The Immigrant

What if you could rewrite your past? Take White-Out to the decisions you previously made, erase part of the journey, or rip out chapters hoping that doing so improves your story. Could you do it? 

Is there something you are also hiding from—something you wish you could do-over? There is a chance you would never be the same, but then again, you’d probably tell yourself that this is the journey you were always meant to follow. At the same time, you hold out on the hope that the path less traveled is worn down just the same. And that Frost was right—that both will lead you to where you are today; it’s just the journey that would be different. 

The Immigrant is across the street from my first apartment in New York City. It is a cozy bar, painted in a rich navy hue with books on shelves, wine bottles on display, and brass fixtures adorning everything from the lighting to the taps. 

It was the first place that caught my eye when moving to The City, but I wouldn’t have a drink there until March of 2018, when my best friend and boyfriend would flank me at the bar for a nightcap. The bar is less than 60 feet from my old front door; you can see it and my bedroom windows in the photo above. I had every intention of making this bar my local, but it became my road not taken—the one I have always dreamt of traveling instead of the one I chose. 

After my break down on St. Marks, I wiped the tears away and finished the day off with a couple more viewings of one-beds in the East Village. Later that afternoon, I returned to the hotel in Times Square, where my father and I weighed the pros and cons of just two apartments out of the 30+ we had seen over the past couple of days. Later, I would submit just one application. I snuck in moments before someone else sent in their information, so as long as my paperwork checked out, the one-bedroom on 9th Street was mine. 

It was on the third floor, but apartment 2B. It was recently renovated and had exposed brick lining the east walls in the living room and bedroom. It had light-red oak wood floors and freshly painted white walls. I would be the first to enjoy the new appliances, new fixtures, and new place smell. It was north-facing, but the glass-paneled door that led to the bedroom allowed sunlight to settle on the living room floor. It felt like a converted studio—it was a converted studio. It was cozy. It was a new beginning. 

There were two windows in the bedroom. The tree branches reached passed the fire escape outside. In July, the green leaves flickered in the summer breeze. The apartment overlooked a dry cleaner, a bar, and a coffee shop. Within a few days of submitting, I was approved—what we set out for in that hellish week, I got. I had my own place in New York City. I would be moving there in a few weeks, and it would become the space my journey in New York would begin. I would try starting over between those walls—looking out the two windows, lying on the hardwood floors, doing everything I could to move on.  

Before I flew back to Florida, I took a walk around the neighborhood to see what was around my new home. Looking out from my front door, there was a lot to take in. The Immigrant Wine Bar across the street. The cute boutique, pottery shop, and toy store towards 2nd Avenue. The salon, coffee shop, vet, and pizza joint towards 1st Avenue. Mud Coffee shop looked like a place I could study. I peeked in to see what people enjoyed at Veselka’s because there was a long line of people waiting to get in. I noticed the Starbucks on the northwest corner, the Urban Outfitters up the road, and how bars sprawled in every direction. 

The first one I found myself stepping into that afternoon would become my local. I owe it to the bartender’s artistic flair to get passersby to come in for a happy hour. To everyone else in the neighborhood, they might have seen four-dollar PBRs and gone in for a drink. But drawn on the chalkboard corner was a little license with a stick figure man for the image. “Bartender today: Jordan*, 22 years old, Naples, Florida”. Suddenly, New York, this massive city with 8.56 million people calling it home, shrunk to the size of my hometown inside a dive in the East Village less than 600 feet from my new home. My dad said, “if you don’t go talk to him, I will.” 

The bar was dark and smelled damp. It was in the basement space on 10th and 2nd Avenue, where the only sunlight came from the glass entryway. The rest of the area was lit by tiny spotlights reflecting off the low, copper ceiling or colorful Christmas lights hanging from the molding. On this afternoon, there were only a few people in the bar and only one man behind the counter. He was tall—easily over six-five, but his ashy-brown, curly hair added a few more inches. Something about his presence always made me nervous, in a good way, because something about the way he had to bend down to talk to me made me smile. 

I quickly learned he was not Jordan. He had an Irish accent and mentioned his name, but I could barely hear him over the music. He looked confused when I spoke about the chalkboard outside. He noted the other bartender must have put that down during his shift, and he hadn’t noticed when he opened up that afternoon. Still, Jordan from Naples worked there, so I scribbled my name on the order slip pad and said to pass it along to him when he saw him next.

And surprisingly, a few days later, I got a friend request on Facebook from a Jordan, who was from Naples and currently living in New York. We had no mutual friends, went to different high schools, and lived entirely different lives in Naples. He clearly skateboarded at the skatepark on Goodlette, while the closest I got to crossing paths with him would have been at the mall across the street. 

“I see the messenger gave you my info, haha.”

“Yeah, he told me someone from Naples came in looking for me, haha. I thought he was messing with me. I heard you are moving to NYC?”

We would spend the next few weeks messaging sporadically about what brought him out to New York. He had already lived there for two years and lived in both Manhattan and Brooklyn but recently started working in the East Village. While I packed up my necessities and went shopping for my new home, I told him how I was moving there for graduate school. Eventually, I told him he should text me since neither he nor I really used Facebook anymore. 

