It’s been a long winter in New York City.
“Yea, burrrr, it’s been chilly here too!” says my father, who lives in a suburban town outside of Richmond. Every morning he wakes up in his three-story townhouse, gets ready for work and makes the daunting trek down to the first floor, where a door connects to the garage. He enters, turns on the engine to get the heat going, and drives 1.4 miles north to the middle school where he works. Excluding the one minute walk from the parking lot to the front door of his building, he has no contact with the elements. He isn’t exposed to below freezing temperatures and wind gusts that give the illusion that this little coal mining town where I grew up, along with the rest of the east coast, has turned into a painful, full-on tundra.
I moved to New York City last July. In contrast to my father’s commute, I walk half a mile to the subway station every morning. It’s cold, and yesterday I stepped ankle deep into a puddle of left over rainwater. The streets are littered with cigarette buds, and the smell of piss and piles of garbage come in frequent waves. Several times, I’ve thought that a butterfly was landing on my shoulder, only to realize that it was just a used paper napkin from someone else’s discarded happy meal.
Don’t get me wrong, living in the Upper East Side, just a 15 minute walk to central park and a train ride away to anywhere in Manhattan has its perks. But like anything else, it comes with its challenges.
Several months prior to moving here, I made the terrifying decision to turn down a full time position with benefits doing Admission Counseling at my alma mater. It was May, and I had no new job lined up, no plans on where I’d live next, and a savings account that was barely enough to cover rent, groceries, and student loans for the next several months.
I was living with my boyfriend Justin and two other roommates in a three bedroom townhouse in which rent totaled 990 dollars between the three of us. Since Justin and I shared a room, we paid less than 300 dollars per-person (including utilities). And to think, I used to complain about the cost of toothpaste. Justin was finishing up his degree, and as a Boston boy who happened to grow up on a two-mile long island in Micronesia, he was over the small town scene. I had developed a love and appreciation for the mountains and the quaintness of the area, but like him, I had spent my whole life dreaming about traveling the world. We both craved something new.
So we started applying for jobs. Jobs, and more jobs. At the time we were focused on the west coast. I had an interview with a position I didn’t want at a school in San Diego, and sent new completed applications out every day. On a random Wednesday in June, Justin was offered a position in the Big Apple- a place neither one of us had really considered. He decided to accept the offer, and we agreed to take the leap together.
Luckily, we had the power of youth on our side. When you do something crazy like this at 40, people think you are having a mid-life crisis and feel bad for you. When you are 23, people expect it. “Good for you….It’s a risk, but you’re young enough to change course if it doesn’t work out. What an adventure!”
Well, this is what MOST people say- mainly the people who have never tried to move to New York City.
I’ll never forget the family I met during the last few weeks of my job. They were visiting Virginia from a place in upstate New York. In an attempt to make a connection, I told them about my plans. Unlike all the sweet and friendly southwest Virginians I had spoken with, they replied in an abrasive, loud, no-bullshit type of manner- “HA, I hope you like not having money!” I now realize this was the first warning sign I chose to ignore.
After a spastic trip to the city to find an apartment (just weeks before we would be moving in), we settled on a 350 square foot studio in the upper east side- 1,925 dollars a month. With this came 4,000 dollars’ worth of deposits, a brokers fee of 3,800 dollars, and more bank statements and tax documents that I knew existed. The trip is now a blur of blisters, tears, and the overwhelming feeling that we had absolutely no idea what in the hell we were getting ourselves into.
We’ve been here nine months. We’ve paid off barely 1/18th of our debt, and still ask ourselves the same questions we did after that whirlwind trip in June. I have no idea how long we will be here, how long it will take to pay off the mounding pile of debt. For now, I’ll just avoid the puddles and the cigarette buds, and pretend those flying pieces of litter really are beautiful butterflies with the special stench of grease and processed chicken.