just the room where we played games. Why can’t New York still be like that for me?

I don’t remember being on the streets much except for going to visit my Grandma. She has always been ‘grandma who lives in New York City’. I remember her building had a long awning jutting out in front of it, and every time I saw one like it, I would think it was her apartment building. My favorite thing in my Grandma’s apartment was in this little back room. It was this tray of sand with a little rake and I always jetted to that back room, trying to scramble out of my grandmas arms to play with that weird toy that was only in Grandma’s apartment, in New York. I would sit there and make designs in the sand with the little rake. Everything I loved about New York seemed to be little: the little apartment with the video games, the little tray of sand with the little rake in the little back room of my Grandma’s apartment. I want to try to get back to that point of view about New York at this stage of my life. It is about the small groups of people I come across and like to be around and the underground comedy clubs and the hidden Thai restaurants here that make New York incredible for the individual. My brother clearly cared about the little things too, especially the swords that come with his toys. New York appreciated that he cared so much about something little. It just wants you to care about something here, for real.

When I was a little older, around preteen, I had the idea that New York is endless activities. It’s infinite joy and fascinating people. You are never bored. I don’t know why I was so afraid of boredom growing up. Maybe it wasn’t so much my being afraid of monotony, as it was knowing for sure that there was somewhere in this world where it was possible to never be deprived of commotion and activity. The reality is that all of this is true. Everything you can imagine about New York is true. But you have to find it, and New York is rigid. It’s tough and it’s not flexible. This city wants you to work for it. I’m just starting to understand that it’s not possible for me to like every bit of the big apple. I think it starts with the people you connect with. Once you find people who complement you, and they are just as interested in you as you are in them, you’re at the base of enjoying the city. Finding people to connect with may be a difficulty regardless of where I am, but of course, every idea seems to magnify here.

New York is imagined. I think I know it, I almost have it in my grasp, like a detail of a dream I was certain happened and then instantaneously everything about the image I almost conjured is gone. I’m gone, unmoving in time, with not a single tangible thought, just a blur of something I thought I saw. Sometimes I’ll be in the mood of ‘New York is incredible’. In my dorm, which looks over the west side of Washington Square Park, I can hear music. I hear trumpets and drums and then small crowds of people clapping. Once in a while, a voice floats into my window. Its so clear and unblemished and close and right there, that they could have said it right next to me. It always catches me off guard. New York lives to surprise people, I think. I look out my window into the park and see people drifting, or on a mission. I have this idea that someone can really never be both wandering and getting somewhere at the same time. As I walk through the park to class, I sometimes feel myself trying to pretend that I don’t really have anywhere to be. I look around and notice things. I don’t speed walk. I have to get to class on time, but I don’t want anyone else to know it. I don’t want the city to think it has authority over me, even though I feel its powers of motivation, deprivation and exhilaration seeping into every pore of my body, relentlessly.

When my brother lost and then miraculously found the tiny sword that belonged with his action figure, I think that was a sign. My brother has tremendous Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And he can’t live in the city because it’s too much for his brain. His experience with losing his sword should have been an indication for his future. New York tried to tell us something, but maybe we didn’t listen. New York sees everything. New York recognizes you all the time, even though everyone else doesn’t seem to. I say seem to because I’m still a hopelessly positive person. I’m trying to work on that. New York is helping me, of course. I still have overly perfect images of my future in New York, even though my expectations for college didn’t turn out the way I planned. This place isn’t always boredom-defying and opportunity-throwing.

I have a gnawing feeling that my future in New York really isn’t going to be how I’ve imagined it, but I won’t sincerely consider it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just my brother who can’t handle the city. I feel I would certainly be worse off if this is true, since I’ve invested everything I am and want to be in this disorientating city. Have I already been infected with the curse that forces you to stay, and if you do escape, drags you back? Why do I feel I need to live up to this standard of being interesting, independent and cultured to everyone I’ve left at home? Why not go back to the ways of being unequivocally content with the little city filled with little joys I fell in love with? Does New York know what I actually want out of it? Not everything is fleeting in New York; that I’ve learned. Maybe my first understanding of my mom’s statement “Honey, this is New York. I’m sorry, it’s gone” was a hyperbole just like New York is a hyperbole in all that it represents. That small plastic sword was something this city handed back to my brother and I wonder if New York helps others realize what they want and where exactly they’re supposed to be. It’s not always advocating for itself, that’s for sure. The reason most people come back to New York must be to thank it then.

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