When I Tried to Be a New Yorker

When I first began to consider a move to New York, I'd imagined a clear picture of what the experience might look like. I knew it was going to be difficult. I'd be living the farthest away from home I'd ever been in a fast-moving, expensive, overwhelming city unlike any other. I was aware of this. I anticipated trials, frustrations and tears. I considered myself pragmatic. I knew it could take several months to find a job. I knew I wouldn't be able to spend large sums of money on extravagant meals and activities -- at least until I wasn't living off my savings. I also knew I was moving into an apartment -- sight unseen- - in a neighborhood that, while I'd been assured was relatively safe, was not going to be categorically nice. And yet, none of this deterred me.

You see, I'd been stuck. For quite a while. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life, what I wanted to do, other than be a writer, and that wasn't going to pay the bills. At least not anytime soon. I'd also just finished my low residency MFA program in Connecticut and I was reeling from the loss of that aspect of my life. More than that, I was adrift in the ocean of adulthood, and I couldn't go on treading water for much longer. I needed a lifeline.

New York became my solution. I'd always had a sort of romantic view of New York, and this would be my opportunity to live out this fantasy. This change, this monumental uprooting of my life as I knew it, would force me to break the surface of that listless place I'd inhabited. In the months before my move, I felt a building excitement at what awaited me on the East Coast. I would get a job at a publishing house or literary agency. I would meet people and go to readings and really immerse myself in the writing culture. I would eat out at restaurants and insert myself into the foodie scene. I'd stroll around Central Park and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, see some shows, go to museums, craft a totally new life for myself. And, many of my closest MFA colleagues would be just a short train ride away should I decide I needed to get out of town.

When I finally arrived, after driving across the country with my folks, I was met with a few surprises. The apartment where I'd rented a room wasn't exactly how I pictured it. The neighborhood seemed a little less safe than I'd imagined. In my first week, I'd been met with a drug bust on my doorstep and stories about muggings and indecent exposure from my new roommates. One even went so far as to say, "getting mugged is sort of like a rite of passage, you know?" And then there was the catcalling. Every time I left the apartment. On a few occasions, men even followed me home. It appeared to be some kind of game -- one I wasn't in love with playing. My mother harped often about the need for pepper spray. One of my Connecticut friends half-jokingly offered to give me a gun.

But I made it work for a while. I hauled my laundry several blocks every weekend to the laundromat and found a grocery store by the "M" stop. I went on a few job interviews. I quickly realized that the publishing industry was not right for me. I met with a few temp agencies and finally got a front desk position with a home fashions company. When Kenneth Cole came in for a meeting, I thought "well, this is kind of cool." I got into a steady routine, taking the train into Manhattan every day. I found a place to get coffee each morning on the way to work, a few restaurants to rotate for lunch. I visited friends in Connecticut and had them visit me in New York. I was making myself at home.

And, I did find a lot to be in awe of. I walked past the monstrous Macy's and the Empire State Building on my way to and from the office every day. I loved the way the city moved in Midtown. The hustle and bustle. It was mechanical, a well-oiled machine. I could almost convince myself that I was part of something bigger. I found something almost magical about people-watching on the subway. And, I felt good about being on my own. The schedule and the routines. Making decisions and dealing with crises. This sense of independence was perhaps what I'd been searching for when I moved in the first place.

But with New York also came a loneliness unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I was broke, unable to do much of anything that I'd set out to do in New York, afraid to waste money on "fun things." I spent almost all of my free time alone in my 5' x 8' bedroom. I was also uncomfortable walking around alone at night in my neighborhood. This made going out in Manhattan feel impossible, because I dreaded the train ride home. I'd also walked into a work environment that was full of drama. It made it hard to keep my head above water. I quickly began to realize that the life I'd envisioned for myself in New York wasn't possible. I'd wanted the glossy vacation version of the city, not the hard grind of everyday life.

But it was more than that. I missed my friends and family. I was always lost amidst the towering buildings because I didn't have the mountains to the west to guide me. More than anything, I realized that New York couldn't make me happy. No place could. I'd been wrong about what I needed. I'd let my dissatisfaction lead me to believe that the only way to get better was to pick up and move somewhere else. I'd come to believe that a change of scenery would fix me. But I was still the same person struggling to find her place in New York that I was in Denver. I needed to work on what was happening inside of me, instead of looking at the exterior scenery for answers.

So, after several months of increasing misery, I decided to throw in the towel. It was a hard decision. I didn't want to be a quitter. I wanted to find a way to stand by the choices I'd made and make it work. At first, I tried. I looked into moving closer to Manhattan, but I couldn't afford it. I considered looking for another job, but I couldn't really afford that either. I felt stuck. So, I called it. I spent my last remaining savings on shipping all of my belongings back to Colorado and I came home.

It was hard, to say the least. I hadn't expected things to turn out this way, and neither had anybody else. I was in a dark cloud of personal failure and self-loathing. I was embarrassed. It took several months for me to get back into some of the activities I'd enjoyed before. I was afraid to see certain people and I felt like everyone was judging me. It turns out that more than anything, people just didn't know what to say. It was a difficult situation and they could see my hurting. I had to be home for a while before I understood that. And then, little by little, I found a place of acceptance and began to look at what would be next for me.

And, I'm still looking. It's been over a year since I came home and I still haven't found what I went to New York in search of. But maybe that's OK. In some ways, moving to New York was about figuring out that I'd already found a home. I didn't need to change my geographic location to get away from certain memories, that the ties I had to this place weren't the root of my problems. I also learned that a new place was not a guarantee that I would be made new. That had to come from within myself. It still does. I am trying to make myself new each and every day. It's an ongoing process, but at least here, I have people who love and support me. In the end, New York taught me that I could be strong and independent, but it also taught me that running away from myself, from the larger questions I needed to be asking, didn't make any of those feelings go away. The baggage came with me to New York, and then I brought it back to Denver. And little by little, I've started to unpack.