Edition #107: A Quinquennial of Deconstruction
Plus, a touching short on Sha'Carri Richardson, how disgust explains everything, and better names for foods
A Note From the Editor
Somehow and without fully realizing it, I recently started a pro-bono pet-sitting business. By that I mean, I’ve spent a majority of this past month watching my friend’s animals as they traverse the globe. First it was a full week with the fluffiest, most cuddly Bernedoodle, immediately followed by a week with a strange little half shaved grumpy cat who is like a creature from another planet.
The latter half of my pet sitting happened in Brooklyn, a short jaunt across the bridge from my apartment in Manhattan. I was excited for the mini staycation in a different space, but a large part of me felt uneasy about spending so much time in Williamsburg, the neighborhood that held a treasure trove of memories from my last long-term relationship. I had managed to mostly avoid the neighbrohood up until this point, and whenever I did end up there I couldn’t walk through the streets without grimacing, my reaction bordering on physical pain every time I strolled past my former partner’s apartment—unsure whether he still lived there, whether I might run into him or his brother, whether I might spot him on a date with someone else at our old favorite dumpling shop.
I thought of the days we spent crammed on the couch in that little apartment, working from home while naively thinking the pandemic would be over in a month or two. I remember waking up early one morning and forcing myself out of bed to go on a run, my body stiff and bloated after so many weeks spent stagnant. I remember the judgemental, righteous feeling when I returned home to him still asleep, promising myself I would become brand new, despite what he chose to do. Then, the resentment laced panic I felt towards myself when I registered, somewhere in the depths of my brain, that this relationship would have to end. I don’t remember whether I knew it would be the last time, that final time I left his apartment. I don’t think I did. But I do remember thinking I would never be able to walk those streets again, his turf, without looking over my shoulder.
But after being here for a few days, something loosened in me; I was fine. I spent the weekend walking around the neighborhood, noticing new pieces of street art among old haunts without being haunted by my past. I looked people—so many hot people!—directly in the eyes without a somersault in my stomach. I worked from a well-lit coffee shop all day and wrote this in my journal: “Walking around Williamsburg no longer hurts the way I thought it always would—proof that even the most ripe pains will, in time, dull.”
A second moment of enlightenment arrived a few days later when, en route to grab dinner from a popular birria truck, I glanced down and saw a dead rat. It was enormous, the size of two adult hands fingertip-to-fingertip, curled on its side as if it were taking a little nap. “That’s a big ass rat,” I said aloud, and then I continued walking. It took a few more steps to register what had just happened, and when I did, I stopped walking and laughed and laughed because rats used to send me screaming. I couldn't even glance at them crawling around their turf on the subway tracks without getting teary-eyed, and now I was staring at an infant-sized dead rat and feeling no emotion. That’s when it dawned on me: I’ve been in New York for five years as of this month.
Five years. A quinquennial, half a decade. The wooden jubilee. Five winters, five summers, five sets of shoulder seasons getting shorter and shorter until they hardly happen at all. I was 24-years-old when I moved here, now I’m on the cusp of 30. I had never considered therapy, I had never considered that I might want to be a writer, or that I was already a writer. I couldn’t wrap my head around the simple grid layout of the place, Never Eat Soggy Waffles. I thought the Upper East Side was a cool neighborhood. I didn’t know the difference between local and express trains. I didn’t know what this place would do to me, how it would imprint on my being, making me more of who I always was.
Five years might be a normal amount of time anywhere else, but in New York, it’s a feat. A lifetime. The city that promises only to chew you up and spit you out. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, start spreading the news, I’m in a New York state of mind. Where we live on top of each other in tiny spaces, where we flock to public parks and rooftops and subway platforms, where we oscillate between ignoring and empathizing with such great dexterity that it’s impossible to comprehend, as a visitor. You’ll want to pin us down, to characterize us—New Yorkers are so rude, how can they stand it, I could never live there—but our skin is thick as worn leather. And anyway, we could never imagine the alternative, retreating to the safety of the suburbs or in the quiet of the woods or anywhere else. The chaos sustains us.
As I reflect on the last 1,825 days in New York, I can think of only one word: Deconstruction. New York has deconstructed my sense of self. It stripped down who I thought I was, the values I held, and the ways I presented to the world, and it made space for who I am. This city has forced me to look outside myself constantly, to question the things I believed and perpetuated, the things I learned and didn’t learn. It’s impossible to stay small when you are immersed in such heterogeneity—different people, different cultures. Socioeconomic structures, power structures. You can’t live here for any significant amount of time and pretend you don’t know better. You can’t pretend rats don’t exist or that they haven’t been here long before you were. You can’t be in denial about the harsh realities of the world when you’re exposed to the pits and the pinnacles of it on a daily basis. That’s what makes New York unlike any other place in the world.
Another thing that makes New York unique is the way it holds memories in physical places. Walking past a street corner can be enough to ignite a memory as sharp as catching a whiff of the old perfume you used to wear in high school; it transports you. The city is full of portals of memory. The bridge you walked every day during COVID, the bike path you rode on a summer day with the first person who made you feel excited in years, the restaurant where your best friend suggested you try writing more often, just to see how it might feel, the bodega you frequented at 3am, the park you brought your lovers to, on the mornings after. There are ghosts of you all around the city and sometimes you can see them, you can feel them and they feel so real that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to process a particular place outside of the realm of your past.
And then five years pass and you finally feel like a real New Yorker, no longer a visitor. You learn that old memories do, in fact, fade, that you’ll one day be able to walk around Williamsburg and new memories will overwrite the old ones. Every five years, or however often as necessary, New York will allow you to reinvent yourself, to see it and yourself in a new light with new lovers and new friends and old ones. Perhaps it is this reinvention, the possibility of it all, that keeps you here for another five.
Cheers, my dears, and as always, thanks for reading. Free subscribers will get the full edition next week for (the first and last week of every month). If you read along every week and have the means to do so, please consider opting for a paid subscription. For the monthly cost of one overpriced latte (inflation!), you’ll be able to support my writing and the continuation of this newsletter. I appreciate you!