New Lonely City

New York City and I weren’t always friends; frankly, we hated each other when we moved in together. I learned the hard way how to make it here. I had to stop trying to replicate a feeling and find out who I was in this city. New York came into focus when I started to recognize simple pleasures. Like going down the subway station stairs as your train pulls into the platform or a golden hour walk in Central Park. But I have a hard time forgetting where we began.

Our relationship was toxic—I treated NYC like second best, and I think she knew that. I found the wrong company in the depths of a dive bar. I was challenged in classes alongside teachers who weren’t shy about saying my work was subpar. I was alone in arguably the loneliest city. I was already down, and it felt like she jumped at every opportunity to take me out at the knees when I tried to stand back up. I spent a lot of time grieving my decision to move here. But that soon became the facade for putting the blame on anything but myself, and not knowing what I needed to do was make room to forgive. 

Our first-time meeting was a trial run because I couldn’t see myself staying in the US. At the time, I was already in love with the idea of being elsewhere. But when it came down to graduate school applications, I felt like I found a greater love stateside. Because of that prospect, I gave up on leaving and gave New York City a chance. 

The first trip felt like a tour of Time Square. Our hotel butted up against Madame Tussauds, Broadway theaters, and Dave & Buster’s. I saw sights like One World Trade Center and The Natural History Museum. I took a little jaunt to Central Park, walking 5th Avenue to the Plaza Hotel. We ate dinner in the West Village and Chelsea, but I spent most of my time in Time Square, which was not the best first impression. I felt uneasy about moving where dingy mascots shouted at you for photos. Still, while trying to keep love alive, I gave New York City a chance, and NYU accepted me.

By the time I went back to New York to find an apartment, I already hated it and myself. I was so anxious when the buildings came into view out of the plane window—I felt my stomach drop when we touched down at LaGuardia. Our hotel, again, was in Time Square, and I remember pushing through the crowds while pushing through a panic attack. All I was thinking was, “I can’t do this.” My life felt uncertain, and I was not ready to start over.

But you try and push through it because it’s New York. Because you were handed an opportunity not many people get. It’s the place you have watched in movies growing up. It’s the place millions of people travel to experience. Everything is in New York, and you would be dumb to let it pass you by. So, I settled on the East Village for my first place before ever exploring the neighborhood. I realized all of NYC wasn’t towering skyscrapers and sweaty men dressed up as Elmo, but I never caught my breath. 

I spent the next couple of days jamming one-bedroom apartment tours into my schedule. The second place I toured on 9th and 2nd Ave was my favorite, and it would become my first home in the City. Still, finding an apartment in New York during the busy season was challenging enough for even the mentally strong. I stood on St. Marks and 1st Ave, bawling at the thought of living here. It didn’t feel right—I didn’t feel right. I know now that I was heartbroken and grieving the life I thought I would have here when I first considered NYC. 

I was going to move and have my own place so that my friends would have somewhere to stay. I would find a local bar and make new friends with the bartenders and my neighbors. I would go to class in the afternoon and have days off to explore the city and travel to see my partner, who was even closer to me now that I wasn’t in Florida. I would be surrounded by music, artists, and creative people I could spend time writing about. I dreamt all of this in May when I was accepted, but by June, I quickly realized that when one part of the puzzle got up and walked away, the whole scene felt incomplete. 

The doubt settled in. I felt like I gave up the potential of a beautiful life across the pond for a life that felt destined to be another broken promise. But I made a mistake trying to make it something it wasn’t—like trying to replicate a previous relationship in a new one. Sure, you were in love. Sure, there were great moments, but trying to project those onto this new partner, and expecting them to be the same, isn’t fair. 

New York was never going to be what I had in London. Everything I dreamt of mirrored what I had abroad, except for the missing piece, and without him, the dream of starting fresh became a nightmare. I couldn’t fully process moving on. When I finally moved to the East Village, I thought about jamming other pieces into the space that was left behind. I learned quickly that doing so was the worst thing I could do, because shoving the wrong piece in that space forcibly breaks the image of what it was supposed to be. 

