Leaving

“Everything makes me sad,” I said, as we drove through the city on our way out of town on a recent Saturday. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I felt its effects. We are making plans for the move I have wanted to make for nearly 20 years. To our home in Narrowsburg, NY, as full-time residents. I should be gloriously happy. But first, I am sad.

Raised in New York City, I have lived in many of its neighborhoods throughout my life before moving to the outer borough, Brooklyn, in 2013. Manhattan was where I learned to ride a bike (Chelsea), play handball (Upper West Side), drink whiskey (West Village), cruise art openings (SoHo), live alone for the first time (Gramercy), and raise a family (Tribeca).

My favorite respite was Central Park. I know its Ramble, once (and maybe still) the late-night domain of gay stranger assignations, now of urban birdwatchers; the ballfields where friends in the Broadway League and colleagues and I in the Advertising League played softball and the Wollman skating rink where I learned to ice skate. The Sheep Meadow, where thousands of us ushered in one of the first Earth Day celebrations in 1967, then known as the Easter Be-In.

As an adult, I walked our dog Aengus through the park on many early mornings, driving him uptown from Tribeca to play off-leash on the hill behind the skating rink, then at 9 a.m., his leash reattached, we would walk to the lake through the Mall, a quadruple row of American elm trees that have survived, through the diligence of park stewards, the deadly Dutch elm disease that felled thousands of trees elsewhere, on to the Bethesda Fountain where, as teenagers, we often gathered in our bellbottoms and army jackets to protest the war in Vietnam.

In the spring, right about this time, the trees on Cherry Hill would be ablaze in pink and the Bow Bridge begged for one more close-up of its undulant beauty. In a rare memory of my father, I can see him try to teach me a game called mumbledy-peg with his pocket knife on Cherry Hill after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In Tribeca, I walked many miles with Aengus along the Hudson River while the children were in school, from Pier 25 on North Moore Street down to the Battery and back, trying to forget the madness that was 9/11.

Brooklyn was a borough I neglected to explore for most of my life, except for Murray the K’s morning concerts at the Brooklyn Fox, where my brother and I heard Aretha Franklin, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, “Little” Stevie Wonder and so many other great R&B entertainers. Brooklyn was where we would go to swim at the old St. George Hotel pool and get back on the subway with our wet hair, home to 111th Street and Amsterdam Avenue without ever setting foot on a Brooklyn street. 

Brooklyn is where, at the age of 60, I discovered Prospect Park, a version of my beloved Central Park with its own secret spaces and acres of trees and boulders to climb. It is home to the great 3.3-mile bike loop where I trained for a week-long bike trip in France. For the past five years it has been a haven. I hadn’t expected to leave it so soon.

Thus the sadness in leaving my city. It won’t be mine any more. Instead it will belong to all those I leave behind. Their memories, along with mine, write the history of a great city. Farewell.

 

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