Tomorrow marks exactly eleven months since I landed in New York City. It feels like an eternity ago. I’m the same person, essentially, but an entirely different person, fundamentally, than I was 333 days ago.
Unless you’ve moved to a new city with almost nothing except an idea that things would work out, you can’t even imagine what it’s been like. What I did was, in retrospect, as foolish as having a baby when you can’t even feed yourself, buying a car for which you can’t afford insurance, or procuring such a steep mortgage that you don’t have money left over for furniture.
Despite many objectively amazing successes in New York City – every one of them against all odds – my life here is barely less precarious than it was when I arrived at LaGuardia on June 7, 2012.
I still don’t have much financial security. There are more questions than answers, by far. I’ve passed up sure things for sweet promises, balanced asceticism and hedonism on the edge of a thin dime, and robbed Peter to pay Paul so often that I’m not even there’s a difference between the two anymore. I’m still single, Jack’s still dead, my kids still live 782 miles away, my student loan balance balloons by the nanosecond, and changing my number to avoid bill collectors is an increasingly appealing idea.
But: the life I have today is better than anything I ever could have imagined for myself a year ago. I feel a sense of belonging that is similar to what I imagine most people feel when they visit their home towns or spend the night in their old bedrooms in their parents’ houses. And I feel capable of being the full potential of myself here, whereas in Texas and then Chicago I always felt as though I had to tone things down, make myself a bit smaller for fear of being too big for the spaces I inhabited. Years after leaving Texas, Michelle Shocked’s words about the state resonated with me:
Memories of East Texas
And Gilmer, county seat of Upshur
Looking back and asking myself
What the hell’d you let them break your spirit for?
Their lives ran in circles so small
They thought they’d seen it all
And they couldn’t make a place for
A girl who’d seen the ocean
I mean no disrespect to people who feel at home in small spaces, quiet spaces, solitary spaces, wide and open and windless and treeless spaces, any spaces other than the hustle of a city that makes everyone – not anyone in particular – feel so small that it’s easy to get lost even in an empty room on the 47th floor of a skyscraper. Part of me envies people who can find peace in those places; I wonder sometimes if I’ve missed out on a key lesson in life, one that would have taught me to feel comfort in nature rather than unease, intimidation instead of exhilaration in the midst of millions. But I lived many years in those wide open spaces with dirt ranging from red to black, and I never once felt anything other than that I’d been born into the wrong body. Not in terms of sex or race or sexual orientation but in terms of not belonging in the world, believing deeply that if I just found the right environment that I’d be free to be the person I was too scared to become anywhere else.
It took a very long time – 22 years of my adult life – to find that environment. Not everyone gets the chance to find such a place, and there’s a good deal more adversity I can handle if it means getting to stay here. And I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.