An Only Child in New York City

Sara Harvey
Dec 1, 2018 · 3 min read
Illustrations by author: a guardhouse in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass)

I grew up as an only child, which I think is supposed to make me intolerant of people.

When I was nine, though, I saw Annie and envied the orphans who all lived together in the Municipal Girls Orphanage. Empty bellies instead of full? Mop gymnastics? So worth it.

I loved my parents, and I’m grateful I got to read my Beverly Cleary and (secretly) Clan of the Cave Bear in peace. I was free to leave my Playmobil figures set up in a story in my room indefinitely without the interference of siblings, but I probably wasn’t an only child in any past life.

My parents had also raised four children, close in age, before me. My mom and dad liked to read quietly too, so I think sometimes they thought of me like there were four of me. “Go outside! Play with your sis — ”

Brownstone, Park Slope, Brooklyn

As a result, when the time came, I would love living in a college dorm. Afterwards, in two decades of roommates, I only had two I didn’t like. At 30, I started a second career working in coffee shops. Customers and co-workers, college students and other ne’er-do-wells, all jumbled together in the cafés like puppies. Then, add to this mix, when I turned 34, New York City.

A friend lately said that he was thinking of applying for jobs in New York.

I told him that New York was like the funniest, smartest, filthiest person you could ever meet. And this person makes you run laps up and down icy subway steps all winter, and sometimes trips you. He said “sounds about right.”

Park Slope, Brooklyn

This will sound weird if you haven’t lived in New York, but after a year or two, you realize you can’t “keep” everyone you meet, not even the soulmates. This isn’t Greenville, South Carolina. With 8.6 million people, you’ll probably never see them again. It’s catch and release out here, friend.

But if you’re not specifically looking for a job or someone to sleep with, you can spend a whole day just “hanging out with New York.” You take the Q to Union Square to buy the coffee beans you like and ask a stranger if she’s Parker Posey. You confuse tourists asking for directions, tip the showtime guys dancing in the sky over the East River, write the Parker Posey story down in a notebook, eat lunch with a friend, meet their friends and talk.

At the end of the day, though, I can’t always remember how any of us said “hello.” We just talked. Did we say goodbye? We may have companionably just stopped talking because we’re talking to New York. The city that’s always with us, because we are it. The big, smart, funny, filthy, stinky jumble of us.

The Bronx

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Sara Harvey

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