Like Running Into a Gorgeous Ex: Reflections On Returning to New York

As a tall woman, I tend to avoid window seats on airplanes. But when I fly into New York, I always make an exception. The restless legs, the full bladder, the middle-seater invading my personal space -- all that vanishes at first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.

A part of me is awestruck, enjoying the moment of communion with the neck-craner next to me who's never been to New York. Whether it's your first or hundredth time seeing it, it's impossible not to be dazzled by the skyscrapers and the lights, by Lady Liberty's torch glowing worldwide welcome.

But another part of me, a bigger part of me, is smiling wistfully. Returning to New York is like running in to a gorgeous ex -- not just any ex, but "the one that got away." The one you left saying "it's not you, it's me." The one that looks like a movie star to everyone else, but all you can see is how they look in the morning, with disheveled hair and coffee breath.

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That's the New York that haunts me, that makes my heart race, even now that I'm happily settled in my new life in London. I no longer worry it will forget me, but the persistent familiarity is no less jarring.

"Hey, stranger," it says, with a wink and a warm hug. "I'm crazy busy, but you know your way around, right? By the way, your toothbrush is still in the bathroom."

Yes, New York, I still know my way -- I could navigate your subway system blindfolded. I know your every stunning imperfection, and all the really annoying ones, too. For better and for worse, but mostly for the better, you really don't change all that much.

The love-hate relationship resumes as soon as I step off the plane. I love the big-bellied security guard bellowing, "Happy Muddah's Day!" as he shepherds us to customs. I love the pace at which people walk through the airport. I hate how that pace inexplicably stops on the escalator.

On the train from Newark, I love the squat bubby in a velvet-and-gold track suit, who brags to a perfect stranger about her "lawyah" daughter and "doctah" son. In fact, I love public-transit conversations with strangers in general -- they simply don't happen in London.

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I love the view of the skyline as we pull out of Secaucus; I simply can't wait to arrive. But then we get to Penn Station and, yup, I still hate Penn Station. If there's such a thing as the after-life, I'm pretty sure lost souls go to the 7th Avenue Concourse. (The damned go to the bus terminal in Port Authority.)

On the A-train platform, I see that staring down the subway tracks is still the best way to make a delayed train appear. I tell myself it's useless. I tell myself there's no rush. But after three local trains in a row screech in and out of the station, I lend my glare to the cause. All New Yorkers do it -- 8 million people can't be wrong.

I love New Yorkers' talent for moving through thick crowds -- for some reason it's a skill Londoners lack. I'm convinced it's because they drive on the left in the UK, yet there's no consensus on which way to keep when walking. Unless you're on the escalator, of course. "Stand on the right, walk on the left." It's really not that hard, New York.

I hate that bread, bananas and a jug of milk can set you back $20 here. I love that you can satisfy any craving within a five-block radius. I hate that you're not allowed to drink in parks. I love that New Yorkers do anyway.

I love the deep sense of tribalism among New York friends. We're bound by a shared history -- one of belly laughs and ugly cries, weird roommates and roach infestations, wild nights out and quiet evenings of Seamless and wine. A part of me hates that we couldn't be New York twenty-somethings forever. Another part of me loves going to bed by 11.

We were good together, New York. We were real good. I still can't stand how you take out the garbage and your personal hygiene is deplorable. But you still have me wrapped around your little finger.

You've broken a million promises, New York, but there's one you've always kept. You promised to give me wings, and two years ago, you even set me free -- free to leave you for another city, another life, another dream. You were never one to be tied down, and you didn't want to hold me back, either.

But you're still "you" when I see you, with all your beauty and quirks; you've even kept my toothbrush in the bathroom. And this makes me smile, as I pull out of Penn Station, for I know it's your way of showing that you still love me, too.

Photos by Meghan Feeks. Follow on Instagram @meghanfeeks.