I arrived in New York City in 1998 (or was it 1999?), a girl from a sleepy Southern California suburb with literary stars in her eyes. I should have been intimidated by the place — with its dirty streets and jostling subway, the hushed calls of “smoke, smoke, smoke” that followed me across Washington Square Park, the bike messengers who spat millimeters away from my sandaled feet, the cat burglars, one of whom ransacked my Alphabet City studio apartment — but I wasn’t. I loved it. I loved it for all the cliché reasons — the vibrancy, the bookshops, dive bars, and all-night Ukrainian diners, the intricate carpet of languages. I loved working in book publishing, loved watching books emerge from an idea and a handful of paper — I even loved (or found quaintly charming) the stories of old-school editors who typed their letters on typewriters and had their assistants transcribe them into that new-fangled system, email. “Ann was born a New Yorker,” my dad once said. It was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received.
I would have been content to live in New York and work in book publishing forever. But if you read this blog, you know what happened: I fell in love with a diplomat, got married and moved to Beijing. I had grown up in New York, and then I did the unthinkable — I left.
At first I tried to believe that my departure was only temporary. I would always be a New Yorker, I vowed, and that proved partly true. The city had changed the way I walked (briskly), ate (ethnically), and read (widely). But the years flew by and one day I realized that more time had passed since I’d left the city than I had spent actually living in it. I learned a new language, lost my heart to another place, found another home in the City of Light. Meanwhile, New York transformed itself again and again in its inimitable way and my nostalgia became stronger than reality. Yes, New York would always be a part of me, but in another, more fundamental way it was lost to me.
I thought I had crossed the Rubicon. But what I am trying to tell you, friends, is that I was wrong. Because ten years after our departure, we are returning. This summer, my husband will begin a new assignment at the US Mission to the United Nations and for the next three years we will live in the city that we called home before we ever met.
For me, New York will always be a place of transformation. It helped me negotiate that murky transition between college student and adult; it taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin. I loved the city’s energy and sense of possibility — it helped me then — and I hope it will help me now as I negotiate another transition, perhaps life’s biggest. Because, dear readers, there will be three of us living together in New York. Yes. My husband and I are planning to welcome a baby in September. A new baby — parenthood! — and, if you’re keeping track, a new book a few weeks later (I feel like I’m having twins), a new city, a new job for my husband… we like to do everything all at once (or maybe we are clinically insane). I am crossing the Rubicon once more and, I have to admit, peering with a fair amount of trepidation at the other side. Life is unpredictable and rich, beautiful and scary, and then there is New York, our home, past and future.