GOODBYE TO ALL OF THAT: MY LOVE LETTER TO NEW YORK CITY

If you’ve read anything else on my blog, you’ve learned at this point that I recently moved to Seattle after nearly 9 years in NYC. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the place where I essentially grew up and became who I am. As a writer… one of the best ways for me to process the chapter and the transition is by putting pen to paper (well, metaphorically at least). You could say this essay is my love letter, and my farewell (for now, at least) to the city.

When I first got to New York City, I was so overwhelmed. It was an enormous feeling, that seemed bigger than I could contain. I wanted to be there, I had wanted to move on to something bigger and better in my life…and I knew that could be there. But I still wept the day my mom left.

That whole next week, I cried.

I remember walking home from class one day, in the pouring rain. My umbrella was shit, I had open-toed sandals on and no sweater. The rain poured along with the tears streaming down my cheeks as I trudged through crowds of faceless people on the sidewalks. I remember calling my mom and telling her that I wasn’t cut out for this, that I made a huge mistake. I could hear the aching in her voice from the other end of the line, knowing that she couldn’t do anything for me in the moment but tell me what would turn out to be truer than I could have imagined… that it would all be okay.

The first few weeks were difficult, I won’t lie. I felt small, lonely and scared. I couldn’t understand the subway to save my life. I went to class, went to campus, tried to create a social life in place full of strangers seemingly always too busy to get to know.

Basic as it sounds, my experience joining Greek life at NYU is what ultimately changed things for me. I was finally in a room full of girls who I had things in common with, and who I knew were just as eager as I was to make new friends.

Within a few weeks of that I met Kassandra. We connected in a bathroom in the student life center while getting ready for a sorority event. She had just flown in from LA after breaking up with her boyfriend. She cried as I buttoned her into a white dress and oggled over her fountain of jet black hair. At one point I made her laugh and fixed her eyeliner, and the rest is history.

Things finally started to change. The air smelled sweeter, the lights looked brighter, the pizza tasted better. All of the sudden, that overwhelming feeling inside me didn’t feel bigger than I could handle. Not with Tessa, Mariam, Melanie, Ericka, Nikki, Jess, Sarah… and more by my side. (Oh man, so many memories just writing all the names) Anything and everything seemed right at our fingertips. We went out to rooftop bars and frat parties every single weekend, met in the dining halls for brunch the next day, wasted time at the library not studying at all, rushed across Washington Square Park park to classes, hosted fancy wine and cooking nights in our shitty dorm rooms, dragged ourselves to Yoga classes on Saint Marks, tried on expensive clothes in Soho shops that we would never be able to afford, spent what little money we did have on overpriced cocktails and appetizers in Hell’s Kitchen, then snuck flasks into the East Village dive bars to save money on drinks. I could go on and on about those days when the city belonged to us.

Don’t get me wrong, there were bad times too. My parents were in the middle of a nasty divorce, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to study and pursue as a career, and trying to learn dating in New York City in the midst of it all…yikes. I learned very quickly that having the world at your fingertips can be a dangerous thing if you don’t learn to control yourself. Binge drinking and some not-so-healthy relationships colored those early years along with the laughs and the memories. Some bad choices, and a traumatic sexual experience, came along with all the wonderful experiences. I discovered therapy during this time, and learned that dealing with anxiety and depression would be a lifelong task for me, but that. I was worth it.

Looking back now, I can honestly say the fun times are what I remember most because despite it all, I still always felt the sparkle that was in the air in New York, the electric charge almost, that radiates off the sidewalks. I remember many times catching myself stopped on the street, looking up around me and thinking “I’m really here. I made it. And I belong here. I can do anything here. I can’t believe this is real.”

******

School brought with it life-changing opportunities, some that fundamentally shaped my worldview and my ideas about humanity. The scholarship program that made NYU possible for me also took me to Ghana, and then Puerto Rico. Another program took me to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Those educational trips were more than just great times and experiences for me, they were like ripping off sunglasses you didn’t know you had on, flooding your eyes and mind with so much light, you can’t see anything the same anymore. NYU also meant the fairly easy opportunity to study abroad, where I spent several months exploring Europe, opening my heart to so many places, foods, ideas, and people (more on that later). Those experiences forever changed how I see the world and my place within it.

At NYU, I eventually found journalism, and began a career that would ultimately take nearly everything out of me. It was fun and scary at first, but choosing that path continued to mold my principles, modes of thinking, and ignited the passion for helping others that I have today.

My first internship was with the legendary Gabe Pressman. He was the first live reporter in a TV news broadcast. This man still came to work everyday, even in his 90’s. It was a joy and a privilege to get to work for him and learn from him, to be exposed to his excitement for storytelling and appreciation for history.

The man also broke me, and for that I will always be grateful. He decided one day we were going to do a story about Crown Heights. Twenty years earlier, the Brooklyn neighborhood was torn apart by riots and violence, as tensions mounted between the African-American and Hasidic Jewish communities that live side by side there. He sent me out there one day…and told me to talk to people and ‘find the story today’. Um what? I had no idea what that meant, and no idea how I — this naive (and white) girl from Texas — was going to get anyone to talk to me about such a sensitive subject.

The first day, I took a Xanax on the 4 train and then walked around the streets for hours feeling like a failure.

I called Gabe crying, told him I had nothing. He said “okay, so you’ll go back tomorrow.” Great.

Towards the end of another day of aimless wandering and feeling sorry for myself I remember sitting on a bench thinking “you have a choice to make right now. Either you get off this bench, grow up and go start talking to people. Or you need to find a new career. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?”

And so I did. And eventually, we got the story. We went out and we filmed a great piece and it aired on NBC news for the residents of New York City. And I was able to walk away with a richer sense of the history and context of diversity in urban life.

That whole experience in many ways embodies the way that New York raised me. I hit a lot of speed bumps, felt a lot of helpless frustration (especially when grocery shopping), and learned to manage A LOT of anxiety and self-doubt…but at the end of each day I still made the choice to figure it out and get through it…it was either that or go home. I swear to god, no understands the phrase “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” better than a New Yorker.

******

That was the beginning of an exciting and excruciating path for me. I finished undergrad after producing a multimedia documentary about the environmental, economic and communal struggle over the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, a polluted, EPA superfund site. It was very rewarding getting to learn about parts of the city I never really paid attention to before… and a reminder that it’s impossible to ever take in all of the ever-evolving mosaic that is New York’s neighborhoods. But more than that, to this day, that project still more than any other embodies the kind of story telling and community journalism that I want to contribute to.

But life has it’s own ideas. After graduation, I went through a period of intense anxiety and depression as I tried to find my first real job and make something of my very expensive degree. Eventually, a networking contact from a college internship helped me get a job at NBC News as a talent assistant for Kate Snow and Harry Smith. After a year there of amazing exposure to all types of news content and operations, I was out of a job again, and another dark period set in. Fortunately, it was only a few months until I got a position at CBS News as a broadcast associate at CBS This Morning.

With that, came a grueling overnight schedule and a painful period of growth.

It’s important to mention that, during this time, I was also dealing with major health issues that had begun since before I was out of school. After seeing countless doctors and counselors, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, and started intensive treatment for my anxiety. The competitive nature of my industry, its landscape in New York media, and the daily hassles of living life as a single woman in the city were starting to crush me… and not just the fact that I had to cart my dirty laundry up the public streets to the laundry mat every week.

Eventually I had to leave Manhattan and move to Brooklyn in search of cheaper rent. My commute tripled, my access to 24 hour convenience severely diminished, and my social life felt like it was in ashes.

Meanwhile, after I started that job at CBS, the 2016 election took place, and the news in general started to become a different beast entirely, fundamentally changed by the political atmosphere.

For a multitude of reasons that don’t have anything to do with politics, CBS didn’t work out in the long run though I’m grateful for the experience I had there. Most of us go through phases in our career that break us down, and we have to make the choice to either believe in the self-doubt or pick ourselves back up.

I was more than excited when I took a new job as a writer and producer at a news startup called Cheddar in 2018. At 25 years old, I felt like I had a job title I could be proud of and a chance to really get a better grip on what I wanted to do with my career. Less than a year into the job, came a promotion and a raise, and an incredible producing opportunity. It turned out to be an enormous and exhausting opportunity (with a 3am wake up call) that gave me the confidence in my writing, production, creative, leadership and project management skills. But it was also an illuminating experience when I finally came to the realization that, regardless of the environment, TV news wasn’t the type of journalism and story telling I was truly passionate about.

By this point in time, I felt a lot of things. I was proud of my accomplishments at work, but still I was tired, confused and discouraged. I was still struggling to manage money. I was still working to manage anxiety and depression, and wondering what it was that I needed to feel content, in my job, in my life.

What I didn’t know, is that a year later everything would change, bringing with it a new opportunity to explore all of my passions, at the behest of my personal life.

******

It’s true, New York took a lot out of me…but it also gave me more than I ever imagined. The friendships I made completely changed me as a person, and taught me how to better love myself. The grit and the grind of the streets gave me a backbone that I never had before, a resilience and an independence that I will need going forward to achieve the goals I have for myself.

It also gave me true love, a love that I never thought possible. This story isn’t necessarily just about my relationship, but it is certainly one of the most life changing things that happened to me here, and it was always be a part of my love for this place.

Avu was the last thing I ever expected. We met right when I moved to school in 2011. He became a close friend early on, and bore witness to all of my ups and downs and good outfits and bad choices during college. But I still didn’t think I’d end up with him. He didn’t fit the picture. However, as time went on, we opened up more and more of ourselves to each other, and eventually found a home there.

It wasn’t without a lot of drama and heartbreak of course…we were 19 years old when we met, after all. And as I’ve laid out, I had many issues of my own to work through and so did he. But we did. I learned how to take care of myself better, and to listen to my heart over my head. We both grew up a little bit, and by the time we ended up in Prague together for that semester abroad, we were both ready to explore whatever it was between us and what it could become.

Soon after we returned home, we started spending most of our nights together at his apartment in Gramercy, enjoying the back patio together, cooking in that fabulous kitchen, laying on the couch gazing at the Empire State Building. That apartment saw a lot. A lot of love, a lot of fighting, a lot of growing pains, a lot of baking mishaps, a lot of memories. Avu and I grew in love at Tempo, graduated college, got our dog Pearl at Tempo and became a family.

Eventually, naturally, the circumstances of life interfered in our fairy tale. Avu changed careers, got accepted to grad school in Boston. I had a job in New York that I couldn’t leave. So he and Pearl packed up and we started a long distance relationship. After surviving two years of lonely weeknights and stuffy bus rides between New York and Massachusetts, Avu graduated, came back to the city and we got a place in Brooklyn. (It had grown on me by that point). A month later, life interrupted again, and Avu moved to Florida to take care of his family through a terrible loss. That separation, and period in our family’s lives was necessary though it was devastating, but we somehow found our way through it.

Over the last decade of knowing each other and 7 years of being together, Avu and I developed a bond that I can’t even explain, but I will say that he knows more of me than anyone ever has or ever will.

In less than a year from now, he’ll be my husband. Last summer, he took me back to the Gramercy apartment – the first home of our love – brought me to the roof and asked me to marry him in front of the entire New York skyline.

My love with him and for him embodies yet another crucial way that New York raised me. By teaching me, in both gentle and brutal ways, that life does not go as planned. That your mental image of what should happen in your life doesn’t really matter because the universe is going to throw whatever it wants at you. And you can choose to resist, or you can choose to embrace it. That rings true in my love life, in my social life, and in my career. It also rings true in my decision to leave the place that has became my home, so that Avu can take the next step in his career at the University of Washington.

If I’m being honest, I put off writing this because for a while because it meant I was really saying goodbye. I’m not good at saying goodbye. I’m not totally positive if I will ever be ready, or ever feel like I had done enough. Maybe that will have to learn to be enough? Maybe that’s the nature of New York.

I could talk about what I didn’t do…what I wish I did….what I regret….what went wrong. I have a lot of insecurity that I wasn’t successful enough. That I left too early and that means I gave up (there I said it). New York has a way of doing that to you. And then other times I don’t have doubts. I feel confident in what I did there, what I learned there over the course of almost a decade, and my decision to leave at this time.

Sometimes, I wish I would have been able to slow down a little bit more. Sometimes, I don’t even know if that’s possible. And sometimes I realize that this wasn’t the place for me to slow down. This was the place to speed up and propel forward and push myself to my limit.

And now I’m at the beginning of a new phase in my life…another one that I know I will someday have a hard and tearful time saying goodbye to.


*********

As you can probably imagine, there’s so much more I could say about New York… I could go on and on forever. So for now I’ll just leave this here with a few more notable highlights below.

WHAT WILL I MISS?

  • Pizza, and bagels, and breads, and generally just the delicious water in NYC.
  • Hot dogs off the street carts, with sauerkraut mustard AND ketchup, please.
  • Crisp fall mornings with Pearl at the dog run in Washington Square Park.
  • Weekends with my mom…even the ones when we had fights.
  • Staying out with my friends until 4 in the morning, and stuffing our faces with Artichoke Pizza or the halal cart before we passed out.
  • Sunny days spent shopping and people watching…there’s no place like Soho.
  • Rooftop bars, the view of the skyline, and that feeling you get every time, that you have it all.
  • Seeing the NYU flags on my walk home, and just remembering so much.
  • The West Village, and all of its cozy restaurants and bars (not to mention, a lot of the city’s best burgers can be found there…)

WHAT WILL I NOT MISS?

  • The hangover that comes after staying out until 4 in the morning with my friends.
  • THE TRAFFIC
  • The subway platform in July.
  • The apartment mice (not even you Pierre).
  • The homeless people on nearly every corner asking for help that I can’t give.
  • The smell of trash on Fridays and Mondays.
  • The smell of pee…everywhere.
  • The fucking sky high prices for everything…and the real estate market.

WHAT WERE MY BIGGEST SUCCESSES?

  • A college degree, of course.
  • Several full time jobs….culminating at Cheddar.
  • Making incredible lifelong friendships
  • Mastering the subway, and the buses, and the Amtrak.
  • Managing to secure several leases (one by literally running down 72nd street faster than the other interested tenant)….Paying my own rent in Manhattan and Brooklyn for 5+ years
  • Learning how to cook, recycle, pay bills, etc. in the hardest place to just simply be a person.

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST LESSONS I LEARNED?

  • Life is short and fast. Holy shit. I remember moving there and starting my life there like it was yesterday. I remember the fear, the sadness, the exhaustion, the doe-eyed curiosity. And now it’s all over, I’m on the other side, and I’m this whole other person who has grown and changed and fallen and stood up again. How did the years go by that fast? It surely felt like a lifetime.
  • Everything is always a work in progress…you can strive for perfection forever, and you’ll still never get there. Whether that’s an apartment reno, clean floors, your weight, or your career.
  • A broker’s fee is bullshit.
  • Don’t trust the L train. (I still love it though)
  • Ladies who put each other up are the best kinds of friends.
  • You are the only one you can and should define your success.

WHAT DID THIS CITY TAKE FROM ME?

  • Profound amounts of sleep.
  • So. Much. Money.
  • Literally all of my patience.
  • My self-esteem at times.

WHAT DID THIS CITY GIVE ME?

  • Resilience.
  • Independence.
  • A backbone.
  • Wanderlust.
  • Awareness.
  • Exposure.
  • Love.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply