Dearest New York,
Let’s get one thing straight: it wasn’t you. It was me.
I arrived in JFK at the first of September, played “Welcome to New York” by Taylor Swift as I glanced a peek of the city through the plane window, and finally arriving at Queens. This is it, I told myself. This is the moment I was waiting for since the day I left in October 2017.
I was smitten; you showed me how wonderful Manhattan looked—under the bright lights in Times Square, past the sea of people in Bryant Park, and as I hurriedly made my way around the city. It was good. But it also wasn’t. I knew something was up. It was too good to be true.
Then it hit me—what did I do to deserve ending up here? To get to take a few months off work? It should have meant I would be planning my life for the next few years now. In fact, I went as far as saying I wanted to live here.
But months passed and I was dreading every part of you—the long commutes. The crowds. The overpriced coffee. I could easily point out every flaw of New York as I walked—no, brisk walked to every part of the city. The hustle gave me so much anxiety, to the point that I micromanaged myself to make sure I survived each day successfully. I saw the darkness and my demons slowly come up to me, and I trapped myself in the process.
Then school came into the picture. I had been waiting for this! I loved the idea of learning. But you made me realize the importance of never settling; so I didn’t. I dropped two classes because they weren’t helping me become better—they did the opposite. And I wasn’t going to waste my time doing things that do not serve me. I stayed with design because it made me appreciate my way of doing things, and how it’s being perceived.
In the weeks before I started writing this, it finally hit me—why did I hate you so much? Almost everyone I knew had this “New York dream” wired in their heads, a glimpse of hope and possibility because people said “anyone can make it in New York”. I, too, held onto that hope, feeling uncontented with the successes I’ve achieved in Manila. I wanted to start from square one here, expecting opportunities to swing by here and there.
Of course, again, I was wrong. I was too judgmental. I judged you because you couldn’t give me what I wanted, and what I expected.
And I’m sorry.
You’ve probably seen my crying episodes as I walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, or as I walked past 8th Avenue after feeling guilty over taking short breaks. And let’s not forget sleepless nights in Queens on my first month, thinking about the future and how much I hate myself for not keeping up with my own expectations.
The thing is, New York, you’ve become a testament to my growth—and that in itself scared me so much. I became weak, and I also became strong. You taught me how to become tough, as I always sport a resting bitch face on the 7 train to Manhattan. You reminded me of how important it was to trust my own instincts, and take no shit from others. You gave me more reason to look closer—and look deep into myself to find answers. You made me see darkness and helped me realize that being vulnerable is okay.
In the past few months I’ve been here, friends and family had come visit. I’d tell them, “You’re lucky you’re on vacation. Living in a city like this just takes out all the energy out of you.” I’d talk about how every day here was a struggle, how getting from point A to point B required a lot of energy. How sometimes, you just want to get away from it all and take comfort in silence.
I left you for a few weeks when I went to Germany. I couldn’t help but compare everything—Berlin was better in so many ways. You disappointed me so much. I didn’t want to go back; I was in tears as I rode the U-bahn heading to Tegel airport.
But when I was back here, it was a bit better. I started to see you in a better light. I stopped putting you on a pedestal and embraced your imperfections. I became less worried about my daily survival. And most of all, I’ve been more appreciative of who I am, what I am doing here and what I’ll be doing when I fly back home.
I’ll miss you, New York. I’m currently on the Q train writing this, heading to Brooklyn (one of the rare weekends I’m free), my favorite borough (sorry, Manhattan). I’m trying to hold back my tears because locals might think I had a bad breakup of some sort. Nope, we’re not breaking up! Not for now.
I keep thinking it was mostly made up of bad days, but I keep forgetting that there were actually good ones: the quiet days spent in Queens writing, making art, and working all day—just like in Manila. Walking to SVA and walking home after Editorial Design class feeling refreshed and inspired. The people I’ve met by chance, who have made my stay here an amazing one. Impromptu sleepovers and experiencing a dive bar for the first time in East Village. That Monday I took a day off and went to Chelsea, and finally picked up my pen and started drawing again. A weekend well-spent in Bed-Stuy exploring Brooklyn. Partying like a true 25-year-old at West Village because who cares?
I’m wrapping this up on my last Monday in the city, with a cup of my favorite Carolina Honey tea on hand at Argo, writing an “NYC Things I’ll Remember” list. Earlier today I worked at the New York Public Library for the last time—I couldn’t believe it. In September 2017 I was in the same library, writing down “I will study in New York” on my notebook and flew back home, and now, that part of me is done. I turned around and walked away from 42nd street without looking back, because I didn’t want to face the fact that I won’t be here again anytime soon.
Sorry I judged you. Sorry I loved you too much. Sorry I’m leaving you, but I know you have more people to take in your city. May they find what they’re looking for and make the most out of their journey here.
As I make my exit and go back home, I will always keep you in my heart. I can go on and on about the things I’ve learned from staying in your city, and no other city can attest to that. Who would have thought some introverted 25 year old would actually do this? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be able to pull this adventure off. Ever. Things might not have turned out the way I planned, but I keep forgetting it’s these surprises that made this experience even more memorable. You made me feel alive for the first time in 25 years, and that in itself is the best thing that ever happened to me. I guess it’s true that cities change you; I’ve always wondered about this fact, and now I can attest to it.
You will always be a part of me—a part that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I’ll see you soon.
All my love,