By Jennifer Dryden – © All rights reserved.
Who says that you should have a clear future at 23? Who says you need to decide all of these big decisions right now? Who says you’re a failure if you move home to live in your childhood bedroom that still has glow-in-dark stars on the ceiling? Who says you’ll never escape the small town Iowa life if you go back? Who says you can’t have your mom make your dinners for more than a month after you move home? Who says not doing your own laundry will make you lazy? Who says people will judge you as a failure when leaving NYC? Who says these things? Who?
I say that I should have a clear future at 23, that I should be able to decide where my heart lies, and that living off my mom into my mid-twenties verifies my failure status. I say that I worry about never escaping the small town Iowa life and I say that people will judge me as a failure for leaving NYC, the imaginative and tangible glamorous life.
And I will still say this as I tear down the glow-in-the-dark stars from my childhood bedroom’s ceiling among dust bunnies, letting them fall as they will. The sky will be falling from my fingertips as I pluck each star from its longstanding place in the world. My big city independence will be falling with them.
How do you pack up the best year of your life in two 50-pound suitcases and a carry-on without tears? How do you hold your head high and smile at the airport security guard while he checks your still-Iowa ID and asks, “Headed home? How did you like the city?” like it was a week’s vacation? How do you respond without feeling like a failure?
I will lie.
“I loved my time in the city. Thanks.” As he nods and allows me to pass him onto the conveyor belts, I’m screaming at him on the inside, telling him that the city will always reside in my heart and for every Gossip Girl episode and late night talk show I watch from now on will fill my stomach with sickly butterflies and an yearning for my life when I was 23.
New York City has changed me forever. It gave me the confidence in myself to push my limits and it tried me with homesickness that I pushed through because this city was my dream. It awoke me aggressively with car honks and sirens for the first two months, then I slowly learned to tune it out and I dubbed that as finally becoming a New Yorker. Although I never changed this ID you are holding right now, Sir, to a New York ID I have changed every other identification about myself to this state, this city, this state of mind. The first time I twisted my voice and a New York accent shot out on accident, I smiled because I fit in a little more. The first time I talked back to a taxi driver my backbone grew and my fear subsided. Intimidation? What’s that? I made it without pepper spray clenched in white knuckles. I interned for a corporate company and contributed. I passed fights where the NYPD had to interfere and survived. I danced at the greatest lounge in Tribeca and swore this was where I belonged. I made friends from all over the country and cried when I hugged them goodbye. I lived month-to-month to fulfill my dream and even though I’m standing in front of you now with this smile on my face, I want to break and yell at you that this was my city for the past year. Not yours, mine.
So I smile, and I say these things and I lie. If I didn’t consider myself a failure for leaving this limitless city, these lifesaving friends, and this dream, I’d be hiding from my true feelings. I won’t regret leaving because it’s what I have to do, but there’s no law that says I have to like it.
This new Kate Voegele song hits home.