By Lindsey Wojcik
“I am going to die in New York City.” As morbid as it might seem, it was the answer I gave to my friends and family when they asked when I was going to come home to Michigan before I had even left. I wouldn’t touch down in the metropolis for months, but I had resolved that once I moved there I would be there for good.
Five years later, I’m living in Astoria, N.Y., with my boyfriend in the nicest apartment I’ve rented since first moving to Manhattan in 2009. My journey through the boroughs of New York hasn’t always been comfortable or satisfying, nor has it been what I expected. I can no longer say with confidence I will die here.
Last year, during a particularly rough time, I picked up Sari Botton’s Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, a book of essays inspired by Joan Didion’s 1967 essay of the same name. Botton’s collection features 26 essays penned by women, including Botton’s own (“Real Estate”), who have loved, lived in, and left the city I call home. Some of the writers have eventually found their way back to New York. The book’s authors, from born-and-raised New Yorkers to transplants that hail from the Midwest (like me!) and elsewhere, present the perfect mix of relatable, yet very different, perspectives on only-in-New-York experiences.
The first line of the first essay, Hope Edelman’s “You Are Here,” pulled me in just like New York had. “Like so many New York stories, this one begins with real estate.” Edelman’s got that right, I thought, recalling the first apartment-related essay I penned at the start of my New York tenure.
During my slow read of Goodbye to All That, I was closing in on my five-year anniversary in New York, feeling drained from urban life—financially, at least—and stuck in an uninspired editorial career. However, after finishing the book’s last essay, “Minnesota Nice,” I realized I was not quite ready to say goodbye and here’s why:
Because I still get a New York high.
New York has a super power. The sights, sounds, and smells give its explorers a sensory overload equivalent to a euphoric high that leaves its lovers wanting more. I experienced it the first time I visited the city as a tourist seven years ago and each subsequent visit I made before moving.
I am not alone. In her essay “Crash and Burn,” Eva Tenuto writes: “From my first hit of New York City, I was hooked. I got high off the energy and craved it when I returned to my quiet, boring country home.”
Tenuto’s words were a gentle reminder that, after five years, I still get that high. I get it every single time I decide to walk to my destination instead of taking the train. For example, a few weeks ago, I walked from my apartment in Astoria to Central Park. My legs wanted to stop, but Manhattan’s skyline and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” blaring through my headphones gave me a high that lured my tired body over the Queensboro Bridge. When I reached my destination, the park was speckled in autumn’s colors, giving me the highest of New York highs.
Because I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Everyone comes to New York in search of something. Most are looking for success in a career or in love. In “A War Zone for Anyone Looking for Love,” Liza Monroy expresses the fear that “living anywhere else meant you’d given up,” and “the successful people were simply the ones that stuck around.” Monroy adds that she was determined to become one of those successful people, and I am too.
Of course, success is subjective. In many ways, I’ve crushed it in New York City. I found love and a home, however, my professional choices haunt me every day. I moved to the city hoping to eventually see my name on the masthead of a glossy, consumer magazine. The years and the desperation for steady income have led me down another path—one I’m very grateful for in this economy—but that does not meet my creative needs. I don’t want to leave the city until I’ve rectified that by either “going consumer” or finding another creative outlet.
Because I’m still up for the challenge.
Do I sometimes get tired of the grind? Absolutely. Otherwise, I would not have questioned my ability to last another year or two here. New York shovels a lot of shit into the faces of its inhabitants. Sometimes, it’s literal shit. However, New Yorkers take it all in stride, and I have learned to do the same.
Goodbye to All That helped me realize that the inevitable challenges of life will ultimately follow me anywhere I go. I will have to find affordable, comfortable housing in another town. Instead of frustrations that come with the MTA shutting down an entire subway line, I’ll have to navigate closed roads and construction. And crime, similar to the apartment burglary I experienced during my first year in New York, happens everywhere.
At this point in my life, I am not searching for anything else, like I was when I first moved to the city. If anything, I’m looking to improve my New York life, not escape it. So, no, I am not ready to say goodbye to all I’ve got.
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