By the age of 10, I knew I belonged in Manhattan.
I was a babysitter after school to make money for a subscription to New York Magazine, which I read cover to cover. I memorized the names and numbers of the streets by studying a map of the NYC subway system. I watched every movie and TV show that directly (or even indirectly) involved Manhattan, always hoping to see more.
And when I was 17 years old, I moved into a crumbling, 6-floor walkup in the East Village inhabited by a crew of other art students.
The nonstop machinations of the city outside my apartment window were sweeter to me than any birdsong. I loved the perpetually changing light falling over the tops of the buildings, the history and drama of the streets below.
Alone, I took long walks through the different neighborhoods, feeling their invisible boundary lines shift around me. I felt perfectly safe.
I was home.
Manhattan was the proud, excessive and sometimes utterly indifferent family matriarch who I admired and looked up to. Subconsciously, I thought of the city as a she, as an ancient (yet perpetually youthful), wisely permissive (yet cruelly punitive) aunt who taught me how to be myself.
Manhattan was not merely the background of my life....it was my life. My work. My friendships. My romances. Step outside your apartment in the morning and you have no idea what Manhattan will offer. Each day I thanked the city for every experience and connection it brought me.
I met my husband there. Like many couples we shacked up in a Hoboken apartment for a while before moving to the burbs. The front-facing bay windows of our Hoboken place stared down upon a luminous, hypnotic view of Manhattan.
Each night we watched the twinkling lights of the Twin Towers against the dark Manhattan skyline. It was a comfort. We were not yet ready to let Manhattan out of our sights.
When we moved to the RiverDell area it felt like we were leaving behind a loyal and loving parent whose home we had outgrown. It was exciting to be going forward with our lives, yet still bittersweet to be abandoning "our city."
Of course we still "utilized" Manhattan after our move, for work, dinners out, movies and parties. But as it does, life became entwined over time in the community we were physically part of on a daily basis.
I found the city growing smaller in my mind....but not my heart.
The summer before the attack of 9/11 my mother-in-law (who still lived in Manhattan) gave me a funny little gift of packaged coffees, each with an iconic black-and-white photograph of a NYC scene. An image of the World Trade Center graced the Breakfast Blend.
I added it to the collection of oddball artifacts always accumulating in my "writing room," where I go for both muse and solace.
That fall, I stood with a group of strangers on a hilly bluff in New Jersey, where we had each independently come to get a view of the ominous smoke cloud where the World Trade Center had stood, just hours before.
No one spoke.
Everyone watched helplessly as the city came tumbling down.
Ten years later the bars and restaurants are again full of bright, flirty faces. The subway dutifully chugs its passengers to a functional downtown. My husband and I are now parents. My mother-in-law passed away.
I still have the packaged coffees she gave me, intact in their air-tight wrap. The Twin Towers still hover disproportionally above the city on the packet of Breakfast Blend.
But now they seem terribly vulnerable.
This sort of first-hand consciousness of the most terrible, inexplicable things in life is what constitutes the transition from young person to actual adult.
My Manhattan is gone now.
While I frequently enjoy this new New York and proudly show off its charms to visitors and small children, I carry inside me at all times, an unspoken shadow of what was.
My heart, like so many others, is forever changed.