Featured Image: Michal Pechardo
Four months ago, I was ready to leave home and never look back. It had already been three months in lockdown, counting down the days from an idyllic suburb tucked away in the East Bay. This town is beautiful in the way that only a city so meticulously planned, tree by tree, each street with the same rhythmic arrangement of earth-toned, rustic brick adorned houses perched in neat rows, can be. A city that welcomes you with rolling expanses of green that melt seamlessly into the hills, overlooked by a little white stucco golfing club. When you drove by on summer evenings, if you were lucky, you would see a figure in matching stunning white at the peak of the course, joined by a tuxedo-clad, soon to be husband. This was a place where people came to get married, to settle, to raise families, and to retire once their best years had passed them by. A place to ruminate on the thrills of the past, and to look forward to the routine reliability of the future.
And I had a way out, out of this town, and into the very place I always envisioned myself in. But blame it on the timing, the sheer foolishness it seemed like at the time to shell out the fortune it would cost to pack up and move across the country at a time when trying to predict four years into the future seemed nearly impossible. This seemed like the first Big Girl decision I would have to make, no consolatory assurance that this opportunity would come again, or if I would ever have the breath of relief from knowing I chose right.
There is something about New York City, an excitement so palpable that you can feel it thick in the air. The poets and artists before me have exhausted the picture of the city at night — the constant electrifying buzz of Things Happening, of people living the stories that they tell for the rest of their years. But there is an unmistakable energy on New York mornings. As soon as the sun first seeps through the towering spires, it feels like the only place on Earth where everyone has already forgotten the day before. There is magic in being in a place where nobody knows your name, and nobody cares. I could feel it at eleven, in the middle of Grand Central, wishing so fervently that I wasn’t a visitor here, that I was instead one of the women with the dark cat-eye sunglasses, the power suits, the giant tote filled no doubt with Extremely Important paperwork, and the half bemused, half annoyed expressions at a place chock-full of tourists who traveled half the world to see a train station. I felt it again at thirteen, as I stood there on Canal Street in a warm downpour as the city fell silent for once, the rain pelting down like hailstones, no perfunctory illusions of softness. This deliciously joyous feeling of being able to vanish without notice.
For someone who’s never lived outside the Bay Area, where everyone wants to be known, to be applauded, and envied, the prospect of being silently successful seemed too good to be true.
It sounds so cliche to me, even as I write this now, to be rehashing the same narrative of a bored teenage girl in the suburbs itching to be anywhere more interesting. But bear with me. I feel almost a sense of guilt, this compulsive need to clarify that I don’t hate home, but I was afraid that I would begin to, if I stayed any longer. I was filled with this panic — not the kind that hits all at once with full force, but the kind that wheedles its way into the back of your mind and then fills it up like a noxious gas. Everything was being thrown off schedule. As young women, we are coerced into planning out our lives, finding a way to effortlessly juggle every aspect of our lives as early as we can. Any deviation from the plan could be insurmountable. Which is why, at 18 years old, I had a physical timeline written down, from now until 33, not a single year without a personal or professional milestone. After 33, I thought, I could finally take a break — but not for too long. Not moving East at 18 meant I had to wait out another four years, and who knew what could happen then.
The past six months have been a lesson in unpredictability, on the childishness of trying to map out the future. My panic made way for a numbness that slowly dwindled into a hesitant acceptance.
The city will wait for me, it is timeless and constant. Almost ironic that in a place where nothing stays the same for too long, I could come back well into the future and still feel the same energy that I did all those years ago. That I could slip into the masses in the middle of that train station and disappear into the crowd, or stand invisible on that same street overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. But like New York mornings, there is a certain contentment on evenings in the suburbs. Every day, right before the sun sets, the entire city is drenched in gold and you think to yourself that of all the places you could have wound up, it was a town that was literally designed to be a perfect home. It is a town where you are not forced to constantly evolve and reinvent yourself — a blessing and a curse. I’ll call it a blessing. No matter how much I wish I was anywhere else, I will breathe a sigh of relief when I drive over those rolling green hills, because reliability isn’t always such a bad thing. But this is a place where when you’re not looking, houses are built, families move in, children are born and raised, schools are built. This is a place where you blink, and everything has changed. A place where timelines are foolish, and milestones will come to you when they are meant to.