Of course I had to fall in love in New York as well. It was the fall of 2013 and the beginning of my greatest falls so far. I was living and studying in Manhattan and had just left my home country a for the first time in 23 years for what I thought would be for good. I was already imagining myself living in New York for the rest of my life, finishing my studies in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, becoming a great scholar and even a practising psychoanalyst. But he came along. He was younger than me and at first I found him rather annoying. A boy: that’s how I continued to call him and think of him throughout our whole disastrous attempt some call an open relationship. It wasn’t a fling, it wasn’t even love, come to think about it. I was as lonely as one could be, he was already in love.
His name was Daniel, he wore ugly shoes and worn-out clothes I learned to grow fond of.
A European from Barcelona: he considered himself free from the strings a monogamous society pressed upon him. He loved John. John was an American his age, they both played the cello and had met in college while studying Philosophy in the Midwest. John came to New York to work in the artistic community and even though they did not talk about it bluntly, Daniel had followed him there, changing colleges in the process.
Daniel and I lived in the same dorm on the Upper East Side. I was on the 7th floor, he was right above, on the 8th. He always emphasized on our special friendship, even after sleeping together for a couple of times. At times, he would act accordingly, making me feel less lonely in the city were loneliness came to rest upon all our souls. At the same time, he was never there or it did not feel as if he was there for me, especially in those tiresome months he was desperately working on a full-time relationship with John. That did not prevent him from flirting with me, kissing me and sleeping with me or other people for that matter.
I met John soon after meeting Daniel and I was convinced they were a couple.
Despite my already emerging and time-consuming infatuation with Daniel, I tried to tell myself that, over and over again. They are in love, with each other. Stop, Raluca, just stop. I didn’t and neither did he. John was a talented artist and our passion for French philosophers and thrift-shopping brought us to a point that I could call him a friend. John was always kind to me and did not inquire even once about my emotional turmoil with Daniel. They agreed upon an open relationship and I was the sophisticated European with a great sense of style, whom John would photograph on the streets of Lower Manhattan and with whom he would discuss post-modern alienation over lattes in hip cafés.
The three of us would even go out together, be it in sports bars with 1 dollar per beer nights, rooftop parties in Brooklyn and many gay bars around Manhattan. In the beginning, Daniel and John would spend a great deal of time together, cooking fancy dinners and drinking wine, inviting me and other friends over at John’s small and tasteful apartment downtown. We would sit and laugh and drink like no one was hurting or unhappy, fighting over ideas and never over feelings. At night, I would often travel back home alone or with other people, but Daniel wasn’t on the ride back. He would often sleep at John’s, leaving me emptier than the city’s trains at 3 in the morning. I even convinced myself that Daniel was a friend too, and in that time zone I guess he was. To this day, I cannot put my finger on it. Someone I fell hopelessly in love with precisely because he was unavailable, with or without John in the picture? Someone with whom I joined my loneliness after he and John broke up and we started our nightly routine of indoor or outdoor drinking and digging past regrets?
At first, I felt used. Cheap, like the condom he found in the trash bin after one of our nights together and which reminded him of me, as he insisted on mentioning the next time we met.
Used: the shoulder he would cry on during our walks in Central Park while he was complaining about John and their failed attempt of making things work. Confused: battered and left by myself when I most needed someone to give me at least the illusion of intimacy. In all the ten months spent in NYC, our sexual encounters were few and clumsy; passionate at first, but soon to become bitter and as sad as pressing your chest against cold walls.
As my departure approached, we would just sleep next to each other. He was single, I was single. He was broken, John was broken, I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. So many dreams were shattered, so many expectations were never met. The relationship that never really worked and left me truly heartbroken was not with Daniel, but with New York. By spring, I would find out that NY was kicking me out of his already busy and people-filled life. Daniel was just another piece of the unfinished and mouldy puzzle.
Both NYC and Daniel defined those months as frustrating and excruciating expectation. My affair with New York was in fact a merciless countdown and I was the last to know. I would wait for New York to change his mind in the same teenage and desperate manner I would wait for Daniel night after night, in my small and poorly lit room on the 7th floor. The sound of the elevator would always fill me with hope, pumping and rushing the blood throughout all my veins. Daniel would rarely come and when he did, I did not need the elevator to announce his arrival. He would always come whistling on his way to my room. He would knock, being inevitably late as I was constantly expecting him.
When Daniel and I parted, he kissed me on the lips. I told him to stop chasing unavailable people. He laughed and gave me the same advice which I surprisingly managed to take. When John and I parted, we celebrated our times together with champagne on a rooftop bar and we both delivered emotional and truthful speeches. I finally managed to separate the two and I now know that friend means almost opposite things when applied to each of them.
It has been more than a year since I left New York and it will take maybe twice the time to fully figure out what went wrong there.
Not with me and Daniel, not with Daniel and John and not even with me and New York. It is as if New York had placed a big mirror in front of me and left me to it. I am slowly learning not to run from or drown in my own image, and the fact that for over a year now someone holds my hand while I tiptoe around myself is merely a fortunate bonus. His name is Vivian, but in the end, I know that what truly goes wrong in these situations is the relationship we dread the most: the one with our own selves. I still dance around it, I can’t help it, but I’m getting better.
One night, we were in a bar on the Lower East Side and I played the song “Bluest Eyes in Texas” on their jukebox, thinking about the movie Boys Don’t Cry. I was surprised to hear the original song and not the cover from the soundtrack, but I was already drunk and I started to sing along, with my head leaning on the right side. My friends from New York hadn’t heard about the song or the movie, but I felt they loved me. We had been drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beers that came along with a shot of cheap rum, served by the Polish owner, a lady wearing a dusty wig, smiling despite her missing teeth. My existence felt frail, yet flexible, just like my bones that have never been broken. I did not cry that night, but maybe I should have. The name of the bar was Lucy’s. It had two pool tables and a group of men were taking Polaroid and film pictures of us I will never get to see. This haunts me sometimes. In the same manner I am haunted by the photographs some guy took while I was crossing Washington Square Park in my red woolen coat and red beret, chasing me without a word. I stopped after a while, turned to him and smiled. We did not talk. He ran back into the park and I knew it wasn’t so much about me as it was about the bright red color of my clothes. He couldn’t have known that me and that bright red are one and the same thing. I only played pool once at Lucy’s. All the other times we went there I would just watch them hit the balls hard and with focus. They would cheer after winning or when a ball would enter one of the four holes. I only hit one ball that actually entered one of the wholes, but I can’t remember its color. The rest of the times, I just sat, watched and drank. I did not take my friends with me back home.
I did not take New York with me, but that’s a lie. I stuffed them all in my three suitcases, along with colorful socks and laced bras, a picture from the Empire State Building and some photo booth shots from bars around Manhattan.
Raluca Roșu is a writer and fashion blogger. She still misses NYC.