In front of a large white house and its white picket fence, there was a quiet little corner with a sidewalk draped in leaves.
If you closed your eyes, you could feel as though you were completely alone.
When you opened them, you were in the middle of a massive city surrounded by over 8 million people. But you would never have known it on that shady little corner.
I loved Astoria; it had so much character. But it was more than that. It made me feel like family, like I was Queens born-and-raised. Because of its embrace, it didn't take long for me to fall in love with its quirks.
My apartment was a block away from an above-ground subway, and nights when I was falling asleep I would wrap myself in the sound of each train car passing by. In that same walk-in-closet-sized-room that held me during my best and worst New York moments, I could hear the nursey downstairs sing to its children at 8am, listen to the aspiring guitarist practice after school each day, and smile along with our neighbor's laughter late on a Friday night.
New York was always going to be part of my story, but Queens was unintentional. Yet, it welcomed me and my baggage with open arms and threw in a few lifelong friends too. I will always remember Astoria with so much warmth and, no matter how much it changes within the next few years, it will always feel like home.
New York City as a whole, on the other hand, broke me.
Before I moved in–way before I even found a job or a place to live–I overheard a conversation at a family gathering. They had their doubts: what is she going to do when her post-grad internship is over? Where is she going to work, where is she going to live?
I remember playing that exchange over and over in my mind that night, all while staring at the passing skyline from the backseat of my parents' car. My heart was pounding; angry. That quick exchange may have been said with honest concern, but it felt like I was slapped with their inability to believe I was capable of making something out of nothing.
But I wanted to make it like Sinatra so, so badly. I dreamt of nothing more than to have that cliche success story of the young girl who joins a newborn startup in the hopes she'll become a partner and help drive its success.
So I tried. I tossed my self-doubts and naivety to the side and threw myself into my first real-world job. I lived on eggs and pb&j and stayed in on weekends and lost touch with old friends and stopped talking to a guy I really cared about because that's what you do to make it in New York. You sacrifice for your drive and tell yourself over and over it'll be worth it.
It wasn't so bad at first; for a while, I really enjoyed the work I was doing. But somewhere along the way the circumstances slowly began to change. And then, suddenly, it all seemed so different.
I wanted so much to believe in the dream I was chasing that for a long time I forgot who I was. I had put everything of myself into a business that would eventually walk all over me until one day I was no better than the city sludge that comes quickly after snowfall.
Most nights towards the end of my first year, you could find me in a heap in my wall-to-wall carpeted apartment, working my ass off and somehow still not meeting expectations.
So I tried to pick myself up. I began talking to that guy again. I made an effort to see friends that I hadn't seen in a really, really long time. I also made the time to go home (or, as adults say: "my parents' place") over weekends.
I started to remember who I was.
I didn't truly wake up from my reality until one deceivingly warm Sunday night last winter. La La Land had just come out and I begged my boyfriend to go see it with me.
Aside from the brilliance the film would soon be recognized for, its story hit too close to home. I sobbed at the end of the movie not for its emotionally triggering heartbreak, but because it finally made me realize how unhappy I was. Where had all my sacrifices led me?
That night I went home and sat on my bed while my boyfriend held me. It was one of those moments when you realize you don't have it in you anymore. You physically, mentally, and emotionally cannot endure whatever you thought was worthwhile. Spectacularly, you find that you're done.
For me, I was kicked while I was down too many times. I couldn't bear through the pain of standing up anymore.
From then on, a 9-5 in work clothes didn't sound so bad. The idea of making more than 25k, let alone having benefits, sounded like winning the lottery. The things I could do!
And the longer I stayed in the kitchen (where, if I'm being honest with myself, I didn't want to be after college in the first place), the more I came to terms with letting go of the other person's dream I was chasing.
I was angry for a really long time. At myself, for falling for an idea so hard that I became blind to reality. At the job, for treating me the way they did. And at the city, for not catching me when I fell.
Turns out the gum-stained pavement isn't all that great with trust falls.
And then I felt embarrassed – ashamed, even. For allowing everything that had happened in those two years to happen and for not fighting for myself more. Because all I left this city with was a few dollars in the bank and a broken heart.
The part that sucks the most is that it didn't have to be this way. New York and I could have been friends. The last three months I spent working (read: starting over) as an intern at a (very legit) lifestyle and hospitality PR agency were some of the best weeks I had in this town. I had time to explore the city, to spend with my boyfriend, to see my friends and family, for myself. My coworkers were incredibly nice and understanding and encouraging, all while staying true to the nose-to-the-grind NYC mantra.
I saw what my life could have been like if I hadn't decided to drop everything and chase something that wasn't mine. But the truth was, I didn't have it in me to do it all again. The thought of continuing this way of life exhausted me, and I wasn't even truly living it anymore.
Honestly, I just really wanted to go home.
One late night during the first few days after I had just moved in, I decided to go for a run. At the time I was still getting a lay for the land, but a runner caught my eye and something told me to follow him.
We zigged and we zagged through dark empty streets that had me question my sanity until he ran off up a hill. I stopped running and walked slowly towards the commotion after him.
What appeared before me was so beautifully urban: an older overgrown track with the RFK bridge as a backdrop one way, the NYC skyline another, lit up by stadium lights. I couldn't contain my excitement.
Shortly thereafter, I would come to find that the track was part of a larger park that not only house beautiful sprawling lawns and a waterfront path, but a massive community pool. In the middle of NYC!
I had taken a chance on this runner because I had heard rumors of a mysterious Astoria Park. What he helped me find exceeded my expectations, and it was that night I knew this place would be home.
I know now that not all chances will be met with such happy endings. Sometimes there will be dead ends and dark alleyways, and sometimes I'll follow the wrong person. Sometimes they'll even be cliche.
That's real life, and man did I learn it the hard way.
I don't know what I'll be doing next yet. What I do know, though, is that I'm excited about the future again. I can feel my drive coming back.
The next time you hear from me I'll be in Philly – a city I told myself I'd never live in. Imagine that. But I'm going with open arms because, well, I know what good hospitality feels like. And I hear that Philly is waiting with open arms, too.
Here's to (another) new beginning.