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On Returning, by Sarah Flynn

There’s a saying and there’s a reason why you say it: if you love something, let it go. Is there a saying about what to do when that thing just keeps coming back to you? I don’t know about you, but I have a couple of boomerangs I need to account for.   

Let’s talk about it in the same way we talk about New York: we’ve made an entire writing genre out of leaving the city. It is true that it’s impossible to write about being in New York without it becoming a central character; it is equally true that leaving it seems to necessitate words. Still, Joan Didion did it before you and she did it better: first by immortalizing her departure in “Goodbye To All That,” and later by returning sans fanfare. It’s not that you were wrong to leave, it’s that you were foolish to think you might not come back.

New York demands feeling. It doesn’t give a damn what that feeling is as long as you feel something. It never crossed my mind until I found myself living there, but once I got there it changed my heart so hard that I never thought to leave. Here’s how it got me: at eighteen, what I cared most about was music, and it took all of a week in the city for me to see Tori Amos in Central Park rehearsing “Crucify” on the piano for Good Morning America. By the time she personally handed me a bagel, it was all over for anywhere else. New York held connections to worlds I never thought I could be a part of: worlds as complicated and heart-wrenching as the city I loved.

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