When I moved into my tiny apartment on E 17th Street back in the early 80s it was the first time in my adult life that I had ever lived alone. I went from my parents’ house in Far Rockaway to college to a variety of communal living situations before I decided to move back to the New York area. Suddenly I found myself living in a one room studio completely by myself. It was quite an adjustment but I think I handled it well. I got a job. I got a dog. I went back to school. I learned the art of eating alone. I took lots of walks. I went to the gym regularly. I dated a bit so I wasn’t completely by myself all the time but much of the time I was.
I lost my apartment (it was an illegal sublet even though I was subletting from my aunt and uncle) and moved back in with my parents who by then had moved to Brooklyn Heights. I met my soon to be husband not long after that, moved in with him, moved with him to Connecticut, had kids and pretty much haven’t been alone very often since.
But now, my kids are not kids any more. My son is 21 and while he is still living at home, has finished school and is working and traveling with his dad. My daughter is turning 18 this summer and will either be going to college full time in the fall of this year or hopefully, after a gap year, the fall after this. I am poised and hovering over the prospect of an empty nest some time in the near future. The apartment in the city is my “empty nest bootcamp.”
When I am in NY I am surrounded by people, activity and noise. I love that. I thrive on that. It makes me feel alive. In an essay by EB White about New York he says that in New York you are surrounded by people but you can still retain your anonymity. For me, it’s being able to talk to a neighbor in the elevator, someone on the street or even on the subway, make a brief connection and then move on.
There is always something to do or see in New York. That’s the thing that can keep you alive and moving forward. Don’t get me wrong — I am in no way suggesting that in order to stay young and alive you have to move to the city. What I’m saying is that in order to stay young and alive you have to find the thing that keeps you young and alive. I know that many if not most of my friends who live in Connecticut live there because they truly want to be there. I passed a neighbor walking on the road the other day and I knew that she was returning home from a hike in the woods because that’s how she recharges every day. Me? I get anxious on hikes in the woods. If you read my post about getting lost in the woods with my kids you’d understand where that anxiety comes from. I’m not a person who ventures off into the forest from the trail. But put me on 14th Street and head me towards the Farmer’s Market and I’m a happy camper. My muse is in the city. Not everyone’s is.
So here’s the thing (yes, I am finally making it to the point of this post.) You can be alone in a place like NY but not be completely alone. As I approach the time in my life when I will most probably be alone by chance and not by choice I would like to be prepared. I would prefer to be somewhere where I can stay independent for as long as I can. For me, living in the burbs where most things are only accessible by car would mean not only being alone but housebound as well. Alone is much more lonely in the country.
I could live my city life for the rest of my life and be content — despite the fact that it took me 25 minutes to get to a cash register in Trader Joe’s the other night. What was I thinking shopping for dinner at TJ’s at 5:30 on a Friday? But hey, I walked to Trader Joe’s. WALKED. TO. TRADER. JOE’S. For someone who’s lived in a town where every shopping trip requires getting in the car that’s something to cheer about.