Goodbye, New York

My final thoughts on leaving New York, twenty days before my departure.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Sunny Bok

I am standing on the corner of 92nd Street and York Avenue. Behind me, the burning sun descends into the nearby East River, scattering light like a fiery kaleidoscope over the darkening ripples. A cool evening breeze swirls past my apartment courtyard, making it easier to breathe through my stifling mask. I reach into my pocket and carefully pull out my phone, sealed in a Ziploc bag. The sound of a notification pierces the omnipresent silence of my street: it is my mother asking me to come back home at 8:00 p.m.

I have 10 minutes left to enjoy my neighborhood, and 480 hours and 10 minutes before I leave New York for South Korea. So I begin to walk.

As I approach First Avenue, I spot the worn navy sign of my favorite deli. When I left my apartment early on the way to school, I would walk 105 steps to reach the shop. There, I would exchange five crumpled dollar bills for an iced latte and a buttered bagel, an order that the owner knew by heart and could make in 30 seconds. I remember how his friendly young employees compensated for their boss’s silence. They marvelled at how fast kids grow, reminiscing the times when my middle school self would clamor for sour straws. Most of the time, however, they would talk loudly amongst themselves, boasting of their baby nephew who had just learned to walk or the new apartment they had just found. Yet when I peer through the windows, I see only my reflection and a paper announcing their temporary closure.

I walk to Second Avenue, and from the corner of my eye, I see the 94th Street station and shudder. The memory of rushing onto the downtown Q train with my swim bag clutched in one hand is significantly less pleasant. After 10 minutes of tunnels, I would drowsily rush to the 2/3 line in Times Square—only to discover that I took the wrong train when I arrived at 72nd Street. But I remember those traumatizing mornings would become progressively less awful as I reached Chambers Street. Be it a kind couple handing me the ID card I dropped or a man using the subway car as his dance floor, the eccentric charm of New York City has always made me smile.

I take a left to 91st Street, my drop-off spot for a Via ride home after a club ended far too late. After collapsing into the back seat of the car, I would stuff a biology worksheet in my bookbag. Sometimes, the driver would ask me about my day, and simple pleasantries would evolve into the most diverse range of conversations with the most diverse range of people. I laughed along with a Venezuelan immigrant’s stories about her balcony dances to the tunes of her neighborhood, and I listened to an African-American father’s vow to never let his daughter face the discrimination he does. With each story, I learned more about the millions of people who inhabit the crowded sidewalks that I push past on the daily—and to this day, I wonder if I ever would have had these experiences if I lived elsewhere.

The Big Apple’s beauty lies within its residents: the eight million residents from different cultures and backgrounds, each of whom clutch unique stories, struggles, and dreams close to their hearts. Though it is easy to feel lost and insignificant in this vast city, it is important to remember that we are each an individual part of this city. When we all join together, we form a city revered by the world in art and music in hushed whispers far away from the five boroughs.

What I adore about New York is not just the technicolor lights of Times Square, but also its calm and constant undercurrents, upholding the structure of an outwardly chaotic and unwelcoming city. Such undercurrents represent the little things that make my day—the deli owner who memorized my coffee order, the glimpses of kindness on express trains, and most importantly, the people willing to share their personal histories with me. These New Yorkers have taught me that if you lend an ear to a stranger with a life different from yours, their words will pave a yellow brick road to self-reflection and personal development.

With the recent turn of events, it has become difficult to stand tall in the face of the injustices that inundate New York. Our fear that nothing will ever be the same seems to be a likely reality with constant shutdowns and rigid safety precautions. Thus, amid this turbulent time, we must continue to uphold one another—the very little things that comprise this city. We must console each other’s grief, share in joys, and fight for our collective right to live. Even the smallest contributions of kindness and solidarity—whether applauding health care workers every evening or donating a dollar to a just cause—have the most uplifting effects when done by all eight million residents. On our own, we must then self-reflect and evaluate our past actions so that we promote the triumph of unity over division in our city—so that we stand firmly by one another, acting as firm pillars able to withstand even the worst of humanity. And I have absolute faith that New Yorkers have the strength to rebuild a city born not of our current fear and mistrust, but of love and support.

Another harsh sound of a notification breaks the quietude of Yorkville. I pull out my phone once more—it is my mother calling me to tell me to come home. As I walk under the dimmed street lamps lighting the brick pathway to my apartment, I feel warmth and comfort despite the cold air that swirls over from the now-black river. For even when I board a plane to a country on the opposite side of the world, the lessons that New York has taught me will forever stay in my heart, and the city will forever be my home.