More often than not, the bill of goods sold about New York is that it’s a place of infinite promise. Where dreams are truly made (sure, Hollywood’s the same, but New York has been alluring people for longer). And, in the beginning, Emma Meir bought into this. One supposes the beginning is the time when a person is most susceptible to the shiny veneer of things, to seeing the best possible outcome from putting in the work necessary at the initialization of a new phase.
It helped that she was in her earlyish twenties, too—just twenty-four when she first became a victim to love, a dangerous concept anywhere, but especially so in New York. She didn’t know this at the time of meeting Graham Finch at a Halloween party on Bleecker Street in October of 2013—a numerically ominous date to begin with. Graham’s costume was simple, yet effective. He had dredged up The Place Beyond the Pines from earlier in the year, dying his hair bleach blonde and stamping himself with all the according tattoos to look like Ryan Gosling in the role of Luke Glanton. It immediately appealed to Emma, who herself had dressed in the timely movie incarnation of Daisy Buchanan from Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby. She could see in him a pop culture-oriented kindred. This, paired with the many cupfuls of unclassifiable alcoholic punch she had consumed, prompted her to approach him.
“Hey there Gossy,” she opened brazenly.
Graham raised his eyebrow. “The name’s Graham.”
She giggled to offset her foolishness, thereby only coming across as more foolish. “Oh. ‘Kay. Well, I’m Emma and I wanted to know if you wanted to dance.” At the moment, Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” was playing. Graham, needless to say, declined the invitation.
“This song isn’t really my…cup of tea.” Graham took a standoffish sip of his beer, his body language in no way indicating any further interest in a conversation with Emma.
Emma, however, did not take this into consideration as she brushed up against him and persisted, “So who do you know here?”
Graham looked toward the host of the party, Gwendolyn, dressed as a sexy Pope Francis, which entailed a shortened version of the papal robe, fishnet stockings with white Mary Jane heels and her long blonde hair topped with a mitre. It was very unholy indeed. “Gwen is a co-worker of mine. You know her?”
Emma glared at her obvious competition. “No, I think she’s a mutual friend of the friend that invited me here.”
Graham nodded. “I see. Well, we work at Foursquare together. Ever use it?”
Emma’s knee-jerk reaction was to laugh. “Fuck no.”
Graham appeared nonplussed. “May I ask why?”
“Maybe because I don’t need some app to tell me where to go, where I should be going.”
He looked at her with a mixture of contempt and wonder. “Don’t you care about seeing and being seen, unlocking deals that you couldn’t otherwise unlock?” he said with a deadpan tone and expression.
For a brief moment, Emma clammed up, unable to fully process whether or not Graham could truly be serious. Seeing her break a sweat, Graham finally smiled at her. “I’m kidding. I don’t give a fuck about Foursquare either. I just have to pay my rent is all.”
Emma laughed, “Thank god. I really thought you were one of those pod people who enjoys their job for a minute.”
He shook his head. “I never made it into the pod.” Soon, the song transitioned into Rihanna’s “Stay.” It was then that Graham set his beer down and extended his hand to Emma. “I do like this song though. Not ashamed to admit it.”
“Why would you be? It’s the ‘My Heart Will Go On’ of our time.” And with that, Emma took his hand and they careened together in a slightly drunk fashion in the center of the room while most of the other partygoers stood off to the side judging them for an attempt at a slow dance.
From there, it went pretty much the standard way. They started seeing a lot more of each other. Emma began to gain a bit more confidence in her abilities as a human being thanks to the reassurance of having someone else be interested in spending most of his waking hours with her. She even found the courage to extricate herself from a dead end cubicle job she assumed would bog her down for the rest of her life should she choose to remain in the city and still be able to afford the lifestyle she had grown accustomed to (which was to say, disposable income for her post-work drinking habit). She began freelancing, spending most of her new workday in coffee shops or in her apartment—that is, whenever one of her three roommates wasn’t home in the day, which was rare. In fact, it was this irritation with being constantly unable to work in silence and tranquility that first brought to rise the notion of her moving in with Graham after only five months together. Graham, whose lease was about to end, and Emma, who was existing on a month to month basis like so many others in New York of her young and amenable kind, took it as a sign that this was the moment to move in together. A rookie mistake of any couple in New York who has never lived with someone before is to dive right in by shacking up under the guise of “spending so much time together anyway,” but really, just wanting to save a little money with fewer roommates. But just like sex is the quickest way to ruin a friendship, moving in together is the quickest way to ruin the honeymoon phase.
