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The First Time I Moved to New York

Alexander Chee | Longreads | October 29, 2018 | 2,448 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

The First Time I Moved to New York

The fantasies Alexander Chee had of New York before he moved there didn’t fully prepare him for what it was like to love the city.
Alexander Chee in Polaroid, taken by Michael James O’Brien at the Lure in New York for XXX Fruit’s launch party.

Alexander Chee | Longreads | October 2018 | 10 minutes (2,448 words)

My first move to New York begins at the back of a Queer Nation meeting in San Francisco in 1991, with a man visiting from New York with his boyfriend who tried to pick me up. I turned him down as a way of flirting only with him. He seemed at a loss as to what to say next, and so I said, When can I get you alone?

We stood at the back of that meeting for some time, not quite willing to walk away. We hadn’t known each other long but the attraction we felt that would end up tearing up our lives and remaking them was already in charge. We exchanged addresses, deciding to be pen pals, then wrote each other letters for months. We met up again at a writers conference, then wrote more letters. He broke up with his boyfriend and got an apartment by himself. The answer to my original question then seemed to be, Seven months from now, in New York. And so I put my things in San Francisco up for sale and boarded a bus for New York that summer, with a copy of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess as reading material, and my best friend, who we’ll call S.

S and I dressed more or less alike for the trip, as we had for much of our friendship. If memory serves, we were both reading the same book. We made White Goddess jokes the whole way. We wore jean cutoffs, combat boots, and sleeveless hoodies, and sat in seats next to each other, emerging from the bus for smoke breaks. Our aesthetic then was modeled mostly on the comic Tank Girl and what we could remember of issues of The Face, and I had recently shaved my own head after a long night in Oakland that served as something of a private goodbye to San Francisco. S was coming with me a little in the way of a best man or a bridesmaid, as if I were getting married. I wasn’t used to getting what I wanted from love, and survived through intense friendships instead. We had been inseparable best friends since meeting, writing in coffee shops and stalking used bookstores for books by Joy Williams, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, Andrea Dworkin, Marilyn Hacker, and, yes, Joan Didion, and so while he joked he wanted to make sure of me, and I wanted him to — I didn’t trust myself — we were also, I think, preparing for being without each other on a daily basis.

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