I am leaving New York next week. Add me to the list. Another tick in the “New York is dead” column. Or maybe in the “Cowards who can’t wait out the pandemic” column. Wag your finger at me or shake your head in disgust. Tut tut. Tsk tsk. Don’t worry. I’m already doing it to myself.
Let me backtrack. I was born at Mount Sinai on the Upper East Side. I spent my childhood in 20 different apartments across the Upper West Side and beyond, shuttling between my mom’s and my dad’s. My dad moved to Connecticut, then Montreal, then Japan. I switched from attending private school on the Upper West Side to a magnet school on the Upper East, where I met most of my best friends. I went to college in Boston (okay, fine, Harvard), immediately moved back home after college, then set up shop in the various neighborhoods young people flock to across New York — East Village, Murray Hill, Williamsburg.
I fell in love with a boy from New Jersey. He grew up 20 minutes outside the city and spent no time here until after college. His parents thought it was dangerous. I showed him around Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Our relationship has always been a culture clash, and all along, we pushed each other out of our comfort zones. I taught him to eat weird foreign foods; he took me to my first football tailgate. I wasn’t used to dating a man who wanted a home and a family. My previous boyfriends had wanted freedom; some of them hadn’t even wanted me to call them boyfriends.
Jake took me home for Thanksgiving in New Jersey, and I fell in love with his family. Shortly after, we moved in together to a tiny one-bedroom in Murray Hill. His friends had babies and bought houses, and I convinced him to keep renting. I let him nest. We got cats. He bought furniture. We had a baby. He drove home on the weekends to watch hockey with his dad or hang out in a friend’s backyard. I asked him to please stop calling New Jersey “home.” “This is home,” I said, gesturing around our 500 square feet. “Is it?” he asked.
I loved him, but I could never see myself in New Jersey. It felt like a matter of taste, but I couldn’t explain to him why my taste was better than his. I’d shun things that seemed ordinary to me. Pancakes at a diner. A house decorated in Christmas lights. Pumpkin spice lattes and Pinterest boards. I wore my snobbery like a coat of armor. Weird and old and hardened is better than basic and soft and mass-produced.
Over time, Jake taught me to love some of these softer things, to love the comfort of home. Maybe things are not inherently good or bad; maybe popular things are popular for a reason. Maybe a pumpkin spice latte is delicious and twinkling lights at Christmas are pretty. I have found that Pinterest is actually pretty useful. I assumed that everything about New York was better because I’d been raised to think it was better, but I’d stopped myself from enjoying things that truly made me happy. We have made marriage and pregnancy and having a child our own, even as I worried that I would become some cookie cutter homemaker suburban mom. “You won’t become that because you could never be that,” Jake says.
I’ve read the articles recently about staying in New York City, some of them by millionaires typing comfortably from their second homes in the Hamptons. It is easy to love New York City when you’re rich. I thought I would be a New Yorker for the rest of my life. But I knew I couldn’t buy an apartment in New York. I knew I couldn’t afford a place that felt comfortable with a kid or two, one where we could both work from home without driving each other crazy.
We could get more space in a neighborhood we hated or have access to a better school in an apartment we hated. And for what? So many of the reasons I dug my heels in about New York City are gone now. The nightlife and the culture and the spontaneous plans. When will they be back? I don’t know. Would I have stopped doing them when I had a kid regardless? I have no idea. Whether COVID sped up the inevitable or just changed me, I no longer feel like I’m getting what I want out of New York.
I tell my friends I’m moving to a house in New Jersey full of defensiveness, as if I’ve said I’m joining ISIS. What could possibly make you move to Jersey? Well, I’ve been trapped in my apartment through the isolation of late pregnancy and early motherhood and sudden pandemic. My husband and I work and relax and exercise and sleep in these three rooms, alternating with and maneuvering around our child and my sister-in-law who works as our nanny. I am sick of staring at these four walls. I am sick of laying out a play mat for my child every morning and picking it up at the end of the day because this playroom is also our living room and our dining room and our office.
I think to myself, “I’m moving to New Jersey,” and I can hear my New Yorker friends’ questions. How will you make sure your daughter is cool and smart and interesting? I hope that she’ll be cool and smart and interesting because we’re cool and smart and interesting. (Okay, at least interesting.) How will you make sure she goes to museums or meets diverse people or understands inequality? We’ll talk to her and bring her places. Having a child is an exercise in learning what you can and can’t control. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t stop her from imparting city values in her child. There was always a chance she’d be basic, whether you raise her in a farm or a high-rise.
More than anything, I want to feel like I can control some part of this stupid uncontrollable world. I cannot make people vote for the right guy. I cannot find a vaccine. I cannot say when I will again be able to go to a bar or perform at a comedy show. I cannot propel the television industry to a place where networks are willing to buy projects again. But this is a project that I can control. I can control the colors of this room. I can buy things that I get to enjoy. I used to buy clothing, but it makes me sad to have nowhere to wear them. Now I can buy a chair or a headboard or a swing set and feel a little bit happier when it arrives.
I have lived my entire life in a series of apartments. I have packed up and moved every few years for the past 34 years. I am excited to make a house a home. I will bring my daughter to New York every chance I get.
New York is not dead, but I have opened my heart to other places being alive. I want her to see all the places here that shaped me: Broadway shows and St. Mark’s Place and my brick prison of a high school. I can see her under the whale in the Natural History Museum and trying cheese samples at Zabar’s and seeing Santa at Radio City Music Hall. I want her to be able to take all of the good parts of New York and bring them home to a place where she feels safe and comfortable. Maybe I could’ve found that place in New York eventually, but I am looking forward to creating it in New Jersey.
More and more, I keep thinking there are no wrong choices in a pandemic.
We do what we can to survive and to make the people we love happy. I am dreading the days when it gets too cold for park hangs, but I can imagine the holidays now. Maybe it’ll be safe to trick-or-treat in our new neighborhood. At least we can decorate for Christmas. I’m not worried about missing the ball drop.
A real New Yorker wouldn’t be caught dead in Times Square.
Sachi Ezura is a comedy producer and writer who works at WNYC. An earlier version of this piece appeared on Medium with the title, “This is my cliché leaving New York essay.” It has been reprinted with permission.