Fitzgerald wrote: "The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty of the world." He was writing about a particular approach-way to Manhattan, but it’s the same sentiment anyone feels when the city is just out of reach. Seen from beyond its limits, it’s a tremendous promissory oasis the greatest repository for possibility ever constructed by human hands. This is its elusive sleight of hand: New York is never so romantic than exactly at those moments when it cannot be had.
I’ve been thinking about this truth and Fitzgerald’s line often as I prepare to leave the city behind and move away. As my time has dwindled, I’m reminded of how intensely romantic the city can seem when it threatens to slip away. In less than a week I’ll be on a plane to a new home in Singapore where I’m being transferred for work, and I’ll leave behind New York as my home. It won’t be a dispassionate farewell. With every "x" I mark on the calendar, I’m more and more aware of this beating organ in my chest, and its unexpected weight and softness.
“In a week I’ll say goodbye to New York, but not dispassionately. The city never seems so romantic as when it’s slipping through your fingers.”
It should be easy to leave this place. New York has an infamously cruel touch and a magnificent awfulness. I have a suitcase of miserable remembrances, incidents of supreme indifference to my personal agenda, and hollow, hateful infractions with the populace and architecture. But these things scatter in the face of departure. They don’t seem to matter now, not so much really. Not when confronted with the realization that New York will no longer be available to me. In a week, it will be true for me to say that "New York cannot be had."
And what would I have from it? I’d have the city as a sprawling, glamorous playground for the young, a mirror house of vanities and aspirations. The bars, coffee houses and clubs, and the pageants of privilege that stroll its streets. I’d have the pockets of singularities and peculiarities, every strange and frightening aberration that ever slept in its alleyways.
Most of all, I’d have all of my friends, the people I’ve toiled with and drank with. I’d have the luxury of having time to spend with them still. There’ll be no more coffee shops or midnight meals with them for me once I’m gone. No more hours whiled away with them, seeking reflections of our selves and our futures in one another’s chatter. I’d have my friends’ hunger, too, their twisted love for New York and their dissatisfactions and aspirations. That’s the thing that made the city go ’round for me. Not the money that seeps from Wall Street, but the hunger and yearning for living, an unflinching electricity that relentlessly searches
The next time I come back to New York, I’ll be a tourist. My conversations will be pockmarked with bemused nostalgia: "Look at everything that’s changed! Why, I remember in nineteen ninety-nine
" My friends will all smile politely at my wistfulness, but what could be more boring to somebody living the city’s churning cycles everyday than the ramblings of a sentimental deserter? The thing is, I won’t even be talking about the same New York as the one they’ll be living in. I’ll be extolling an imagined ghost. A cinematic cityscape made up from heartaches, forgiveness, fantasies; the romantic New York that cannot be had. Until I come back to live here again if I come back to live here again this imagined New York will be the one I keep. All of the city, all of my time living here and all of my friends, will be kept in this imaginary city space, shimmering calmly between the cast shadows of skyscrapers and tenement housing. And each time I look upon them, I’ll see them as if for the very first time, as if from the Queensboro Bridge.