I should preface this with some context: I never expected to end up in New York, and yet, it makes complete sense. Since I put my notice in to move back up to MA and start a new job, I’ve taken some time to reflect on how I got here, and my time in the city. My inspiration was from the book Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, a series of personal essays that tell the stories of writers’ experiences living in New York. All of their stories start the same, arriving here in the city and eventually having to leave for one reason or other. Some come back, others make a new life in their next home. With these essays as my guide, I wanted to put my own story on paper. I wanted to create my own farewell to the city I’ve called home for four years.
‘One Last Time’
I came to New York because I wanted a change. Speaking for my millennial generation, I think there’s this overlying feeling of anxiety when it comes to growing up and figuring out our lives. For some, solving this requires a backpacking trip around the world. For others, maybe it’s running a marathon. It’s whatever action is necessary to help you feel accomplished, to achieve the life you dreamed about as a kid.
For me, this call to find myself came in the form of New York City. I was 24 and restless, an aspiring writer with little guidance as to how to achieve success beyond the clips from my local newspaper job in my home state. I craved something new, something strange, something adventurous.
I arrived in New York City on July 13, 2012, with two orange backpacks—one worn on my back carrying enough clothing for two weeks, and a second on my front with a few necessities and enough books to last me a month. I was excited, wide-eyed and full of hope, completely blind to the idea that I could call any other place home. New York City was this epic finale for me—a sign of a fulfilled life where I could put my skills to use and create the life I’d always wanted. And I did that, at least for some time.
2013 was the first time the city threw a challenge at me: I was fighting a horrible situation at home—bed bugs had found their way into my apartment, and as a result my roommates and I were dealing with stress, lack of sleep, and ultimately a complete hatred towards each other and our personal coping mechanisms. I was constantly at war—with my roommates, with myself, with the unfortunate circumstances, and I had reached my limit. I questioned my decision to move there—could I really handle the big city? Has the honeymoon period finally worn off, leaving me to discover the harsh reality of this place and how unfit I was for it? Had I failed at making a New York life for myself?
I remember walking as these thoughts spun through my mind. Tears in my eyes, shaking with anxiety, I left work that day in a state of distress. I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t go to a friend’s place, so instead I just walked. I started at 28th Street by my office, continued up 5th Ave. past Bryant Park, past the NY Public Library, past Rockefeller Center and the Plaza Hotel. I was Forrest Gump, passing each subway stop with the motivation to keep walking as a way to avoid my life.
It was July, so sunlight was on my side. I figured that based on the first half of my walk, I could make it through the park and back to my home on West 106th Street before dark, and at the worst case, I could always continue walking on the street. With each step, I felt calmer. Suddenly the idea of being in my home wasn’t as scary. I knew I could eventually get rid of the bugs, and I had already decided to move out of my apartment when the lease ended, so there was hope at the end of the storm—something I had not seen before. Allowing myself time to breathe deeply, I stepped onto the grass at Sheepshead Meadow in Central Park, and the skies opened up. I was venerable—a single person in an open field, lacking any access to shelter, but I didn’t mind. I had watched the dark clouds as they got closer and closer to Manhattan, and I knew it would be a matter of time before the rain would pour down on me.
That is where the calm finally set in. In all the chaos of watching the afternoon park-goers run for cover, I stood there with my eyes to the sky, letting the rain fall lightly onto my face. It was reminder that everything would be ok, that even in my moments of doubt, this city would take care of me. I knew then that it was not my time to leave—not yet.
New York City is a constant push and pull. You feel the lure to its excitement, to the vast variety of options for every type of person. When you’re growing up, the world is this expanse of possibility—we are told that we can do anything if we just work towards it, and New York City has become a physical manifestation of this concept—here we can be anything we want to be. But what happens when you get there, when you reach a point where New York has given you everything it possibly can?
For me, it was always about the destination. I was on a journey to find a home that would fulfill me, that would give me that perfect ending to my story. But I forgot that at 28, I’m still writing my story. This neatly wrapped conclusion that I’ve been seeking is still decades away, and that if in my heart I feel it is time to move on, then I have to listen to that. I still have so many chapters to fill, so many new people to meet, so much left to do.
Before I moved here, I’d trek into the city to visit friends a few times a year. I’d take the Metro-North train from Stamford into Grand Central, and watch the landscape change from the sleepy outer suburbs to the dense metropolis that I’ve now come to love. I always loved the part of the trip when the train would cross the narrow river channel from the Bronx into Harlem. I would look out at the high-rise apartments surrounding the tracks, and imagine myself sitting on my bed and looking out one of those thousands of windows. I would see myself as one small piece of this living, breathing, ever-changing city, and I so desperately wanted to make that dream a reality.
You see, my romanticized version of New York was one of simplicity and poetry, an open chasm of opportunity for me to build on. I never pictured myself surrounded by money or fame. No, my New York had art, and tiny bookstores, afternoons chatting with a barista in a coffee shop as the rain fell outside. I had that at one point, but like any place, eventually the glamour fades, and I found myself yearning for something more.
New York City opened my world to more potential than I ever expected. In the four short years here, I managed to knock some big items off of my life’s bucket list. I was a volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; I became a published travel writer; I had access to some unforgettable concerts, plays, and musicals—all just a short subway ride away. I fell in love with this city—with its towering skyscrapers, its lush parks, its strong bridges. I made a life here for myself, piecing together the aspects I loved to create a picturesque home for myself. And it worked for some time.
The truth, though, is that like any city, New York has a dark side. I could go days describing the true beauty of this place, but from the very start I always had a ping of loneliness in my heart. Finding your place in a big city can be difficult, especially when you are still trying to find yourself. I tried to get into different circles, different industries that I thought could make me happy, but at the end of each day, I still felt like something was missing. There was something about this city that was pushing back, and I was trying so hard to fight that.
That’s what brought me here, to four years after I packed those two orange backpacks and got on a train. Despite all of the joys and wonder this city has given me, part of me has always known that this city would not be where I end up. At least not right now. I tried for four years to fight that push, but now that I’ve given into it, I’m amazed at how easy the ride is. I’m ready for my next step. I’m ready to see what else this world has in store for me. You see, New York isn’t always the last stop—sometimes it’s just one chapter in our story. You realize that for some, New York is the only place worth living, but for others, when you step outside of the grid, you remember that it is just one place on this beautiful planet.
That’s not to say that I am happy to leave behind the life I built in New York City. The city is a hub for transplants, a network of people from every corner of the world, and together we form a sort of family—a support system to help each other push through the daily challenges we face. I was fortunate enough to find a network strong enough to keep me going—we laughed together, cried together, we made the city special and uniquely ours. That is what I will miss most—the people I’ve bonded with. But in my heart I know that like New York, they have forever left a mark in my heart. We survived this city together—and bonds like that cannot be broken.
In my career, I can always tell when it’s time to move on—when I’ve gotten everything I can out of the position, I know that the only way I can grow and learn is by looking for a new challenge. I think the same goes for life—New York has given me more than I could ever ask for. It’s taught me strength, and shown me how to be my true, unique self, and for that I will always be grateful. But for now, New York has given me everything I could possibly need, and it’s time to see what else I can learn. It’s time for me to pack up those orange backpacks again and ride the train to somewhere new. I’ll have a new window to look out of, a new park to explore. I’m ready, so the only thing left to do is pray for rain.