In four days, I’m headed back to New York City.
It will be the first time I’ve been there with my husband, and only the second time I’ve been there at all. By the end of the weekend I will have logged a grand total of six days in Manhattan in my lifetime.
And yet, in so many ways, going there means going home.
I went to highschool in Parkersburg, Iowa. I graduated with a class of 69 people whose first, middle and last names I knew. I also knew where everyone lived, where their grandparents lived, and who gave them their first kiss in so and so’s backyard.
It was the kind of place that parents love and teenage girls vow to escape.
I started planning my own escape my freshman year. I was 14 years old and determined to Get Out and See The World. I began making lists of colleges on the east coast, because it doesn’t get any more Out than the east coast.
My junior year, I was accepted for early decision to NYU and Georgetown – the two schools I applied to days after getting my ACT scores back. I ultimately chose NYU and New York City, and began building my life in my head.
The scholarships were set up. The housing assignments mailed out. Deposits, transcripts, official this and that was in place as my senior year flew by. My friends and I would laugh and hug and cry over a bottle of Boone’s on the weekends about how fabulous my life was going to be next year, and how much we would all miss each other. I was Getting Out, just like I’d always planned.
And then, a few weeks before graduation, I…
I don’t know what. I choked? Panicked, maybe. To this day I can’t tell you exactly what the hell was going through my defiant little 18 year old brain. I looked around at my friends and my on again off again boyfriend and decided… screw it. I made a few phone calls and informed my mom I’d be attending the local state university my freshman year.
What about New York?
I’m not ready. I can always go next year.
I was 18 and had plenty of time. I was reveling in my friendships with the people who really get me. I had forever to get to New York City. I would still grow up to be a raging success in the big city – but I was miles away from Real Life.
Two months after my 19th birthday I found out I was pregnant. The on again off again boyfriend was the father, and the friends who really got me had scattered like rats on a sinking ship.
I do not regret my son. Or my husband. I don’t regret who I am or what I’ve spent the last ten years doing. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t always feel like some part of me was… off. It was more than wondering “what if”. It was knowing that part of me was always missing.
I know that sounds crazy. I know it makes no sense. I know it sounds like good old fashion, run of the mill, approaching 30 and wondering where her youth went regret. And I know that it was more, she was more. She – that me – was still out there, somewhere.
I found her in June when I stepped into New York City for the first time.
I couldn’t explain it, but I breathed more easily than I had in a decade. I wasn’t overwhelmed by crowds or disoriented by row after row of unfamiliar street. I was comforted by an eerie familiarity that made no sense.
And then I stood in front of the buildings that NYU uses for dorms.
In that instant I understood the phrase “walking over my own grave”. My blood ran cold, my breathing suddenly shallow. The City became silent – the whole world stood still as I came face to face with the tangible What If.
It took me a few minutes to physically steady myself. I thought I should be fighting back tears, but it was more complicated than that. I forced the air back into my lungs, closed my eyes, and let it wash over me.
And in that moment I made peace with it. With all of it. With everything I’d sworn I didn’t miss and secretly been longing for. With the fantasy I’d built up in my mind, the reality I’d been living, and a knew confidence in my soul that I was meant for this place. Neither time nor new circumstances could change what I had known all along.
Of course, I live in Florida now. Ironically, it’s the place I chose once I realized that my family and I could live anywhere. I picked beaches and climate control over skyscrapers and urban insomnia. And I continue to choose, every day, to stay here. Because right now this is where I – where we – need to be.
But it is a testament to where I am in my life that I am going back to New York City. The fact that she can be a part of my life, a part of this life, is a reminder that dreams do not die. They change, they adjust, they grow up. But they are always there, waiting to be put to use.