In her essay “Goodbye to All That” Joan Didion writes, “It is often said that New York is a city only for the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for the very young.” True, New York pulls in artists, writers, thinkers and dreamers—young people who thirst for success and demand it of themselves—like a cooling breeze off the Hudson River. But for many inhabitants of this bustling metropolitan, to live there is a relentless plight to survive. Here, a third-year student looks back at her decision to attend a university in Queens, NY and the daily struggles she’s experienced since moving to the Big Apple, analyzing exactly why, in spite of every hardship, she chooses to stay.
I was about eleven or twelve when I first stepped foot on New York concrete, and from that moment I believed the City and I were meant for each other. I did have some ideas in my head about New York from the movies I had seen and the music I had listened to, and, yes, maybe a tiny part of me had built up this image in my mind of a Manhattan paved with streets of gold, with soaring skyscrapers watching over the people. But when I finally made it and saw that none of those preconceptions were a reality, it surprisingly didn’t matter—I was home. There was this intense, palpable energy that struck me and stuck with me. I liked it. Coming from Ohio, you’re not used to so many people and so much excitement in one area. The bright lights. People constantly on the go, so confident in who they are and what their purpose is in life, on this planet. I wanted to explore and be a part of that.
I didn’t actually think I could actually move there until my senior year of high school, when I had to apply to colleges. I had no interest in staying anywhere in Ohio, so I applied to schools all around the country, mostly sticking to the East Coast. Hell, I even, at one point, thought about leaving the United States. When I finally received an acceptance to the school I go to now, I thought, hey, this is actually happening. I’m doing this. It’s no longer just some dream inside a little girl’s head.
I guess you could describe my first few experiences as a New Yorker as very touristy. I did exactly what you think that means: attended theatre shows, went to concerts, tried out restaurants. It didn’t take very long, however, for me to realize that New York City is so much more than Manhattan. Once I began traveling and exploring two of the other boroughs—Brooklyn and the Bronx—outside of Manhattan and Queens, my world opened up and all of sudden there were these new opportunities for me to grab. Everything was great.
Looking back, I think all the trouble started when I moved out of the dorms midway through my second year of college. I moved into a house with several other people, meaning I no longer had the safety blanket of dorm life. Also, my social life was changing in significant ways. For example, some of the people I lived with would go out to nightclubs and hookah lounges—places I had never visited—so I would go with them. After a while, you start getting drawn to people, the wrong kind of people, because you’ve never done any of these “bad” things and you’re intrigued. One minute your idea of fun is going to the movies or a free concert in the park, and the next it’s all about doing lines of cocaine in hotel rooms, losing your virginity in a fuck motel, and drinking into oblivion. All of sudden here these people are, making it sound interesting, making it sound fun. It is for some time. Before you know it, however, you’re caught up with this group of people, people who you want to believe are your friends. But they’re not. They’re shady.
In actuality, it’s a pretty lonely world most of the time. My family is not here and the extended family members living in New York are few in number. I think this is something a lot of people go through when they get here, though it’s not necessarily what anyone thinks about or plans for. There have been times when I’ve gotten really high or drunk and some guy has screwed me over. And when that happens, you sit in your room and just feel so lonely. People think that moving to New York is going to solve everything. They come here expecting to run away from their old lives and start fresh, but moving to New York causes a lot more problems than it solves. You get caught up in this lifestyle where you do a shitload of drugs and have lots of casual, emotionless sex, a lifestyle you don’t want to deal with, with people you don’t want to meet. Yet you go on with it because your desire to not deal with the alternative is even greater.
The financial burdens, in addition to the social drama, don’t alleviate any struggles that are always on my mind. A little over a month ago I had a job, and then I quit that job because I hardly had any hours. Too many people, not enough workload to distribute evenly. Right now I’m waiting on two other jobs, praying for them. Currently, I’m subletting a room and, fortunately, I was able to pay for June, July and August upfront. So I don’t have to worry about rent for now. Still, when you quit a job, after a few days of having nothing to eat, after forgetting what it’s like to not feel hungry, New York doesn’t seem as good or as great as you once thought it was. At least not for me.
Then your survival instinct kicks into fifth gear and you come up with a plan: I decided, after dealing with guys approaching me on a daily basis, you know what, if they want to take me out, they can take me out on a real date. I’m not going to sleep with them, but I’m getting something in return, whether it be a movie or a meal. I remember one guy texted me, asking me if I wanted to hang out and whether or not I had eaten yet. I told him no and he took me to Burger King. Honestly, that meal at Burger King was gold to me. It was the best food I had ever eaten in my life, because if he hadn’t come to my house I wouldn’t have eaten at all.
Some days, when everything feels like shit and nothing seems to be getting better, I think about packing up and heading back to Ohio, where life would be much easier living with my parents. I wouldn’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, wouldn’t have to figure out how to get fifty dollars to pay my landlord for air conditioning charges, wouldn’t feel lonely anymore. But whenever that thought enters my head I’m left asking myself: Do you want to go back to being comfortable, to knowing that you’ll have an okay life? Or do you want to take your chances and try it out here? Some days it’s just so hard that I don’t want to deal with it anymore. Some days I feel the struggle will never end. Other days I feel like it’ll be over once the summer ends, or when I start classes up again. Living here I realized everybody struggles. There’s always some kind of struggle, no matter what. I feel like if I do go home, I would be giving up. But I know that when this is finally over and I look back over my life, I will be a stronger person because of it.
Still, in spite of everything, I think people idolize this city because there’s just no place like it. People see there’s so much to do here, so many goals they can set and achieve, paths they can take. They see it as a gateway of opportunities. They want a different life that challenges them and forces them to be a stronger, independent person. Everyone knows the New York motto: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” And you know what? I totally, one hundred percent believe that.