Oh sure, they had their contented bliss for awhile, racking up more memories than Donald Trump has debt, but, in the end, New York was not what Graham wanted. Three years older than her, he found it was starting to feel puerile and played much sooner than she did. Unfortunately, they had signed one of those two-year leases to lower the cost of the monthly rent. Graham only had the relationship stamina to make it to a year and a half before sadly admitting to Emma, “This isn’t working for me anymore.” At least he had the decency to be somewhat candid about it, rather than stringing her along for another six months and luring her into a false sense of security about where they stood. Still, like many women, the sting of the rejection is what made it most difficult for her to accept, causing her to be petty during the last few weeks of their residency together while Emma was the one who searched high and low for someone to sublet the place for the remainder of their lease in the midst of herself also looking for new lodging: a feat, in New York, very much akin to finding a pot of gold. This is how she ended up settling on a $1,000 room roughly the size of food cart just down the street from their original apartment on 48th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in Sunset Park, still just close enough to the Bay Ridge Channel and the 45th Street N/R/W trains. Not that Emma had much intention of leaving the premises as a result of all the homebound work she would have to do to be able to cover rent alone. Or so she thought. But once Graham bid her goodbye and took the cheapest flight he could book back home to San Diego, it was as though any ambition or wherewithal she might have had before simply vanished into thin air along with his plane. Every now and then, she would get a burst of energy and manage to finish an assignment, but, more often than not, she would wander the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan in a daze, wondering where the fuck her twenties went.
Incidentally, it was in her early twenties that she learned there’s a year round tour of the city called Ghosts of New York. It made sense—no place in the U.S. is more rife with the energy of the past than New York City. Intrigued by the novelty, she took the tour once, guided by an eccentric thirty-something bespectacled man who found it particularly important to highlight the area of NYU at 85 West 3rd Street where Edgar Allan Poe wrote portions of “The Raven.” People loved to bring Poe into anything “spooky,” after all.
In any case, Emma had no idea that she would, years later, be able to create her own version, unwantingly and unwittingly revisiting all the places she had created a memory at with Graham. Unlike her, Graham did not have to endure these memories, come face to face with them at any unexpected moment, in any unexpected part of the city. He had escaped.
Emma remained in New York. She stayed in the trenches, among the wreckage of all the memories, while Graham started anew in a suburban wasteland void of anything real or unmanufactured, least of all bursting with the potential for remembrance of things past. In this way, he was not haunted, got over the concept of “them” with an unjust rapidity. It was left to Emma to hold on to the ghosts, which could appear at any instant, depending on the edifice she passed by. Below are just some of the historic sites of the now defunct relationship.
Apartment on Bleecker Street: the party where they first met and went home together.
Po: posh West Village restaurant where Graham’s mother took them to dinner one night while she was visiting, proceeded to get blind drunk and therefore easily offended at the mere mention of Graham’s father, her ex, and subsequently threatened to stay in a hotel–which she should have been doing anyway.
IFC Center: one of the only times she ever persuaded Graham to see a movie in the theater. It was Boyhood.
Green-Wood Cemetery: renowned burial place of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and where Emma and Graham rode their bikes on many a fall day because of its proximity to their apartment.
Bay Ridge: the duo would often frequent this milieu because it was close by their neighborhood and offered an array of Italian markets from which to buy products for their nightly dinners at home.
Lincoln Center: It was here Emma saw Richard Wagner’s “The Ring Cycle” for the very first time with Graham, who had waited in line all day to get half-price tickets for it.
Arthur Avenue: Emma and Graham made it their personal goal to hit up every single restaurant on this block, favoring it over the cheesier, less authentic Little Italy.
Coney Island: In their first year together, Emma and Graham visited Coney Island in the winter, the desolate, post-apocalyptic aesthetic foreshadowing their own fate as a couple.
Central Park: For so many, not just Emma, Central Park is a trigger. It was here they would often stroll through the lush greenery, occasionally stopping to sit on a bench after getting two bags of Nuts 4 Nuts for $5. Still the best bargain in the city.
The list continues, obviously, as it does for so many couples who have began and ended in New York, the city of demise on all counts. But, truth be told, whether a person is aware of it or not, she’s constantly being haunted. The loss of a relationship—friendship or otherwise—constitutes a death. In a similar fashion, you can’t even talk to the person anymore, because the version of them you once knew is now gone, surrendered to the notion of “personal growth.” Or, in Emma’s case, personal atrophy.