Friday, July 30, 2010

Break Up

My first tattoo. The dots are where we lived. The shape in the middle is Prospect Park where were were married.

From the time I understood what New York City was I wanted to be there. And when I did get there it felt so right. Every time I’d leave it I felt like I was missing something. Every time I’d come back I’d feel like I was home. Home. That feeling, that word held such significance. I went to 9 schools before I graduated high school. My upbringing was unique and in many ways wonderful, I feel lucky to have gotten to travel and living in New Zealand as I entered my teens was extraordinary, but I always wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted to know the same people forever and feel like a real part of a community.

Brooklyn provided that feeling for me. Well, Brooklyn and Zeke. I’m pretty shy at first, but Zeke has the ability to make friends with anyone anywhere. We lived in a very Italian section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn when we were married. Although we were clearly part of the wave of gentrifying hipsters (though we tried to convince ourselves we weren’t) the Italian old timers loved us. Z dresses like he is right out of 1942 and they couldn’t get enough of his fedoras and ties. And my Italian last name was enough for them. The Bangladeshi owner of the quick stop across from our apartment and his family attended our wedding. And the low level mafia guy who was in charge of our area gave us an envelope full of cash as a gift. They all took Z to a strip club in Queens in celebration. It was all so foreign to us, poor Z was completely uncomfortable about the strip club thing. But I was delighted; we belonged.

Z and I also discussed our future plans at length. I told him Brooklyn was home. I wanted to raise kids there if we decided to have them. I wanted to live there forever. Do things ever go the way you plan them? Z soured on the city after a few years and our relationship was in real trouble. I had a choice to make—stay in Brooklyn and lose Zeke or keep Zeke and lose Brooklyn. I made the right choice. But I have missed that city every single day. We change and we grow and where we live can seem like a small thing, but being a New Yorker was such a huge part of my identity. Sometimes I wondered if it was too much of myself to give up. And for the last four years I have fantasized about moving back.

Every time we visit the city Z and I fight. We lived there too long for him to have any pleasant feelings about the place. Even a short visit unleashes such venom from him, which is so unusual. My sweet husband has very little bitterness in him, he leaves that to me. And being there reminds me of everything that I have given up. I always look forward to the trips so much, but every time I leave with a bad taste in my mouth and a lot of resentment aimed at Z.

A few weeks ago one of my best friends had a baby and our little family made the trip to Brooklyn to see her and her amazing family. It was a great visit, a family they knew in their building was away for the weekend so we had our own space to stay and I had lots of time with these people that I love so much. On top of seeing them we got to spend an afternoon with another of our best friends, the guy who introduced us and who was the best man at our wedding. It was heaven.

But something heartbreaking happened. For the first time the city was too hard for me. For the first time I realized I didn’t want to live there. I had changed. I wasn’t a New Yorker and I didn’t want to be. Right now the most important thing in the world to me is Thomas. And our life in our sweet little house with our amazing yard in Syracuse, NY is right for him. We can’t provide the same things for him in Brooklyn. We just can’t afford it.

The realization was simultaneously a relief and a huge loss. I am happy to be where I am in life, happier than I can remember ever being. But letting go of a piece of who I am feels like a break up of sorts. I don’t want to let go of Brooklyn even though I already have.

Hanging out in our beautiful backyard.

T with one of the tomatoes we grew.


  1. Don and I have similar issues with NY. He hates it, I love it, we lived there for a few years and were married in brooklyn (the twin towers in the background of our pictures). I haven't broken up with the city yet, I go back probably once a month and he will never go with me.

  2. Great post, Karen. We were in the city for almost 10 years before we moved to Syracuse. Gavin was born there, we lived in our little one-bedroom apartment, and loved our Queens neighborhood. We moved when the boy was around 18 months old.

    Anyway, Gavin and I visited the city two weeks ago, since my husband is there for work. That first night, we went for a walk, and I felt nothing but nostalgia for the city.

    But then the next day hit. Don went to work and Gavin and I were on our own, to deal with the extreme heat and navigate the city with a stroller. I had forgotten how hard it was not only to navigate the subway stairs with a child, but also what a pain in the ass it was just to get in and out of stores and restaurants. And I was hit with the sudden realization that moving away was indeed the best thing for us. Where we have a backyard and a water table for Gavin to play with on our patio, and space for friends and family to visit us in comfort.

    So I've officially broken up with the city, too.

  3. oh, man. ya know - i had this total realization recently...travelling? not so much wanting to anymore. three or four (pre-baby)years ago? - all i did do, really.
    sometimes we break up with our former loves, our former lives, our former selves. often it is an abrupt rupture, a tear or rip in our fabric. sometimes it is a slow dissolving. either way, it is growing and halle-freakin'-llujah fer that.

  4. This really resonates with me, Karen, since Megan and I plan on leaving the city before we start having kids. I feel in many ways that I've spent the past two years just finding ways to be okay with that. It's definitely an emotional connection, an identification, that I feel with this here mess o' boroughs.