I have never visited a city as a tourist after having lived there. I’ve never left anywhere that I didn’t want to leave other than New York. As such, I had no idea what to expect when I went back. I was excited, but also apprehensive. Would I feel differently about it without my own apartment to go home to, my own neighbourhood to pad around in, my circle of friends to hang out with, and the warm familiarity of my old daily routines? Would the splendour of New York and seeing all the places and people I loved throw my current life into sharp relief, making me desperate to escape once again?
I soon realised that I had forgotten so much. The oppressive weight of buildings pushing down on you from high above. The sheer volume of noise on the streets. The lack of sky. The visual overstimulation caused by so much being squeezed into such a small space. The dirt. The rats. The smells. Thrown into the throbbing heart of Manhattan every single day, I quickly found myself wondering what I had found to love. Could this be the same city whose streets used to fill me with awe?
Desperate to rekindle my love affair with New York, I spent my leisurely days retracing my favourite haunts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. The Highline. The Bryant Park Film Festival. The South Street Seaport. Shake Shack. Union Square. The East Village. Brooklyn. I caught up with dear old friends in a series of delicious restaurants. I had a lovely time. But, to my enormous surprise, I found that the magic had gone. No longer did I see the joy and beauty and possibility that once sparkled for me on every street corner. As a tourist, I saw New York as it really is; not the mythical land of my dreams, but a noisy, crowded, dirty city, just like any other. The life I had there belonged to a person I no longer am. As much as I often long for those halcyon days of adventure and discovery, this trip has taught me that I can’t go back, and what’s more, now I know that I don’t want to. I have changed and moved on. I don’t need New York to make me happy any more. The whole time I was there, I found myself strangely wishing I were back in London. Contrary to all of my expectations, I came home with the best souvenir I could have possibly hoped for; the realisation that I am perfectly happy right where I am.