When I left Australia at the beginning of 2019, I didn’t anticipate that today, two years later, I would be preparing to renew my visa and extend my stay in New York City. Perhaps, actually, it wasn’t that I hadn’t ever contemplated or entertained the idea, but rather, it was a prospect that felt so far away for quite some time; a decision for ‘future me’ to make, I suppose.
It was somewhat easy to move overseas with the mindset of staying for two years if I were to stick it out that long. But one year of living here was marked by a visit from my parents, which quickly turned into two years, and then, amidst a pandemic, and post a political upheaval, I had to ask myself: “Okay, what now?”
I found it difficult to put this piece together, not because I struggled with thinking of things to write, but rather, with essentially summing up the last two years of my life. How do you put into words two years that have impacted you, and the course of your life, so greatly? Living in New York was somewhat of a pipe dream of mine for many years, and so when I finished studying and was without any commitments, it was the time to make the move if I was ever going to. And I won’t ever regret making that move; I think I’ll always look back on it as one of the best decisions I ever made.
I first moved in with two sisters I had met on Facebook, and they have remained two of my closest friends to this day, despite only living together for six months. I can’t imagine where I would be today without them, and their family, and how different an experience these past two years would have been had I met someone else that day on Facebook. Throughout my first year of living here, I had many visitors – my parents, sister, extended family, and friends from high school, University, and college – and then COVID hit, and understandably, no one visited, and I lost something that made it a little easier to be here. I have a greater reliance on, and appreciation for, FaceTime calls, and American friends welcoming me into their families, colleagues checking in around the holidays, and joining communities virtually.
Amidst everything that is taking place in the States at the moment, a lot of people question how long I plan to stay, and why it is that I still want to be here (and if I’m being honest, I occasionally ask myself the same thing). But I struggle to talk about my future plans with family and friends back home, because, for the foreseeable future, I want to stay, which is perhaps saddening for them to hear. It’s strange to think about where you want to spend the rest of your life, not that that’s necessarily what I’m doing, but, the longer you stay somewhere, the more people you befriend, and the more commitments you make, and the more communities you join, and somehow, over time, when you pause for a moment to reflect on that, you’re more “here” than you perhaps thought you were; there’ll more things to let go of, and leave behind, if you choose to move on.
I wasn’t home for my second Christmas, and it’s been more than a year since I’ve seen my parents and sister, and more than two years since I’ve seen my grandparents and best friends. I had hoped to have visited home by now, I didn’t intend on leaving it this long, but this pandemic threw my, and everyone else’s, plans and goals and ambitions for a loop, although, in some weird way, this has made for a more comforting and consoling time. I won’t know if I would have been better off leaving, or if it was the right decision to stay, but I won’t ever know, and so I’m trying not to spend time worrying about that.
Some days have been harder than others, such as those when stores and buildings were impelled to board up their fronts, and helicopters surrounded the city in the early hours of the morning, which certainly made for a more disconcerting and rattling time to live here. Then we went through perhaps the most consequential election in history, and a second impeachment trial, and so it’s no wonder several people have remarked that I moved to the US during such interesting and chaotic times. But I count myself lucky that I managed to have fun and “normal” year in 2019, and that I’ve been able to retain a few of the things I love about this city, throughout the pandemic, such as long aimless walks, sitting in parks, the bagels, lounging on rooftops, visiting galleries and museums, and spending time with friends.
I think I resent New York a little bit. When the pandemic hit, I made the decision to stay for reasons other than my appreciation for it, and my friends, and the connections I had made. It perhaps became partly about practicality and stability. I miss the feeling of walking around the city and realizing, “wow, I actually live here”, which used to happen every now and then. I might have just taken a second and looked up at my surroundings, or walked through a building, and some feeling of disbelief and gratitude would come over me, and cause me to appreciate how special a place New York City is. I found those moments quite grounding because they reminded me of how far I had come. But of late, they have become less common. One that comes to mind was during a weekday evening in the summer last year, as I was walking along the west side river with a friend. The sun was setting, and the light hit the brown-brick buildings that lined part of 12th Avenue, yellowing them slightly, and warming their appearance. I realized then that this city doesn’t do much to impress you, or stop in your tracks, and have you just stand in astonishment taking in its beauty, and the fact that you were a small part of it.