My apartment on East 9th Street always felt like a beginning. 

I had a lot of firsts there—my first bouquet, chopped short to fit in a coffee mug. The first time I walked through a movie set on my way to eat a dollar slice on my living room floor. It was the first place I lived on my own—no family, roommates, or sorority sisters filling the empty spaces and silence.

With firsts, seconds quickly come: second relationship, second job offer, second semester, second chances. Or there were second heartbreak, second bad grade, second mistake—seconds wasted on the wrong friends, wrong men, or wrong decisions. When you live in a New York minute, you understand how much can change in a matter of seconds. 

Like how a hail storm sweeps in on a sunny afternoon or how a local train becomes an express, especially when your stop is next. How traffic can suddenly pile up, and you watch your ETA tick up faster than the second hand can tock. It doesn’t take long for things to change in New York. It only took one second for me to see how quickly it could happen. 

A year prior, I heard a shy “I love you” on the phone. Now I heard a muffled “I never wanted to hurt you” through the tears. It took one sentence to break me. A harmless string of words caused me to doubt how loved I felt for a year. And I know a year seems so tiny in the span of my 27, but it was the most pivotal year for change in my life, and he was at the center of it. In 72 hours, I did what I could to try to forget that sentence, and in doing so, I lost what was most important to me in the process. From that, my will was broken more than my heart ever was.

Hour 24: I soaked my mattress with tears. I remembered how cool the sheets felt across my cheek on that humid August night when I begged for it all to stop. Before then, I slept on my living room rug. Before then, I played dirty Jenga in a bar in Brooklyn that served cheese puffs for free. Before that, I stood on a rooftop, drank cocktails, and overlooked the Manhattan skyline.

Hour 48: I smoothed my Nirvana t-shirt across my stomach once more. I remembered how soft the fabric felt on my body. Before then, I locked the door, climbed the stairs, looked at the Immigrant, and walked home. Before then, I remembered how the rain felt like a mist against my flushed face. After that, everything goes dark. Before those seconds, there were only firsts, and that’s what I clung to in the darkness.

Before then, I couldn’t find my way home. Before then, I drank free Gin and Tonics in a bar in the West Village—I made friends with a couple British girls and together we shared loaded fries, hot wings, and breakup stories. Before that, I drank wine and mingled with my classmates at my graduate school orientation.

Hour 72: I walked home alone in the rain, sobbing and scared. I remembered how the dim lights in the sleeping shops lit my way. Before then, I looked over my shoulder and made sure no one followed. Before that, I stared down to the depths of that damp bar and watched them all turn their backs and look away. At that second, New York City changed for me. I realized I was alone in the loneliest city, and even if I pleaded for help, that didn’t mean it would come.

After 72 hours, I woke up and decided to do what I could to keep moving. I put on Copeland, single repeated Erase, and hid more tears in the shower. I scrubbed my body, my nails, and my hair. I sat in front of a mirror, covered up my swollen eyes, brushed on make-up, and tried to smile at the woman in the reflection. I curled my hair in tight coils. I pressed on new stiletto nails and painted them black. I slipped on my favorite black dress and a pair of new tights. I laced up my Doc Martens and put on a jeweled choker. I took an Uber to the Upper West Side to meet my friend who lived on 114th. With the windows down, that car ride is when I decided to start over.

It’s no surprise that I moved to the Upper West Side to stop living in fear and find happiness again. I ran from the Village, those friends, and those memories. I suffocated the burning fire, hoping that something beautiful would come from the grey ash. In doing so, I found peace on 80th Street, tucked between the Hudson River and Central Park. I took time to myself, walked through the Bramble, and wrote. And when the smoke settled, I felt like I could breathe for the first time since moving to The City. Still, on a gold chain around my neck, I keep the coordinates of my first apartment hanging there as a reminder of beginnings—the firsts and the starting overs, but no seconds in between.

I have needed to tell this story for so long, but I locked it in another memory. I used a couple of scapegoats for four years to define how discarded I felt in those seconds. It was easier for me to blame it all on heartbreak than face what it was, not okay, but not his fault or yours.

In Brooklyn, looking out the window of my balcony, I saw the Manhattan skyline in the distance and found myself at the beginning of those 72 hours once more. This time we were laughing. I felt good talking and listening, just like it was 2016 again. In those moments, we talked about firsts, and I remembered how loved I once felt. But the call couldn’t have happened even a month earlier. I had to put in the work to follow the invisible string backward. I had to face the few months I wanted to erase. I had to understand why ripping out the pages of those 72 hours wouldn’t change a thing. I had to stop pleading to take a new path.

When I did that, the narrative reimagined itself into the story I needed to read. I mended my broken parts. When I did that, I could remember how seeing a familiar face in a crowd made me happy. It took only thirty minutes after hanging up the phone for the rush to hit me. I cried and grieved how much that one sentence and all those seconds stripped me of my happiness. I knew how deeply I would always care in those tears, but it’s now a burden I no longer shoulder.

For a while, I hated who I was in 2017. I blamed her for everything and for causing me so much pain. I didn’t deserve all the mean thoughts I had about myself. But now, all I want to do is go back in time to hold her—thank her. Because of her, I can tuck her resilience into the shadows of my mind. She somehow always saw the good even when she didn’t need to. She loved with no fear and gave with no question. She did so much for me. I know what she wants most is to forget it all—to start it over—but we both know we can’t do that. So together, we do our best to color me from grey.

Do you ever want to go back and hug yourself? Thank them for enduring? Thank them for continuing to try? Thank them for finding little comforts in the pain—during a time they’re doing everything they can to survive? Where you wish you could be the one holding their hand, telling them, “this too, shall pass.” Where you know, they are alone, and no one seems to notice they are doing everything they can to make sure future you is okay today.