In December, when the City tucks herself in, I heard for the first time how quiet she can be during a snow storm. I realized I had spent the past four months following a dark path, and there I was, pleading to start over in the silence. The only way to do that was to leave everything I had built in those four months behind. So in silence is when I started to heal. 

I started to lean into creature comports while examining who I was and what I wanted to be. My finals were turned in, and I had a month before classes started back up to start over. And while most people I knew went home for the holidays, I made a home in my apartment because I knew if I left New York City, she and I would never stand a chance. 

I would cross the street to avoid the anxiety of walking on 10th. But one night, I chose to walk through the Christmas trees set up on the same block to feel a moment of happiness during the panic. For the first time since moving to New York, I was in bed before 4am and chose to wake up with the sunrise instead of sleeping with it. I swapped drinking alone at the bars for grocery shopping at night when Trader Joe’s was empty. I finally spent money on used books from the Strand instead of draining my scholarship on Guinness.

I didn’t know then, but I followed my invisible string backward for the first time. I was trying to remember who I was before New York. Looking inward at challenges was exhausting. I spent a lot of time hiding tears in the shower. Some mornings were more complicated than others, but all I wanted to do was be alone for once. I went on walks alone. I sat reading, watching movies, and writing alone. I rarely texted people back or made any calls. I subjected myself to the depths of the darkness alone because I knew I had to see myself out of it.

A month later, I found the ground beneath my feet to feel solid again. On my first NYC New Year’s Eve, I cried in my bed. Only I knew how hard I fought throughout December and how I faced everything with the hope of starting over fresh in my solitude. When the ball dropped, I finally felt like I had the resolution I sought. The next day, I spoke to my current partner for the first time. I felt the butterflies wake up and flutter once more. For the first time in what felt like too long, New York City became somewhere I was doing things that made me happy, and I met someone who did the same.

The only concern I had was that although I put in the work to fix my relationship with the City, maybe I would never be able to move on from the past. So, I subjected myself to part of it once more. Not alone this time, but looking it in the eyes and confronting the possibility of moving on.

I left the City for a suburb to stumble into a DIY scene like I did when I first met the missing piece. I told myself at that moment that “I want to leave the anger I had back in 2017.” When I felt the words leave my lips, a new feeling of melancholy sunk in. I realized that the puzzle I originally always set out to complete was finally one I would never be able to finish. I know now that leaving the anger was easier said than done. All those pieces that they jammed into place were the real problem. They were the real reason New York and I weren’t seeing eye to eye.

20 hours after the melancholy set in, I took the 6 into Midtown. I walked down Lexington to set up in the Starbucks inside the Bloomberg Tower. A SYML song came on my shuffle, and I started to cry over my chai latte and MacBook. The song was something I always needed to hear. I closed out on my writing, and I stepped out into the center of the tower. I looked up as dusk settled into a navy-blue sky and saw how the buildings suddenly glowed. I turned the music up and tuned the traffic around me out. I stayed there for the song, cried more, and walked away.

Finally, I saw the city in a new light. I snapped three photos when I crossed Park Ave to immortalize the time I finally saw the city for who she was. I dropped my hate for myself, and in turn, the City dazzled me. I saw my partner walking down 59th, and together, we stepped into a bar on the Upper East Side and told him I was ready to begin again. Since then, we took on New York City side by side. However, I sit alone in our bedroom in Brooklyn, trying to understand what those first four months meant to my journey.

New York was never London, but it’s been my home for nearly five years, and the decisions I made to get me to this point have shaped who I am as a woman, writer, friend, and partner. I finally know now that moving on never meant forgetting what happened, and it wasn’t going to erase any of the feelings I once had. Moving on means I am finally happy once more, but at the same time, it’s okay to be sad when I think about what could have been. Those first four months in New York City still sit in the back of my mind as I try to make sense of them five years later. But “2017 Hannah” has always needed to hear one phrase:

Breath—you are enough.