“haha, 239. When are you getting back to NYC again?” 

“Lol, I wasn’t lying about being from Naples. I’ll be moving into my place on the 14th, so I will be back in NY in about a week.”

When I moved into my new place, I spent the first few days adjusting to my new home. My parents were in town helping me move in and settle down. Jordan and I kept talking about the mundane things like building Ikea furniture and what it was like adjusting to the new city. I had a bed, a couch, two end tables, a dresser, and a rug. My dad insisted I got a tv, but I knew that was so he could watch sports when he visited, so I also had a TV and a media cabinet. 

My mom helped me decorate the space: two lamps, a vase full of greenery, photo frames, a few shelves, floor-length curtains, and two sets of linens for when guests could visit. We walked around my neighborhood. I picked out a pair of sunglasses at Urban, enjoyed drinks on the patio of the Copper Still, and shopped at the Union Square Farmers Market—there, I purchased a few succulents and a bouquet of wildflowers for my new home. 

On one of my first nights alone, he texted me that he was stuck with the night shift on a Sunday. I finished my dinner, switched off SVU, and stepped back into the depths of the bar once more to finally meet Jordan in person. After that, there was no turning back—I picked my path.

The Thirsty Scholar was an Irish pub or a wannabe dive in the East Village. The facade was painted black with red accents and Old English font for the name that peaked below the Irish and American flags flying above. There were four steps down to the bar when you entered, but the ceiling rose a couple stories, letting in light to the central atrium. A gothic chandelier hung, lighting the knick-knacks that collected on the inset shelves. There were photos, a coat of armor, and a stuffed, life-sized Einstein doll. 

There was one high top near the entrance and a few stools pushed up against a ledge on the wall. The walls were either brick or painted in a rust-colored, faux Venetian-plaster finish. The space itself was narrow and ran the length of the apartment building above. The main area was divided by the long mahogany bar topped by a copper counter and lined with stools. Behind the bar, there was a chalkboard where the menu was scribbled, liquor bottles, small TVs, tin beer signs, and laminated pieces of neon paper listing specials. The taps sported rotating, custom handles that displayed the beers that were available—they would throw a plastic cup over the ones that were kicked. There was no kitchen, so they served free pizza—twice a night, the restaurant across the street delivered six boxes of cheese pizza to a tiny folding table in the corner near the dart board. They always played loud music, and it just depended on the bartender that night if it was punk, rap, rock, grime, or a mixture of all of the above. 

I must have showed up a little after nine, but I ended up closing the night with him. There weren’t that many people there on a Sunday either. He had fishing shows with closed captioning on. He showed me the collection of fake IDs that they had hanging as a wall of shame. He was kind. He had a little dopey laugh and sweet blue eyes. He was likely wearing a band tee or one with a gimmicky slogan, and probably in a Yankees hat. He had swoopy brown hair and a kind smile. We would spend most of the night talking about ourselves and questioning if there was anyone back home that we had in common. 

At four in the morning, Jordan insisted on walking me home before taking the train back to Brooklyn. He probably also convinced me to take a box of pizza with me. We said our goodbye’s outside of my apartment, and I made plans to come back and see him when he was working again, which would have been in 11 hours. 

It was the first night I felt happy in New York. I made a new friend in my new home. I smiled and laughed all night. I felt optimistic for the first time since June. But everything changed within a week. For me, that happiness was fleeting. By the next week, I would be walking home alone. This time in the rain, sobbing, and scared.  

I would look at the Immigrant already shut for the evening before turning to my front door, walking through the vestibule, and climbing up two flights of stairs. I would look out onto the street, to the dry cleaner, the bar, and the coffee shop. I would close the white curtains and turn off my lights. I would get into my bed and cry into my pillow until I fell asleep. I was haunted by those nightmares for four months because I never knew what evening I would be faced with reliving them.

Practically five years later, this week, I returned to the Immigrant with one of my favorite people in New York. The bar has two entrances, one leading to the taproom on the left and one opening into the wine bar on the right, but both serve up classy cocktails in coupe glasses, wine by the bottle, and beer on draft. 

Together, we went to the entrance on the left and staked out the table tucked up against the window. We drank glasses of wine and talked about our lives. She has constantly reminded me that friendships in New York don’t have to be toxic, draining, or one-sided. She and I formed an instant connection after she helped me print my thesis, Open When. After leaving the bookstore, I instantly regretted not getting her number. I wouldn’t shut up about her to my partner, family, and friends. Now we are neighbors in Bushwick and talk daily.

She never knew me in the East Village. By the time we met, I had lived on the Upper West Side for a year. I had spent almost two years trying to move past and suffocate the memory of that second week in NYC. After leaving the village, I wouldn’t return for nearly four years. Every time I go back, it gets easier to remember all the places I visited and the deal with the memories that lingered. I sat at the small table and looked out at my old bedroom windows and thanked the Hannah who called that apartment home.

You see, I don’t want to rewrite the past; I just want to remember parts of it differently. 

*DISCLAIMER: names have been changed to protect identity of those mentioned