The New York Times rejected this
by Teresa Finney
When I got on board my Virgin America flight headed for Manhattan, I had with me an acceptance letter to NYU, some clothes, my laptop, and a check for $5,000 dollars that my Mother’s second husband wrote me after he told me he would absolutely, definitely, no way in hell co-sign with me on a student loan. That was about all I took on my cross country move. I left behind books and shoes and clothes and most of a life I wasn’t sure about at my Mother’s house in the Bay Area. I wanted to come to New York with as little as I could. The minimalist approach felt right to me. If I was going to create a new life, I wanted to do it with as little stuff from my old one as possible.
I remember flying over the Midwest and taking pictures of the clouds with my SLR Pentax. When we landed and I was waiting for my one suitcase at baggage claim, I called my Grandparents. I waited in line for a cab – a real New York City cab! – and gave the driver directions to my apartment in Chelsea. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and I marveled and grinned and then I checked in on Foursquare. We drove into the East Village and that’s when I saw New York for the first time. The New York I had only ever seen in movies. There were people everywhere. People spilling out onto the streets from restaurants and bars, hailing cabs, eating and drinking under verandas in the warm spring night. I had lived in New York a total of thirty minutes and already it was everything I thought it would be.
My first New York apartment was something of a dream for me. It was tiny, for starters but I didn’t mind. Small price to pay, I thought, considering I lived five blocks from Madison Square Park. Bookshelves with everything from Infinite Jest (which I actually tried to read, laughably) to the Twilight series, filled two walls which made the writer and reader in me happy. My room held a queen-sized bed somehow, and had a fire escape which was the setting for an impromptu photo shoot with a photographer friend one hot afternoon in May. My roommate was a school teacher who made her own kombucha and watched The West Wing while I sat in my tiny room and cried about spending my first Easter away from my family.
The corner of Eighth Ave and Fourteenth Street is a pretty sentimental place for me. I lived above a cake shop and a Thai restaurant in that first apartment, both of which I never frequented. Instead I spent my free time down the street at a Brazilian dive bar that has since become my Cheers. Everyone knows my name and people are all the same. It was on my fourteenth day of living in the city when I met a self-proclaimed psychic at that bar who gave me life advice while swaying to Al Green on the jukebox. That same night I also met a gaggle of bar patrons who would become my friends over the months. Despite my Mother’s concerns, a New York City dive bar has become a home away from home.
I would turn 27 the first summer I lived in New York. I spent that night at a piano bar with friends in the West Village drinking whiskey. Piano bar whiskey tastes better than regular whiskey but only because of the piano, I would learn. We sat at a table near the piano and sang along to Prince and per our request, Amy Winehouse who had just died that weekend. On our request sheet next to her name and the song “Valerie”, we also scribbled Sorry…
Carson McCuller’s once wrote “We are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” This has floated through my twenties like cigar smoke. That wanderlust and desire to explore is what made me leave home. California, that warm, golden state that loves you instantly, and ferociously was never a place I wanted to live forever. People call this life-uprooting of mine brave. That’s really nice of them, but I tend to dismiss their kindness in the same heartbeat. I have no bravado, trust me. I do have a lot of stupidity though, which sometimes looks the same as “brave.”
There was an internal pull to this city that I couldn’t explain and could no longer ignore. Elliot Perlman, great Aussie writer: “It was as if every person I have met, every event I’ve participated in, and everything I have experienced has merely filled the time before this.” Life Before New York had simply filled the time. It was the preparatory work. I will spare you the obvious and possibly overused Wizard of Oz black-and-white-to-technicolor metaphors. But, yeah, that.
One evening while sitting at my friend’s dinner table on a hill in Oakland, New York stopped being a choice. That’s what happens when you decide to uproot yourself and your life. When you decide to leave the place you call home for some other place., possibly even some place you have never known. The possibility of not knowing is a weight you can no longer carry. So, you spend one rainy afternoon while house sitting in Oakland writing the first, very rough draft of your admissions essay. And then before you know it, you’re packing up your life, which really just means spending too much time deciding which DVDs and books you can live without and which ones you can’t. For the record: the sixth season of The X-Files, filed under: Okay To Live Without. When Harry Met Sally, filed under: Absolutely Under No Circumstances Okay To Live Without.
The only real things that have changed about me is that my experiences have widened. Experiences like learning the subway system, and all the crazy that implies when you never really had to take public transportation before. Other experiences like walking home seven blocks from Trader Joe’s with your grocery bags cutting into your hands when you’ve always had the luxury of a car. Moments like learning that one way to mend the fact that you are in love with a man who will never love you back is to just take a walk through Bryant Park at dusk. These experiences can shape you if you let them. If you let your guard down enough, these moments can mold your perspective. So, I suppose in that way you do change. But both sadness and happiness feel the same in Eastern Standard Time as they do in Pacific. Maybe that’s a no brainer to you or maybe that is something that will take you 27 years to learn.
Not everything needs to be an existential crisis. New York taught me that. Missing your train because you walked carefully down the subway stairs as everyone else rushed passed you, does not make you a failure at being a New Yorker. It literally just means you need to walk faster. Be less afraid. And also you should probably try not to cry on the platform as you wait for the next train. New York forces you to get over things quick. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself when your downtown D train leaves in five minutes. Though, believe me when I say that I have tried.
One thing: this city will never love you. Ever. Please just erase any ideas, hopes or beliefs that your love for this island will be returned because it will not. Don’t take it personally. New York doesn’t love anyone. In fact, I think it hates a lot of people. That won’t stop you from doing everything you can to make your relationship with it work though. I think it’s possible that’s why so many New Yorkers are eccentric and fucking crazy. Being that unruly stems from all the years of unrequited love we’ve put ourselves through. Yes, New York + You will seem dysfunctional at times. Yes, sometimes you will wonder if you are in an abusive relationship with a metropolitan city. You are, and somehow it’s okay because you know you aren’t the only one. We’re all apart of the dysfunction together. We’re New Yorkers.
It’s not surprising to me that I ended up so far away from California. As crazy as it felt when I left all the solace that my home state gave me, I knew being comfortable in a familiar place my whole life was not the route for me. I wanted something bigger. If you had kneeled down and whispered into my ear when I was child that one day I would learn that the secret to my own personal happiness would be to board a plane at 26 years old and leave behind everything I had ever loved, I absolutely would have believed you. I just would have thought nothing of it.