Leaving felt so natural, and I barely cried as I drove away; yes, even as I snapped one final photo of the Empire State Building through my side-view window, I didn't feel the pang.
In fact, I did tear up a little; but I'm pretty sure I was just forcing it. I knew I was supposed to be crying...mourning...grieving...and even though I couldn't feel those emotions naturally, I tried to make myself. To assuage the later pain.
The later pain, when it came, wrecked me. It stole my breath and left me curled in a ball under my covers, unable to appreciate the fact that I'm in Italy, because all I could think about was how I'm not in New York.
I look at pictures on Instagram and my heart shudders. I read about the broken subway in the paper, and I'm overcome with nostalgia. Every time I close my eyes, my eyelids are imprinted with the sight of my Brooklyn apartment, which I can't believe I left.
It was a beautiful apartment. Spacious, light-filled, with a balcony (!!!) and two wonderful roommates. It had a big living room where I used to sit to read the paper, write some articles, watch TV, a kitchen with two. separate. sinks, and my roommate, Rachel, quickly became one of my best friends.
The night before I left, Rachel and I went out to dinner together. We toasted to my future, stuffed our faces with pizza, and laughed about Jane the Virgin.
And all the while, it wasn't real. The fact that I was leaving this city I loved with passion, the people I'd grown to depend upon, the sidewalks and routes that had become home to me...it wasn't real.
It took a few weeks for it to really sink in, and when it did? It struck with a viciousness I hadn't expected.
I've described it as a physical ache. I miss New York so much that sometimes I feel nauseous. I miss it so much I'm surprised I don't get a spontaneous nose bleed.
New York was...the city that captured my heart. People used to ask me why I loved New York. It's dirty, they would say, or too fast-paced, too mean a city. It'll chew you up and spit you back out, wrinkled and broken. I would shrug and tell them the simple truth: that it was home.
When I stepped out of the rented car on my first adult visit to New York, back in 2013, I just felt this overwhelming sense of belonging. Like I understood the city, and it understood me, and we just made sense together.
After that moment, I made it my life's mission to get back. And for a beautiful two years, that's where I lived.
Do you think you'll live in New York forever? my friends would ask. They didn't; they had plans to eventually move to California, or the suburbs. Yes, as long as it makes sense, I responded.
How was I to know it would stop making sense so soon?
I sometimes fear I'm a rat abandoning ship too early. I look at all the times over the years I've moved or quit a volunteer job that was draining me or switched to a better-for-my-health job, and I think maybe I'm a quitter. But at least I wasn't going to quit New York.
Except I did.
I think I don't just miss the city, I miss the person I could dream of being while I was there. I miss the fast-talking, no-crap-taking, power-walking, laughing girl I was when I first got there, the girl I dreamed I would be again in a few weeks, a month, perhaps a year.
Because those people who told me New York would chew me up?
They weren't wrong.
It is a hard city. It's frantic, and it's massive, and getting from one place to another is a job in itself, and there's little room for screwing up.
It's a hard city, and it wrung me out and hung me on a line to dry, and I couldn't get back up.
So I left. And I miss it every day, with nearly every breath. It's constantly on my mind, how much I miss it, how much I want to be back.
But I can't be back. Not right now. The truth is, I can't function the way I did for the last year I lived in New York. I was working 40+ hours a week, plus 6-12 hours of commuting, plus either in a deep depressive episode or else trying to add 15 hours of freelance work, plus having a social life, plus reading, plus sleeping, plus this, plus that...I just couldn't do it. I couldn't afford it, financially or emotionally.
I want to keep looking into the past. I want to keep my eyes trained on New York and plunge ahead speedily with the single goal of getting myself back there. But that's no way to live.
So, as hard as it is, I'm forcing myself to turn my head and look forward. I've decided that I'm going to live in Columbia, South Carolina, for at least the next year. I'm going to commit to a job, an apartment, a cat, a church, a community. I'm going to pour myself into that life and those people and not treat any of it like it's second-best, because right now, it's best. It's the best place for me, and it's the best I can do, and it's my best option, and so it's not second-best. It's first-best.
I'm going to rejoice and "bloom where I'm planted." I'm going to keep my eyes ahead on the horizon, and if it never changes from Columbia, or if I move and travel and have myriad adventures, or if I'm shortly back in New York, I'm not going to look back at what I've given up. I can't afford to keep beating myself up over the past.
Yes, I miss New York. Viscerally.
But I'm not going to let that stop me any longer.