While it’s mainly a distant memory now, there’s a part of me that remembers every detail. Braiding each other’s hair, cooking dinner at midnight, sharing toothpaste and nail polish and giving each other workday wardrobe tips. I’ll never forget the summer I lived with two other female twenty-somethings in a one-bedroom in Manhattan, the summer of my dreams.
It was my first time away from home and I’ll admit, I was a little nervous. Wouldn’t you be? I’d never been away from my family for more than a few days of summer camp, and here I was planning to be 3000 miles away for two months straight, living with complete strangers.
I didn’t get in until 11:30 p.m., and I had a lot on my mind. How was I going to navigate my way from the airport to the Upper West Side with a suitcase twice my size, a giant yoga mat, and no sweater? What if the internship was just a big hoax and I showed up Monday to a bunch of fashion editors laughing in my face? What if the apartment was just a big hoax and I just spent all of my savings to fly across the nation only to find myself living in the subway tunnels off people’s scraps?
Anxiety-ridden and all, I somehow made it to the front stoop of what I will now refer to as The Apartment. The Upper West Side, right next to Central Park. A block away from the B and C trains, approximately 15 blocks from Columbia University, right near a market and a Starbucks and a bodega. The perfect location.
The Apartment turned out to be tiny. Three women were living in a one-bedroom, turning the common area into a bunk area and using a futon to the best of its ability. We maneuvered around one another in the kitchen, desperately trying to make use of the tiny oven and stove.
We ate our leftovers cold—no microwave. No coffee maker, no television, a fridge half the size of mine at home. We were sort of messy, too busy with our work schedules to thoroughly keep house and too excited about life outside of the apartment to really care.
The Apartment wasn’t exactly a luxury. It wasn’t a penthouse on the Upper East Side or a loft in Chelsea. It was a second-floor walkup just south of Harlem with an obese cat eternally laying in the lobby and a landlord with a wandering eye, but we made it home.
The Apartment wasn’t perfect, but there isn’t anywhere else in Manhattan I would have lived for those two months. It wasn’t so much that is was nice to have freedom, to be away from my parents for once. It was more that it was nice to feel so loved, understood, and cared for by two people who weren’t my family at all—two strangers.
I learned that being on your own doesn’t necessarily mean being on your own. Don’t get me wrong—no one woke me up in the morning or cooked me breakfast or wiped my ass for me, but what they did do was ask me how my day was. They did backflips with me when I had a great day at work and pursed their lips with me when I was having conflict with a coworker.
As slightly older millennials, they showed me how to make it in the City and in my line of aspiring work. They showed me how to stand out, how to make myself proud, how to do it all for me.
When I think of sprawling my yoga mat over the little wooden floor, using my roommate’s leftover olive oil in the cast iron pan to stir fry veggies, trying on someone else’s clothes and having someone else touch up my makeup, I think of nothing but love.
For two months, I gave up my family. I gave up my home and my life, but I also gained something new. I gained two sisters in a town 3000 miles away, and for that I’ll always be grateful.