Seeing the above picture of my apartment on the day I moved to New York City, with just a lone suitcase to my name, always brings back memories of my first moments in the space. The feelings I had when the keys were given to me — when the space was finally, truly mine — are some of the most overwhelming, surprising, beautiful memories I have of being in New York.
I had actually signed a lease for another apartment initially, but received a call a few days before moving that the building had been overtaken with bedbugs and I would need to find a new apartment the morning I landed. So, I took a red-eye flight into JFK the night prior, landed in the city around 7 a.m. the following morning, and planted myself at a coffee shop in Midtown until the broker’s office opened.
From there, it was a full-on hunt for the perfect place. The broker and I toured several apartments that morning and settled on one by early afternoon. Then, it was off to the leasing office to sign papers, and off again to the apartment to meet with the building Super for keys. I had a huge suitcase with me — the lone bearer of all my belongings until my moving boxes arrived — and was so new to navigating the city that I recall hailing a cab to take me from the leasing office to my apartment, at which point the cab driver quickly waved me away saying I was just around the block, too close for him to bother driving me.
Yep, I was that new.
After I arrived at my building, the Super met me to show me around, give me the low-down on how to work the heater, pick up mail, and deposit rent. And then, just like that, he was gone and my crazy morning of hailing cabs before I even knew how to read their capacity lights, of lugging an over-sized suitcase up and down dozens of flights of stairs from one office to the next, and of reading street signs before I understood East from West, abruptly ended. And there I was, in an empty apartment, fulfilling my lifelong dream and feeling scared out of my mind and excited and alone all in the same breath.
So I sat down on my suitcase, and cried.
Looking back, it was such a sweet moment because it was not at all the reaction I expected, nor the one I normally have. (I know I’m not showing a very believable track record between this post and the last, but trust me on this one.) I was awash with happiness, but I was also terrified. It became so real to me in that moment how far I was from my friends and family, how I had no idea the nearest coffee shop to get my bearings (or grocery store, or bank, or which way to go even if I did know of one) — of how I was really doing this and now there was really was no turning back. It reminds me of the lyrics by Sugarland: He never felt so scared / He never felt so alive.
I will always remember that moment because it felt like the first surrender to the experience of living in New York City. After I sat for a few moments, tears staining my cheeks and suitcase, I brushed myself off and took my first solo subway trip to Brooklyn, where a friend’s dear sister hosted me for a night of spaghetti, games, and warming up from the rainy trip there. I was a little scared, a little unfamiliar with this big, wild city I’d landed myself in. But in that moment, and every moment after that I spent there, I never felt so alive.