Peering out at my precious window's worth of Manhattan skyline, I'm looking with new eyes at the same view I took in with shuddering thrill a year ago last night. It was the day I first arrived in New York as a New Yorker.
That night, my best friend and I improvised minimally with a queen-size air mattress, a bottle of Piper-Heidsick, and Frank Ocean's Channel Orange on a bluetooth speaker until our worldly goods arrived in this exorbitant, petite two-bedroom in the East 60s. We Vined ourselves giggling, slurring words, and inevitably eating the largest pizza I'd ever seen from an absurdly convenient phone app called Seamless. Everything was silly. Everything was ridiculous. Nothing could have convinced us to worry about the future because, regardless of the obstacles ahead, we had arrived to live in Sinatra's world. Two kids from Michigan had their names on a lease stamped by the mayor of New York City, and every novel, song and movie scene was just outside our door. Somehow, through some impossible string of lucky breaks, I wasn't going back to the Midwest in a few days.
A month of heavy socializing followed. I went everywhere and anywhere at a moment's notice; no last-minute invite went unaccepted. This frenzied period of indiscriminate networking led to a fashion internship and then my first industry job at a PR agency downtown. The unstructured nature of building a career was both grueling and baffling, and I was unceremoniously enlightened on the importance of finding out who I was -- fast. The sheer intensity of my day-to-day made this maturation not only crucial, but shockingly easy. Within four months, I knew where my true skills lay, and that life really could be a long-term, largely mechanical mess if I didn't do what I really wanted with it. I knew that inspiration was the best guide at my disposal, and ultimately the best -- though not only -- professional friend outside my stores of social capital.
I spent less time consuming New York and much more of my life absorbing it. It was a test: How would I respond to a city with standards as relentless as its cost of living? How would my perspective change spending less, and just playing the urban spectator for its own sake?
Well, here I sit having passed that test with flying colors.
I did go for long walks alone, detouring into every cliché as often as possible on my way home from a new job at Grand Central. I found my own New York, and it was not the one first laid out for my consumption.
Drawn onto the streets by the whispery voice of Blossom Dearie, from the Upper East Side to the West Village, I watched a sweltering Manhattan summer ebb into a crisp and brilliant Brooklyn autumn. My world grew incredibly large within a few miles' range. Opportunities became less linear and more flexible, and every aimless experience or wandering took on a surprising value. This was what it felt like to be in my own skin, not that which I was trying so desperately to toughen upon arrival. The nonsensicality of life became sensical to me, and that's something you learn damn fast in this place.
But I've toughened anyway. I've become stronger and sharper because I chose to stay here and adapt -- I wanted to. I trusted a city to get to know me as much I reached out to it. The response has been lovely. I think our dates have gone fabulously well, even after the honeymoon stage. We're entering that bonding phase now, one of mutual-respect and -- oh, yes -- even making longer term plans. Okay, so we're shopping for rings (probably in an establishment off Times Square).
This city reminds me why I don't want to settle for less than everything. As a culture-starved boy in a bland Michigan suburb, the only house I ever dreamt of began with "pent". I knew who the Astors were at 10 years old. Public transport, yellow cabs and black chauffeured cars seemed as practical to me as Bloomingdale's and bagels. I just wanted to be old enough to hold a martini in public!
So, one year after leaving my home of 25 years, is little fly-over-country me good enough for New York? Of course I am. But I'm good enough because I wanted and still require this place like oxygen in a burning building. I get this place. But more importantly, it gets me. I'm worthy because, regardless of what I tell myself, I can't imagine living anywhere else.
New York is the only place where I could be happy in the essential work of being.