Two weeks ago, I formalized my decision. Tonight, I lie in a king bed in Ohio, with everything I’ve accumulated over the past 5 years crammed ever-most strategically inside an SUV in my parents’ garage. Next stop: Chicago.
Ever since the news started to get around, I’ve encountered a lot of “I’m so sorry New York didn’t work out” and “I really hope you don’t think of yourself as a failure.” It may not be necessary to defend my reactions of “I’m not” and “I don’t,” but just so we are all on the same page…
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when I got a staph infection from lifting weights at the cheapest, most convenient gym in my neighborhood. When I medicated myself with an expired antibiotic I was prescribed over a year prior, because my contractor insurance was terrible and I couldn’t afford a real doctor or for that matter, a real diagnosis.
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when a week after the staph infection, I contracted the worst illness I’ve had since living on my own. When a stomach virus shut my body down for an entire week — extracting every remnant of liquid or solid in my digestion system, as if my body only wanted to operate on gases from there on out. When I dropped a repulsive amount of money to see a shitty doctor in my shitty neighborhood, who only agreed to see me, three hours after I checked into the urgent care, because I cried and threatened that if I didn’t drink something soon I was going to pass out, and if I did drink something soon, my bodily fluids would rapidly exit my body all over their waiting room floor. When after receiving a shot, being locked in a room to nap and regain strength for 30 minutes, and finally getting a half-full bathroom-sized miniature glasses of water, the nurse asked for what seemed like the millionth time “are you SURE you don’t have ANYONE who could pick you up?” (Those urgent care nurses sure knew how to make a single lady in an inconvenient neighborhood feel good after 14 hours of nonstop puking.)
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when a week after the stomach virus, I was punched in the back of the head by a complete stranger at the Port Authority subway stop. When I was followed by a man, and hit so hard that I blacked out. When I was asked to watch the attack several times later on security cameras, and then spent the next 5 hours of that evening reliving the event to several police offers, medics, and ER doctors. When the next morning, unable to move my neck, I still went into work on time.
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when I found out my boss was quitting, thus causing formal staffing of contract workers (aka me) in our department to be frozen.
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when we experienced a second bed bug scare.
I didn’t decide I was done with New York when the bills from my assault incident started to accrue.
I decided I was done with New York much earlier. When right after I came back to the city after spending time in Ohio for the holidays, a point when I’m usually very ready to get back to the NYC grind, I was en route to meeting up with a friend for dinner and almost got mauled by a biker. When my subconscious reaction to an fast-paced oncoming bike was, “let him run you over.” I laughed it off that night, but that was the moment when I realized I was mentally checked out of the city’s rat race. At that point, I loved my job, but I knew it would be ending. I had freshly given up on a “will they or won’t they” relationship I had been flirting with for four years, and the city was at the onset of the coldest season of social hibernation. I didn’t want to be there, and something inside me knew the feeling wasn’t temporary this time. I had more bike encounters over the next few months, and my knee-jerk reaction never changed. “Don’t. Move. Let it happen.”
After that, the city seemed to pepper me with little gifts of hell on the reg. I admire New York so much, but I’ve always known that if you let it, it’ll drag you down until you are living with the sewer rats. At both at my four and four and a half year marks in NYC, I said I truly didn’t think I’d make it to five. And here I am, lying in my Ohio bed, with exactly two months until I would have reached that milestone.
Realizing your environment changed from a place that drives and inspires you to one you resent is a tough pill to swallow. For me, New York became a place where I felt myself becoming more impatient and insecure each day. Walk faster. Work longer. Trust less. Dress better. Speak louder. Love harder. Grit is at the core of New York City. It’s beautiful and powerful, but tough to settle into.
Leaving was something I wrestled with time and time again: at the onset of every new job, each time a childhood friend in the Midwest got engaged or married, all the times I second-guessed the cashier at my local grocery store when asked to pay $45 for eggs, hot sauce, cheese and kale (the staples). But I always knew the timing would be right when I felt simultaneously okay with never living in New York again, but also open to the idea that life could bring me back in two or five years, when I’m further into my career and making more money. I didn’t openly cry on public transportation about leaving a single time, but I already have a running list of things I know I’ll miss. Some highlights:
- Weekly volunteering at The Covenant House with the NYJL
- Spending weekends being the epitome of lazy in Central Park
- Excessive Blockheads dinners with Michaela
- Nightly kitchen chats with Jess (and more recently, Carson)
- Days spend exploring the Hudson Valley with Jon and Josh
- Third-wheeling with Mike and Nicole (and more recently, Paige)
- Nordstrom Rack trips with Mandy
- Brunching with Joel
- Shows at UCB
- Elevator rides with Jimmy Fallon, Willie Geist, et al.
- Running and biking down Riverside Drive
- Cheap Broadway tickets
- Rooftop parties and bars
- Free access to the city’s museums
I am not sorry “New York didn’t work out,” and I do not think of myself as a “failure.” Quite the opposite. In the past five years: I’ve worked in five jobs at eight locations in three different industries; I’ve moved five times into three apartments with thirteen different roommates; I’ve encountered almost every kind of rodent, coworker, and breakfast cocktail I can think of. My tolerance for crazy has been blown out of the water, along with any type of personal or professional expectation I’ve ever had. New York came through for me time and time again; I realize and acknowledge that. I had the lucky opportunity to live in the city I fantasized about since I was in 7th grade, work for the company of my dreams, and expand my network tenfold with creative, inspiring people who are thought-leaders in their respective industries — and even made a handful of them my best friends.
It’s really challenging to start over in your comfort zone, and even as tough and bizarre as New York City is, it became just that. I know how to survive there, but I no longer want to. Just as buying that one-way ticket to LGA five Augusts ago felt so right to me then, making the decision to bunk up with a college friend in a new-to-me city much closer to home feels right to me now.
I don’t know what this next city will have in store, but taking a risk and starting a new adventure isn’t something that intimidates me any more. New York has been my greatest love/hate relationship, and maybe it always will be. And while I am happy to be moving on, I don’t regret a thing. NYC: until we meet again, thanks for the memories, lylas and never change (even though you will, and probably already have).
Chicago, you’ve got some big Birkenstocks to fill.