Recently I went through a pretty major life change, an incredibly irrational and scary one to be exact: I left my beloved NYC and the life I had built there over the last 3 years because I realized I wanted to be on the road full time, embracing an unknown and uncertain future of adventures around the globe!
Today, while unpacking my books I came across a lot of memories and I thought it was time to tell you a story.
It was the spring of 2014 and I had just move to NYC. I was a very different person then…
I was a hustling super competitive fashion photographer, determined to ‘get to the top’ driven by nothing but ego and motivated by coolness. Everything was different then.
I just had my heart broken (or as Sheryl Strayed would say, I had to brake my own heart). I moved to NYC with my dog and my boyfriend at the time and not even a month in things that were dragging on for 5 years exploded into a horrific ordeal and I found myself deeply hurt in my spirit and sightly bruised on my body, forever changed and suddenly alone with a very expensive rent to pay and an incredibly aggressive wiener dog to take care of.
Things were rough for a while. Being an immigrant, freelancer, with very little savings and absolutely no credits (and a dog!) forced me to get into very dodgy renting situations. I got scammed twice, lost money, lost sleep. The winter was brutal. (-15 celsius brutal!) I woke up in the morning shivering (the heater didn’t work in my first apartment!), terrified, exhausted before the day even began.
NYC does that to you, she tests you constantly, she pushes you to your further limits until you crack. She destroys you eventually. But then, out of nowhere, if you just stick around long enough, she rebuilts you, stronger and better than you ever were.
Spring came. The weather got warmer . Things slowly got better: i picked up new clients, made new friends, I started reading poetry, writing and taking long walks wandering around the streets of Manhattan. I felt inspired again. There was a different energy there, it transuded from every gritty corner of the city unlike any other place on earth. People were stronger, faster, cooler. Everyone was after a dream and I was the biggest dreamer of all. Without even noticing, one day I was walking down 2nd avenue and realized I was in love. I was home.
In the spring of 2015 I moved into my dream apartment. A hidden gem in the East Village: a beautiful two stories penthouse with a huge deck (i saw some of the best sunsets on that deck!), tons of plants, an outdoor shower and even a kitty pool. The building had a gym, an elevator, a 24/7 doorman and it was rent stabilized (which in NYC terms mean “Holy shit you got lucky!”). My room was a tiny little box but it had a lot of natural light coming in and that was enough. My roommates were awesome (there were 6 of them though!) and rent wasn’t too bad for Manhattan standards. Life was good!
That summer I had the time of my life, I was madly in love with NYC, I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved the busyness, the craziness, the crowded streets, the dirty subways and oh how I loved the Strand! I was making good money, jumping from party to party in the fancy galleries and clubs of the city, I was having a ton of fun and a lot of sex. Life was so damn cool!
And then, one day, out of nowhere…I got bored of coolness. I felt an excruciating need to strive for something better.
I started my project and began to travel. I was going back and forth. Vietnam for a month then back in NYC, then off to Cuba and Mexico and back again in NYC. Constantly catapulted from one reality to another. And every time I came back, sitting in my uber on my way back to Manhattan, looking at the city skyline approaching, I felt further and further away from home.
I wasn’t in love anymore.
A few months later I was in Kenya and when I saw a giraffe running in front of me—elegantly and lightly, free in the wild—I caught a glimpse of what life really was, or what it should be. I felt the force of life itself pulling me out of some sort of unconsciousness I had been lingering in and suddenly making me aware of who I wanted to be. It’s like I woke up. Going back was impossible. The life I chased for so long didn’t make sense anymore, my life in NYC didnt’ feel ‘cool’ anymore. I struggled for months torn between my heart and my ego’s desires and then after reading the right book at the right time all doubts faded and the answer to my torments became crystal clear: “fuck coolness, do what makes you happy!”
I had to leave.
So in November I went back to say goodbye. I spent Thanksgiving day alone in my room, cleaning it, taking stuff down the walls, packing up the last 3 years (it all fits in 5 suitcases apparently, and one of them was full of books!) and putting my life in storage indefinitely. When I finished I sat my apartment keys on my desk—the same desk where i created this blog and my project—it was the end of an era!
“I can’t believe I’m leaving” i thought to myself.
I walked downstairs carrying the last suitcase and stopped for one last Chat with Samir, my doorman—a really smart and cultured man from Algeria, and one of the kindest people I met in New York—I’m gonna miss him. We had so many beautiful conversations in that hallway, i always learnt something from him. I hugged him goodbye and promised I’ll visit him whenever I’m back. I will.
It was goodbye to him and my building but not goodbye to the City yet. I went away for 3weeks for a roadtrip on the West Coast and a gig in Mexico and I came back for one last week in December and stayed at my friend’s place. I had to take care of the last bit of my things and I had a few meetings (one with a publisher that wants me to write a book about my project). That week I walked around for hours relentlessly and with no destination, trying to soak it all in one last time.
On Christmas Eve, my last day in NYC, I decided to donate most of my stuff instead of leaving it in my friend basement. I didn’t really need all that crap anyways, the only things I owned that were of any value to me where my books, my equipment and the few objects I collected on my trips. So I walked down to the Bowery Mission with my dear friend Elizabeth and got rid of 2 of my 5 suitcases. We walked back and got a last cup of coffee together at The Bean, my favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood (which I mostly used as my office!)
I had to catch a flight to Italy in a few hours and i still couldn’t believe I was really leaving!
The dreadful time for goodbyes came. Elizabeth helped me put my stuff in the cab, we hugged and both tried really hard to hold in our tears. I watched her disappearing into the 2nd avenue building, the same building I stayed when i first got to New York, and my heart felt heavy. It’s funny how life comes full circle, she was the first person I met when I first came to NYC and she was the last one I saw before leaving. “I’ll miss her so much” i kept thinking. The Uber driver pulled me away from desolation asking me what terminal I was going to. He was a nice guy from Yemen, we made small talk for a bit while we sat in traffic on Houston.
The way to the airport was a painful one, as we drove away from the city I realized that I was indeed really leaving. I couldn’t stop looking back, staring at the skyline until the last skyscraper’s tip disappeared behind us.
“It’s hard ha?” asked the driver.
“yeah, it hurts…in all the right ways!” I said. Because, no matter how sad I was to leave the city that stole my heart, everything felt right.
When we got to the airport he helped me get my bags out of the trunk, he lifted one of the big suitcases and struggled with it.
“Woah, that’s heavy miss!”
“It’s all books!” I said
“Are you a writer or something?”
“…I hope so.” I said, realizing I might really want to be one, one day.
While i was sitting on the plane, looking down the window at the tiny glimmering lights of the city I once called home I felt in peace, I had no idea what the future held anymore, I just knew I had to leave, travel, go see the world. Everything was how it was supposed to be. I was not certain of anything anymore, but i still had my books, my dreams and myself, and I was ready for whatever was coming.
“When nothing is certain, everything is possible!”