By Soo Youn ’96
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it again.
When I first moved to New York, I was 22. I walked under these words—each phrase hung in a progression of signs in the subway tunnel connecting Port Authority to Times Square—every morning, Monday through Friday. The first time I saw them I was shocked, the way you look around and see if the person gesturing across the room actually means you. I was too new to the city to look down. Was someone scrutinizing my rushed morning and predicting how I would feel after days of commuting turned into weeks, then months, then years? Or was it someone’s final cry for help? It spooked me.
It was art. Eventually, I found a faster way to cross 42nd Street. I pocketed the thought for years.
After journalism school I decamped to the suburbs of New York for almost a year. The quiet, coupled with the crimes I was covering for a local paper, were no match for The City. At 25, I scurried back to Manhattan and the place where it all seemed to happen.
One Sheridan Square cradled me into my 30s. I fell in love three times in that studio in the West Village. Twice I thought I had brought home the man I’d marry. The space was quirky—it had a stage and a loft and dishwasher, a renter’s miracle. Every day I lived there I was cognizant I lived a charmed life—buying cheese at Murray’s, getting gelato at Cones, waking up to the smell of Claude baking croissants in his patisserie in the back of the building.
For half a decade that apartment was the locus of a life I knew was indefinite: the movie would end someday, and that made it dearer. Friends buzzed up on the way to dinner or drinks, because the location was ideal. My friend Kat lived a couple blocks away. My neighbors were interesting and kind: Justin, the investment banker just above me in 4B, would bring heavy packages from the lobby to my door. Brent in 2A had a girlfriend who ran Sergio Rossi, and he offered up discounted shoes.
I moved out the day before my birthday in 2005. A potential boyfriend orchestrated a business meeting to fly to New York, take me to dinner at Babbo and move me the next day. I had not finished packing. I remember the scramble to get rid of what would not fit in the van; we bequeathed all of it, and a set of keys, to Nancy in 5A, who declared she felt like an heiress. We had a water fight after everything had been cleared out and the towels packed.
Justin told me that while I may have liked this guy, I was not in love. In any case, I was leaving for a Fulbright in Korea in the fall. A late-night conversation in 4B had led to my Fulbright proposal, which was inspired by Justin’s military experience with Vietnam vets who’d fought alongside Korean troops.
I remember that time with a longing so fierce that, last summer, when I went to London for the Olympics, I sought out 4B. Justin had moved to Brooklyn, then to London. After three kids, his marriage was falling apart. I’d moved to Korea, then to L.A., and I was taking a temporary break from journalism to write a novel. Over dinner and drinks we fell into old patterns: Justin protectively gave me advice about a new guy, while I, the younger one, soaked it in. For a couple of hours, we traveled back to Sheridan Square.
What I wanted, desperately, was that home, that era, that New York, that me. I used to fantasize about running a salon, a place where interesting, accomplished people from all walks of life would come together. At One Sheridan Square, I lived that dream. Almost everyone I’ve ever loved—from childhood to the present—walked through that apartment; everyone goes through New York at some point. That time marked the beginning of so many things: friendships, memories, loves, ideas, books. I haven’t been able to recreate a community to match it since.
For years afterward, I avoided the building when I visited New York, fearing it would tear into me raw, like seeing a former lover with his new family. I went all the way to London to find a place that doesn’t exist anymore. Once I did that, I could walk back to Sheridan Square.
Every year I say I’ll move back, but Kat cautioned me against it. “Even if we could move back to the West Village—and we can’t—it’s changed,” she warned. “Plus, now you’ve lived somewhere with space and light.”
I was back in New York for several weeks last winter, and I walked under those signs I’d forgotten about for 15 years. “Why bother? Why the pain?”
I was so happy to see those words, writ large. “Just go home. Do it again.” If only I could. k
Youn is a journalist in Los Angeles who has reported stories for E!, the New York Daily News, NPR and Vulture.com.