In July 2016, I packed up my apartment and left New York City for almost a year. At the time, I wasn’t sure what was next. I had quit my job and committed to a coding bootcamp. I was taking a risk and leaving everything I thought I needed behind: a relationship, a steady income, friends, a city I knew very well. I was so afraid of the potential consequences: what if it doesn't work out money wise and I have to move back home? What if I lose the person I’m so dependent on? What if I am just as unhappy somewhere else? Well unfortunately for my fears, it was too late...I was jumping.
Some of my then fears actually happened: my relationship at the time ended, I moved in to my parents home for about a month, and I had to take out a loan to cover my bootcamp costs. Surprisingly, each fear manifest was exactly what I needed to bloom --and that’s what life showed me months later. Several tears, a couple rebounds, a book of affirmations and 3 months of technical knowledge later I landed a dream job and my life changed forever. I started singing a little again. I started living again. But there was always a looming feeling that I had run away from things in New York. I felt like I had some unfinished business. So, almost a year later I gathered up the courage to return to New York City.
Returning home is easy. But returning to a place stained with memories of loss is a whole 'nother giant. Sometimes we glorify the things we leave behind because we never conquered the demons we battled in that season. I’ll be honest, I imagined coming back as some glorious return. I imagined coming back and spitting in the face of fear, doubt, insecurity, and loneliness -- my New York demons. But as the plane was landing I just felt nervous. I felt some of those old feelings reach the surface. I remembered what it felt like to have no faith in myself. And it felt uncomfortable. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember why I was so excited to visit.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had a good time. I saw so many people I love, many of whom I didn't appreciate until I left. And there’s nothing like the feeling of being in New York City hopping into a cab and driving past some of the tallest buildings in the world. But even in the familiar “omgggg” moments, there was no point at which I felt like I was returning to a place I once lived. The memories of the city and the memories of the person I was crept over me. Many memories were pleasant but there were few where I was genuinely happy. Just like that, for the next few days there was an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach as I moved through Manhattan and Brooklyn. I realized that while I had blamed people for my unhappiness all this time, it was actually the city that left me unfulfilled. There were no bars I just had to go back and visit and few restaurants I needed to get food from. There were many people I wanted to see, but even more plans cancelled at the last minute. The overall experience left me remembering what it felt for me to live in NYC: empty. A lot of acquaintanceships with no depth. A lot of dreams with no action.
I don’t think my emptiness was about the value of NYC as a whole. Instead it had to do with who I was and the things I needed to come alive. I now fully believe that your best life has to do with your surroundings. Where you are may not be who you are, but where you are can certainly unlock who you are meant to be. I will never count NYC out as a city I could live in...in some distant, distant future. But I couldn’t go back to NY without strong relationships, a faith community, and the intention to create a life for myself. I want to have my favorite sushi spot. I want to have the one place that makes me feel centered when I’ve had a bad day. I want to play bar roulette with friends and I want to actually make it to Harlem from Brooklyn on a Friday night. I won't leave until Monday morning but at least I’ll have made it.
Leaving NY taught me not to glorify the “stay at home in bed all day and speak to noone” personality. It taught me that sleeping in the dark with the black theatre curtains drawn was indicative of deep rooted lack of self worth and unhappiness. I gave myself a lot of labels while living in NY. I just don’t like to go outside. I’m a homebody. I’m not creative. I just like to bum it out. I’m not fun. I’m boring. I can’t...I don’t...I’m not. I counted myself out more times than not. And returning forced me to confront just how bad my self image was. Sometimes returning forces us to confront who we were and it's not just about praising how far we’ve come, it's about dusting off the final bits of residue from past destruction. That first return after a year of being unable to touch foot in the state broke the seal I placed on my past. Now, I have three trips planned in the span of a month and there is no fear stopping me from living as this new being in an old city.