For my 18th birthday, March 26, 2005, my dad took me to New York City for the first time. I had been dying to go for a couple of years at this point, and it was pretty much the greatest birthday present ever. My cousin joined us on the trip and we stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, which was an absolute dream come true. I was so in love with the stories I had read about the hotel and had such a romanticized image in my mind of the people who had passed through its doors, from Mark Twain and Edgar Lee Masters to Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. On the four-day trip, we went to the top of the Empire State Building, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, went to the Met and the American Museum of Natural History, and rode the subway, all of which completely captivated me. New York City became my first love and a dream that I never let go.
Twelve years later, on my 30th birthday, I’m living in the city that I fell in love with as an impressionable teenager. All of those things that made me fall so hard at 18 still give me butterflies in my stomach. When I catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge I can’t help but smile and think of how far I’ve come. Sometimes, when I find myself in the neighborhood, I’ll take a detour and walk down West 23rd Street just to stand for a few moments at the Chelsea Hotel, and I feel 18 all over again.
As my 30th birthday approached I had been thinking of the best way to celebrate such a milestone. I thought about a day trip out of the city, maybe somewhere I had not yet been, but ultimately decided the best way to spend the day was in the city I love. Lyle and I love to walk around the city, taking pictures, talking, and exploring without a specific destination in mind. So, that’s exactly what we did. My birthday couldn’t have been more perfect. We had a delicious brunch, visited Morningside Park and the Museum of the City of New York, and ate dinner at a restaurant in Brooklyn I first went to on my 18th birthday.
When I moved here I promised myself I would never take it for granted, that I’d never complain about the inconveniences or annoyances of city life. Sure, New York City can be tough. I’ve found that doing anything here is always just a little harder than it would be anywhere else. Summers feel hotter and winters feel colder when you have to walk instead of drive. Carrying heavy shopping bags on a crowded subway is a complete pain. Sometimes, when I just want to sleep, that’s when the neighbors decide they want to blast their music at 2am. The streets can be dirty and I’ve had more than a few run-ins with some pretty crazy people. The thing about New York is that all of those not-so-perfect things make it what it is. New York is loud and dirty and unapologetic but it’s also exciting and beautiful and like no other city in the world.
Some days, living here still feels like a dream. It’s different than I imagined, but better in so many ways. For almost a decade, my dreams of New York were an escape. In my early twenties, my life was very different, and there were too many what-ifs plaguing my mind for me to be happy with my decisions. I imagined New York as the thing that would make me happy, or would have made me happy, had I done things differently. As it turns out, happiness came to me in a very different way. Getting here meant letting go of a life that wasn’t working. It was scary and it was painful, but I finally found true happiness within myself. And I didn’t have to escape from anything to make my dream come true.