I laid on my bed looking at my mother and sister who had flown out for the sole purpose of helping me pack up and move. “So what do you want to do?” Asked my mother, looking at me with both frustration and concern. I felt frozen with indecision. For months I had the lingering notion that I needed to “Get back to California”. I’d felt that with great clarity and peace and now that it was time to go I was so heartbroken I could hardly put a sock into a duffel bag. I couldn’t leave. My 29 year dream of living in “The City” was at last realized as a six month sojourn working as an assistant fashion stylist. The thought of leaving now, so soon was absolutely paralyzing. Stricken with terror, I could hardly shove a sneaker into a suitcase.
When I moved to New York in January of 2016, I felt I had reconnected with the ancestral home of humanity. In an never ending ocean of people from every country in the world, I felt part of something greater, of a universally shared experience. Was it some cosmic human connection to this place or the very photogenic backdrop of this city in nearly every film and TV show I and the rest of the world had ever seen? Even in third world countries people watch Friends and maybe it was my obsession with fashion blogs and magazines that made my all black, “normcore” ensembles suddenly feel apropos rather than not out of place. But thanks to the media, we are all a little bit of a New Yorker. I was home.
Even now a month after leaving, images of New York are geographical siren’s call. Seeing a snapshot or footage of the skyline, a corner of the park, a street with tree-lined Brooklyn Brownstones, a headline with fashion industry lingo, make me want to throw myself off the comfy boat that is my sleepy life in Sacramento, California and swim back to that beautiful desert island called New York.
Though far from a desert, living in New York City as freelancer felt just as barren at times. Many people I befriended would concur almost unanimously that there were those glorious epic cinematic days as well as the days the city seemed to be trying to spit you out. When work was slow and I didn’t have photoshoots I would I commute an hour from the tip of Manhattan or the depths of Brooklyn to attend networking events or to work out of a coffee shop. I quickly learned that without a power outlet, a portable charger (or two), a public bathroom or the funds for a $10 sandwich– the day was over. With the sun setting and 1% battery life I would finally admit defeat and catch the subway home. New York is not a city to wander in.
Living in New York was like finally dating your dream guy and a few months later realizing making it work will be much harder than expected. Beyond the stunning facades and charming cafes, the city makes demands, the city expects you to haul ass, dress sharply, own the subway system without the constant aid of Google Maps and work late into the night. I felt showered with unparalleled opportunities in the best moments and alone and adrift in the worst. Here, I had the chance to work for my heroes and for fashion labels whom I’d only ever accessed through social media or magazine pages.
Despite the obscene joy of these victorious moments, life here felt unsustainable. Once, as I wandered through the West Village I thought to myself looking at the cobbled streets and flower adorned windows of walkup apartments “I wish I lived here”, realizing it would be years before I could afford the charm of the West Village if ever, and that I still felt like a tourist in my own town. Starting this adventure well into my 20’s, I realized that by the time the half a decade required to get my career going passed I’d be ready to uproot again and head back to the West. As much as my twenty-something self didn’t want to admit it, my newly thirty-something self began to realize I wanted a sense of home and family that in a city like New York finding a “home” would take time. Though I met wonderful people who dazzled me with their kindness and creativity I often felt too tired, poor and guilty to pursue hobbies or a social life and really feel established here. Additionally, the pull to be near family though rarely felt during college in the Midwest or even while living abroad began to tug at me now in my dream city.
I somehow got through the moment of indecision, with many exclamations of grief and packed up my revived ’99 station wagon to trek back to the West. As we drove up the 9 past the city, I felt relief and awe as we inched through traffic beneath the towering skyscrapers to our right and the sparkling Hudson to the left. Even though I knew deep down I needed to keep moving, like a long lost love, I think I’ll always wonder if I made the right choice.
This article was written by Michelle Blanco, a writer for dusk magazine.