Perhaps you are one of those people joyously living out your life
in the town where you were born, schooled, and are now repeating the pattern with your own family. If so, congratulations. Because I believe it takes a person truly comfortable with him or herself to be able to lay down roots and not be overwhelmed with a persistent urge to rip them out. I was never that person. In fact, I’m sitting in my lovely mid-century modern home in the incomparable Hollywood Hills right now thinking, “I’m so over L.A.” Please feel free to hurl insults in my general direction, because that is a d*ck move.
Now that I have my own family to consider, and a mortgage payment, I can’t just head off willy-nilly to Paris and find a lovely flat in Montmartre and set up my new and exciting life. Plus, I totally adore my roommates, and considering their needs is kind of my jam. While these considerations can feel restrictive, they also serve as self-preservation. Because the last time I thought it would be a fantastic idea to move to a completely foreign (to me) land, it almost killed me.
I was born an Okie. While not from Muskogee, if you’ve been raised in one small Oklahoma town you’ve been raised in them all. From a very early age I simply assumed everyone was looking to get off the farm, but it turns out some people love it out there in the red dirt. My mother, for one totally obvious example. Since, after all, we were living herdream life on a farm, in the middle of nowhere. Something else I later realized not everyone else was doing: Sending away for boarding school brochures and international exchange program applications. I’m not sure why I was surprised at my mother’s reluctance to swap me out for a nice English middle-schooler for a year, but it did not deter my fantasy life one little bit. I re-committed to British New Wave music, and worked up an accent, not knowing that it would be a solid eight years before I would even get out of the country, much less to the land where Elvis Costello was waiting to write another song about a girl named “April”.
As I slowly inched away from the wheat fields, I found myself in Austin, Texas. Which was much more of a culture shock than one might expect, unless one has spent time in the city where people pride themselves on “keeping it weird.” My sister-in-law still likes to bring up the time she and my brother were visiting and I issued a grave warning to not drive slowly up the on-ramps of I-35, “because there are people there waiting to car jack you.” I thought this was exciting, and sometimes slowed down a bit myself just to see what would happen. In spite of my bizarre assumptions regarding Interstate crime, for the first time it did seem like perhaps I had found a new home. But a few years in, I got the urge to do some weeding.
Where does one go when she knows not much about the world, but is pretty sure she should be in the middle of it? Why, New York City, of course! I’m not even embarrassed to admit that watching way too much Law & Order at least partially inspired my move to the big city. Which just proves my fascination with crime (see: car jacking, I-35) acts as a positive, rather than a deterrent in my decision-making. I wanted to hear that fast-talking detective give me directions to Grand Central while bent over a fresh corpse. I was excited about the possibility of being on jury duty when the prosecution has a “gotcha’” moment. But most of all I could not wait to ditch my Geo Metro and embrace public transportation. Is there really that much graffiti? Can I assume that every morning I will be serenaded by a boom box? How can I perfect my purse holding technique so I don’t find myself in the 27th precinct? This fascination with an entire life ridden on the rails made it all the more ironic that within a few days of apartment searching in Manhattan, I was the victim of a hit and run.
If you’ve ever looked for housing in NYC, you may also feel like you’ve been run over by a rental car driven by someone who is indifferent to your pain. That is what actually happened, however, and it is truly amazing that 1) I’m alive to tell you this story, and 2) I’m not telling you this story from my $25 million penthouse overlooking Central Park because you might expect such a sum after being struck by a reckless Avis employee and left to die. Instead, I pulled myself out of the gutter, crawled into a restaurant on the corner of 22nd and 2nd Avenue, and dragged my beat up ass to the bar and grabbed a napkin and a pen. Not being able to speak, I had to write down the license plate number as fast as I could for fear of blacking out before I could nail that assh*le who left-turned into me as I was crossing on a walk sign.
Sure, hit and runs are not uncommon in New York City, but this driver underestimated the amount of anger I had from being run into and sent rolling over the hood, only to land in the gutter, while on my way to a particularly interesting sounding railroad apartment in the East Village. I would not miss this appointment on account of the aggressive driving skills, inside that red economy four-door. I would not. And I didn’t, because after the paramedics came and advised me to go to the hospital, I instead arrived a little bit late to the apartment showing and explained my situation. I also went on to the roommate share in the West Village, before heading to the emergency room. I believe it goes without saying that my first year living in the West Village was worth any potential blood clot situations that may or may not have followed.
Oddly enough, my killer city girl instincts were honed before I had even left the great state of Texas, since I had to return to get my stuff. Certainly this is the reason I lasted so long in New York, and my desire to search out other exciting locations was tempered for over a decade. When I went back to Austin to pack up and have a CT Scan, I was in an amazing amount of pain. Luckily I was bruised, battered, but not broken and I returned to move into a two-bedroom apartment that would be my first of six different apartments and neighborhoods in New York. Unluckily, small injuries don’t garner huge settlements from rental car companies.
Perhaps not coincidentally, shortly after relocating to New York I traveled to Dallas for a close friend’s bachelorette party. As we walked back to our cars, all eight of us were robbed at gunpoint. My thoughts during the robbery? “This would never happen in New York,” also, “I wonder if I’m close enough to kick box that guy in the balls?”
The cliché is true (as so many tend to be): That which does not kill you, makes you stronger. That which did not kill me, allowed me to lay down some roots in a place that I’m still tied firmly to, even as I reside across the country. Roots that I will most likely return to at some other point in my life. Surviving being struck down by a car that sped away as I lay on the side of 2nd Avenue helped solidify – for me, anyway – my identity as a city girl. Not just any city girl, a New York City girl. I’d wondered what it was like to live in the toughest city in the world, and I quickly found out. Because if you can get hit by a car and make it inside to write down the license plate number, then head out and secure a rental in the West Village in New York, you can make it anywhere.
is a writer, editor, lover, and a fighter. Specifically, she battles the devil gluten and you can read all about it in Gluten Is My Bitch: Rants, Recipes, & Ridiculousness for the Gluten-Free (Abrams, 2013).