This essay was originally published on March 7, 2012.
First, I must give thanks to my friend Deb for this picture she took of the downtown New York City skyline while visiting last weekend. Deb’s picture inspired this post because, as was commented when she posted it to her Facebook page, it looks very “21st century,” as opposed to old New York. It got me thinking about just how much New York City has changed – not since I left Brooklyn in 1991 and moved to the suburban enclave of Massapequa (that’s in Nassau County, on Long Island), but about how much it has changed since I left the area entirely in 2008. For the first time in almost 4 years, it dawned on me that I am no longer a quick car or train ride away from the city I grew up in. Why did it take so long? The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that I wasn’t careful what I wished for.
Everyone is (I hope) familiar with the saying, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.” Never has that been truer for me than when I hauled my cookies here to Toronto, to live in the city I’ve always been proud to call my second home. Two-and-a-half years later, I’m not entirely sorry I made the move, but let’s just say that what I wished for and what actually happened haven’t exactly been a dream-come-true. I’m not naive enough to believe in that perfect utopian state of being, but in hindsight, maybe I should have stuck around. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.
I must admit that things aren’t entirely crappy here in the Great White North. Toronto is the place where I realized my dream of actually getting paid to write. It is also home to the best bagels in North America (in my opinion), a Tim Hortons within walking distance from almost anywhere, and, let’s not forget: Canada is the land of government-sponsored healthcare. Oh, and how about those Leafs? They’re coming up on 45 years without having won a Stanley Cup, which last happened, coincidentally, two days before I was born. Food, healthcare and hockey aside, the biggest disappointment I’ve encountered, sadly, hits much closer to home.
When I came here, I was desperately in need of some empathy and tender loving care from my family. You know how you have this idea in your head that blood is thicker than water and family will always support you no matter what? The toughest lesson I’ve learned since I got here is that that sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth. The reality is, the perfect family – you know, the ones you always see in the movies and on television – does not exist. No, the “perfect” family is more Dickensian than Brady. As long as we’re talking fiction, the contemporary author who has most accurately nailed the concept of family has to be Jonathan Franzen. Anyone who has read The Corrections is likely to agree with me on that. Based on that harsh reality, I don’t consider my move a geographic boo-boo, but rather a Freudian one; or maybe Jungian. Oh hell, pick a philosopher; their theories are all up for debate in the loony bin I was born into. The sad part is, it took me almost my entire life to realize just how loony they actually are.
I know there are very few people who can honestly say their families are not loony in some way. “Normal” is a term that does not exist in my opinion; “crazy” is the one we should be examining, since, as Douglas Coupland wrote, All Families are Psychotic. Ain’t it the truth.
So what does this have to do with a picture of New York City? Growing up in Brooklyn, working in Manhattan, and living close to New York City was always “enveloping.” Many people who find New York intimidating will likely believe that I’m the crazy one, but hear me out: being a New Yorker is something that is always with you. Whether it’s your accent, your sensibilities, your overall demeanour – you never lose it no matter where you go. Somehow, the geography becomes intertwined with your DNA and becomes a part of you. Physiologically that’s not possible, but psychologically, I’m convinced, because Toronto and New York are the two places I’ve spent my entire life in. Toronto is where I live, and where my family is, but right now, living here makes me feel isolated and displaced. New York, on the other hand, would welcome me back with open arms – I think. After all, I am supposed to be a tough Brooklyn chick. Only lesser people than me get chewed up and spit out by the big city. Or should I once again be careful what I wish for? If only I had a utopian crystal ball I could gaze into to obtain that answer.