Eleven years ago today, I stepped off a plane at JFK International Airport. It wasn’t my first time visiting New York City. I had been here enough times to not be in awe of the city skyline as my plane was touching down. I even lived here once, albeit temporarily for a three-month summer residence between my junior year and senior year at Howard University. I lived with my brother in Astoria Queens and interned at Vibe magazine in Manhattan. Instead of awe and excitement, my feeling was firmly one of anxiety as I loaded up a cart with my luggage. Unlike my previous visits, this was a one-way trip. I was here to stay and I had no idea when I would leave.
All these years later, I still don’t know when I’m buying a one-way ticket out of here. These days whenever I’m asked if I see myself staying (and as long as you tell people you’re from somewhere else, they will always ask you when you’re leaving) I shrug because I don’t know if that day will ever come. I’m not a New Yorker but New York City has become home, and that is a very bittersweet thing for me to say. Outside of Seaside, California, the city where I was raised, I have spent more time living in New York than I have anywhere else. And while I always grew up with a dream of one day living in the Empire State, I don’t know if that dream ever entailed me staying this long.
But here I am with no exit strategy in mind. This puts me in the unique position of being able to help those who are either thinking about moving to the city or packing their bags to do so. As long as I have been here, I still identify more with the wide-eyed newcomers than the natives. I was once you, but didn’t have very many people who I could talk to not just about living here but trying to figure out how to call this place home. These are the lessons I’ve learned in my quest to get comfortable in New York, New York, big city of dreams.