I was never someone who dreamed of moving to New York City. As teenagers, my friends and I talked about it as one option among many as we dreamed up images of what our lives would look like at twenty, twenty-five, thirty. Equally possible were the South of France, London, Sydney, Florence or Venice, and the list went on.
For each of these places we developed personas—ideas of how these places would shape us, and who we would become within them. In the South of France I’d wear plenty of skirts, and I’d carry picnic baskets around the fields that surrounded my little countryside home as I took up herbalism as a hobby. In London I’d have more of an edge, I’d be more competitive, more career-driven, and I’d have a really nice Pendleton raincoat. In Venice I’d live on a sailboat, spend every moment in the sun and in the water, I’d drink espresso from tiny mugs and eat lots of amatriciana and margherita pizzas. Obviously, at fifteen and sixteen, our perceptions of each place were based on very thin slices of knowledge of each place and its culture, but that fact did not quell the longing we had to see the world, to look its beautiful and ugly parts in the eyes, and to return home with stories.
While my best friend had spent some time with extended family in New York growing up, I didn’t visit the city for the first time until she was going to college there. And despite all of our dreams of traveling, and the people we could be in each spot on the globe, I never developed an idea of who I would be in New York, or even what life in New York could look like. I suspect, at the time, New York City seemed a tad too close to my native Rochester, NY—and the thought of staying in the same state seemed disheartening when the world was so big, and filled with so many places I wanted to see.
With my college graduation behind me, and the whole world seemingly open for my exploration, I worried about moving somewhere that I hadn’t always dreamed of living—but in the last six months since I moved to New York, I’ve come to find that, without expectations, this city, each and every day, has shown me its character, its beauty, and its fun, all while forcing me to discover my own resilience.
My best friend and I are sharing a fifth floor walk-up at the moment, and while the space is tight, the stairs are a menace, and it’s regularly ninety-five degrees in here, this space is ours—and it’s perfect. Ask anyone who has lived in New York in similar conditions—and even not-so-similar conditions (with AC, etc.)—and they’ll tell you that living in New York is not easy. But, as John F. Kennedy said, and my Father frequently repeats, “we choose to go the moon in this decade, and do all these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And the hard is what makes it worth it, because that ensures that you are constantly growing, changing, and learning new lessons.
Since moving to New York, I’ve learned that most people want to be happy—and, if invited, they’ll join you in a moment on the street for a three second dance party, a laugh as you both hear something said out of context, and a drunk moment of joy and camaraderie in the women’s bathroom. I’ve conversed with women in the hardware store that were “lunching,” heard music on my entire commute even without bringing headphones, I’ve danced at bars with friends while no one besides us danced, and I’ve heard John Mulaney jokes on the corners of streets that were mentioned in his jokes—how amazing is that?
I’ve seen beautiful moments as strangers help mothers lift their strollers up the subway stairs or onto a subway car, or share a coffee and a chat with the person sitting next to them in the café. I’ve seen a bus driver whose attitude couldn’t be swayed by any disgruntled passenger, mailmen with deep smile lines who know the name of seemingly everyone on their routes. I’ve seen New York Moments like when the power went out—and subway passengers were finally released back into the streets—and a choir had abandoned the dark Carnegie Hall to finish their performance out on the steps.
I’ve learned that the city was built so that the streets would flood with light as the sun rose and set—and yes I realize that was because they didn’t have electric lighting, but there’s poetry in that too. I’ve found ceilings covered with stars, and I’ve discovered I’m only an hour’s subway ride away from the ocean.
Living in New York is hard, but, like exhausted parents or exhausted students, you are never alone in New York—literally and figuratively.
On nights when I’m home, without events or people to meet, I can’t help but remember my first night at college; how I sat near the window, hearing the campus hum with life, feeling like I didn’t know how to tap into it.
Going into college I had expectations. I had built up an elaborate depiction of my four years of school in my head; who I’d be, who I’d hang out with, what I’d learn and how. As they say, “expectation is the root of all heartache.” I wasn’t disappointed with my college experience—it just wasn’t what I thought it should have been, based on the stories my parents told about their own college years, or the stories my sister told about her own. I was judging my experience before I even got to experience it—which is bullshit.
I never developed expectations for how life in New York would go—and letting go of expectations is something I’m still learning—but in the places that I’ve managed to let them go, the spaces where expectations used to be have filled, vibrant with color and sound.
While I sat by the window on that first night in my dorm, wondering how to tap into the noise and the fun that echoed through that valley, in New York I stand by my window, content with the knowledge that my experience here is just one of many; that I am not separate, but fully apart of the life humming in this city that has, at last, opened her arms to let me in.