THIS IS US

What We Choose and What We Give Up

A New York City love poem

Savala Nolan
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readMar 29, 2022

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image by Jonannes Hurtig

I expected to come back to New York and feel like I felt at the beginning, when I got my first look at the city. Riding a train south from Rhode Island, I looked up, and there was Manhattan, the silver stilettos of the skyline regal in the orange sunset, an intricate Cubist brooch on the breast of the earth. The buzz of the city was intoxicating and dense — squeezed into place by the corseting rivers — and I felt as if my body had just been plunged into a massive, living outlet. I felt, for the first time in my life, an umbilical sense of belonging to a place; we were attached, I was of it, it was making me.

That first New York City week, more than twenty years ago, I stayed with a friend on Park and 91st, and I still vividly remember: ancient, skinny-aisled grocery stores with leaning shelves of dusty cans, the Wetlands, my first taste of Tasti D-lite frozen yogurt, the autumnal romance of Bow Bridge, the eerie insulation of Upper East Side apartments, the motionless heat of subway stations, doormen in their thick uniforms, the crush of Prince Street, the cube at Astor Place and the diner that never closed, Midtown fashion editors with their heels and slouchy backs, the clip and cadence of New Yorkers conversing, the swirling backseat universe of taxi cabs at three AM. I knew I had to live in New York, and for close to a decade, I did, fed by the pulse of the place, and there is no place or pulse like it. I left in 2007, at the age of 27, flying west to California, called home by golden hills and the Pacific Ocean, thinking that, despite my love for the city, my future lay elsewhere.

I’m 41 now; it’s strange to feel so restless at midlife, to feel the antsy desire for arrival alongside uncertainty about where, exactly, I want to arrive. I thought a long weekend in Manhattan might answer this fidgeting anxiety, might make something clear to me: who I am now, and where I want to go. So a few months ago, I booked a ticket and went. I once belonged to New York so completely, and felt so truly myself there, that I thought the city, with its powers of nimble discernment and rapid-fire revelation, just might work its magic on me again. I thought it might be a mirror in which my reflection, made fuzzy by the realities of my current…

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Savala Nolan
Human Parts

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce