I moved to New York when I was 17, fresh out of high school. I went to lotteries for Broadway shows and got $20 front row tickets. I took the subway up to Central Park every sunny weekend, admiring the tops of buildings peeping just above the edge of the trees. I got a fake ID made at a bong shop before my 18th birthday and bounced from bar to bar most weekends (and far too many weeknights). I made a few high-up friends and found myself invited to events that were way out of my league, including – the apex of my coolness – table service at The Box a few hundred feet away from Lady Gaga, back in 2008 in her “Just Dance” days (spoiler: things went downhill from there). I wore red lipstick. I owned heels. I took writing classes with amazing professors and found myself scribbling in notebooks on subway trains with stuff I thought was sure to be gems of future genius. I was exhilarated, alive, so excited for my future. That’s what New York can do to you.
Here’s what else New York can do to you.
Crippling anxiety attacks. Throwing out the garbage only to end up with a startled pigeon flying smack-dab into your chest. Social-climbing friends losing interest when they find out you’re more quid than quo. A man spitting out of his car window into your face as you cruise down the bike lane on a sunny day. Constant street harassment. A woman spitting out sunflower seeds as if she were a rotating sprinkler head on the C train. A man with no pants, also on the C train, with a ribbon inexplicably tied around his penis. A man on the A train, bleeding profusely from what look like amateur stitches. Showtime – every damn day. The MTA in general. A rat crawling over your boot because you forgot to stomp loudly before passing the vacant lot to scare them all out of hiding. The squished rats you see on the streets of Bushwick on your bike commute to work. Being excited to eat at a cheap dollar-dumpling joint… only to see a cook stomp on a rat’s head just outside the entrance, ending its life with startling casualty. Chicken bones you have to fish out of your neighbor’s dog’s mouth every five yards when you’re walking her because the litter situation here is unreal. In the words of the immortal Abbi Abrams:
Yes, a lot of this is just part of living in a big city. You make sacrifices on certain comforts and accept certain indignities in order to live here. You develop coping mechanisms and pretend certain things don’t bother you, while you seethe quietly over the things that do. But usually, this is all worth it because of all the amazing culture New York has to offer. You can see theatre or music or burlesque or dance or opera or a museum any night of the week. The list of things to do in New York, even on a budget, is neverending. You can eat food from Paraguay to Sichuan to the Philippines to Korea to Peru without even leaving a single subway line, usually for remarkably good prices.
But at a certain point, for me, the indignities of living in the city outweighed the benefits. A large part of that is my anxiety disorder, which has its peaks and valleys. Near the end of my last year here, the thought of braving the subway to go into Manhattan made me cringe. Images of weaving through traffic as people parked in bike lanes yapped on their cell phones barricaded me inside. For all of its culture, New York is also a city that likes its insularity. Sometimes, its greatest comfort is not leaving the house. I often found myself defiantly wearing pajamas well into the afternoon, ordering Seamless, wary-eying the window. The city, with all its noises and people and action, can make you turn inward. And when that happens, you wonder: why the hell am I paying so much and getting so little in return? Does life have to be like this?
I’ve decided that it doesn’t. I’ve taken all the money that I saved up that I was planning to spend on putting a down payment on a 1 bedroom apartment in Queens and decided to see where in the world it takes me. It’s not that I hate New York. At this stage in my life, I feel like I’d hate any place that forced me to put down roots, to rein in my dreams, to pretend that this kind of nomadic life is not possible when I know that it is. At least for now. At least while I can still go to an ATM in a foreign country, puzzle over the exchange rate, and have money – that funny paper symbol of freedom – appear.