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New York Series: December 1st


{ Written in November 2012 }

If there’s any day that reminds me how much has changed in a year, this is it.

Last year, December 1st was scribbled in big, blue marker on a piece of notebook paper that I had taped to my refrigerator. Months earlier, my friend Tricia and I had named that day as our big goal date for when we would move to New York City. We had been tossing around the idea that summer, and by fall, we were ready to commit to a date to give our maybe-one-day dream a goal for completion. In a phone call electing potential dates, we both offered, “What about December 1st?” at the exact same time, and that was all the serendipity we needed to assure ourselves that the date was meant to be.

And lo and behold, that maybe-one-day dream became a reality. By December 1st, I had accepted a job offer in Manhattan. Tricia, who had decided by then that her happiest life could actually be pursued outside of the city closer to her family and burgeoning real estate career, had still offered to meet me in New York to help me find an apartment. In selecting our dates to fly out, we flipped through our calendars and haphazardly landed on the one weekend that worked for both of us, which, we realized, just so happened to be December 1st. By that point, we were pretty much convinced that we were just meant to be in New York that day, and that it was going to be the best day of our lives, hands down.

Boy, were we in for a surprise.

In actuality, December 1st, 2011 turned out to be one of—if not the—craziest day of our lives. Although we’d both spent years living across the country and traveled frequently, we were in no way the instant city savants we’d fashioned ourselves after years of You’ve Got Mail and Sex and the City reruns. From the very first moment we arrived—no, make that boarded the plane—New York was about to make its unmistakable mark on us.

It began on my red-eye flight into the city, when the passenger next to me ordered four vodka bottles, then proceeded to 1) try to get off the plane mid-flight because he forgot where he was headed and 2) convince himself, a hoard of flight attendants, and several doctors that he was having a medical emergency when, as he attested to me later, he really just wanted some orange juice.

Once he’d had his fill of said orange juice and the plane had landed, I met Tricia at JFK and we set out to get her luggage, which had been sent to another terminal since her flight had arrived much earlier than mine. After walking a small eternity through the maze that is JFK, we finally retrieved her luggage and set out to hail a cab.

Lucky for us—or so we thought—before we even made it out of baggage claim, a suited man kindly offered to escort us to his cab. Thinking he was just overeager for business and his cab would be waiting outside, we happily agreed. Following him through the airport doors, we exchanged suspicious glances with each other as we passed lane after lane of cabs. But it wasn’t until we approached the parking garage that I whispered to Tricia, “Does this seem right to you?”

She shrugged uncomfortably and whispered back, “Let’s just see where he’s going.”

He instructed us to wait where we were so that he could retrieve his car and swing by to pick us up, so Tricia and I eagerly watched to see which vehicle he was going to. If it was a cab, maybe we were wrong to doubt him. If he walked to any old car, we were out of there.

To our surprise, it was neither.

It was a minivan.

Instantly, we looked at each other, turned, and bolted out of the parking garage, heavy suitcases bobbling behind us as we sprinted to the official cab station. We’d spent enough nights curled up with a bucket of popcorn and thriller movies to know how that plot line ended, thank you very much.

Once we finally hailed a (legit) cab, we were on our way. A few mishaps, maybe, but we were confident that the rest of the day would unfold in an amazing way, just like we knew it was meant to.

Well, almost.

Before we could finish that thought, the cab driver pulled over to the side of the highway, stopped the car, got out, and began circling the cab, tugging on every door. After a few rounds, he seemed satisfied and got back in the cab. “I thought one of the doors wasn’t closed completely,” he explained as he drove off, right as the make-up powder I had been fiddling with exploded all over my lap. “Turns out, I was wrong,” he chuckled.

We eventually made our way to the leasing office, where we enjoyed a lunch at the only deli downstairs—make that, Amish deli—before viewing a selection of apartments across town. And actually, the next few hours went by pretty smoothly. In a mere few hours, we’d toured several places, hiked up and down hundreds of stairs, gotten a glimpse at dozens of city blocks, and even chosen a favorite place. The day was really shaping up.

Which is why I’m not really sure why I started tearing up at the broker’s office.

I’m not really one to cry too often, except in obvious circumstances like at the end of Marley & Me or when someone gets to the last fudge brownie before me—but I think we can all agree that any warm-blooded creature would have the same visceral response in such situations. I certainly never cry in public though, much less in a high-rise office building signing leasing papers for a dream come true.

And yet, there I was, mortified with myself as I tried to blink back tears and level my quavering voice. The leasing agent, who I’m pretty sure was regretting her decision moments prior to give me a signing bonus for being such an amicable customer, listened as I blubbered my concerns. Maybe it was because everything was moving so quickly; maybe it was because I was signing away several thousand dollars on one tiny line; maybe it was because I felt pressured without a moment apart from the broker’s persuasive voice all day; heck, maybe it was because I was operating on no sleep thanks to the colorful plane passenger from the night before. Whatever the reason, I teared up, the broker listened, Tricia offered tissues, and the deal was signed.

So, Tricia and I promptly got on the 4 train—just like they’d instructed us—and an hour later, found ourselves, to our surprise, in the Bronx. Turns out it’s just as important to watch for the subway line you want as it is to note which direction it’s heading.

Eventually, eventually, we made our way down to Brooklyn, where we were staying for the night. Not before getting slammed in the subway doors as we hurried to move our lumbering suitcases out of the way, but that was the least of the beatings we’d taken that day.

I remember lying on the floor of our friend’s Brooklyn apartment that night, listening to Tricia sleep next to me as I looked up at the ceiling and pondered what I was getting myself into. Was I really cut out for this? Could I make it here? Was I crazy to leave a good job, a nice apartment, a loving boyfriend, a secure and cozy life for… this?

And then from somewhere, a question that I have looked to for answers many times came to me: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

It hovered inside me.

And instantly, I knew.

I would move.

I would embrace the wild, beautiful place that is New York City. I would chase the dream that I’d held onto since I was 10 years old when I’d caught sight of the city for the first time. I would move to this city where I had a single friend, and I would make more. I would learn the subways, the neighborhoods, the parks, the pace, the tiny apartments, the laundromats, the cabs, the corner delis, the people, the lights, the shows, the sights. I would take a chance at what life could be, and eradicate the restlessness in me that had always wondered, “What if…?”

I would live December 1st over again every day if I had to.

And this December 1st, I’m happy to say that Tricia will be joining me again. After a day like last year’s, we almost feel like it’s only fitting to make a tradition out of it. And looking back, I’m so glad that the day unfolded how it did. It felt like a right of passage into the city that has given me more than I ever dreamt it could. The day gave me a starting point to see how much one can learn, love, and experience in a year.

I’m not sure what this December 1st will hold; I just know that this time, I’m not forcing an expectation of what it should be. I learned from last year that when you do that, you might not get what you ask for.

I also learned that you just might get a whole lot more.

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