I had another bad run-in with New York. After I got my feelings hurt when The Source didn't call, I went back a couple weeks later... and spent the whole week by myself. Everyone, including Mr. Ex, was too busy for lunch or dinner or drinks. Even when I stopped by Oneworld, the energy was more like "you again?" than "welcome back, D!" By happentance, I landed a job interview with the PR department of a government agency during my visit. The call came from one of the hundreds of places I'd sent my resume to by that time (it was the only place that ever called back.)
I interviewed with the head of a government agency. She was brash, socially inept, and rude. I was turned off within the first minute. She seemed as bored and unimpressed with me as I was with her. I remember thinking, "this is nothing I'd leave People for." My undying obsession with all things and anything New York was fading.
The interviewer asked uncommon interview questions like ‘where else have you applied to work? And when I dodged the answer by giving her types of industries, she tried to make me get specific. Then she asked me, "if you went to school for journalism, and you're a writer in DC, why would you leave that to come here and do this?" There was a point when I would have said, "because it's New York!" But what I thought was " I don't know why." I guess I took too long to answer because she said, "you should think about that." Then she summarily dismissed me.
I knew I wasn't getting the job, but I sent a thank you note the next day just because it was the right thing to do.
After the disaster trip Up Top, I was starting to think that maybe New York wasn't for me after all. Maybe I was a girl from the suburbs who watched too much Sex and the City and too many Spike Lee movies. I'd always felt like I was supposed to be one of the lucky ones who made it out of MD because I was "so different" from the rest. Maybe I was nothing special. I'd been dreaming about this better life I could create if I could just get out of DC, but maybe I needed more fantasy than reality.
Reality was that everyone that had mattered to me personally in New York had moved on. To go back would be like starting from scratch. I had a good life going for me right where I was. My friends were all here. (Sabby, Ace and Erica threw me a surprise 23rd birthday party at Dream and we popped bottles in VIP all night. I'm smiling so big in the pictures that my eyes are slits.) Through People, I'd built up a nice little set of connections in the city. My family was here, I had a car. I had Peter...
More and more, I'd been thinking of taking my little nest egg and getting an apartment. On the rare occasions I wasn't working or clubbing, I hung out at with friends from college and they all had dope apartments— luxurious in comparison to anything I'd ever seen in New York. I was starting to feel silly living out of boxes and still with my parents in my childhood bedroom at 23. Maybe it was time to finally grow up.
I said as much to my parents one Saturday afternoon and they seemed relieved. My Dad piled us all in the car 20 minutes later to go look at apartments. No time like the present to make the new dream come true.
My new outlook wasn't a total compromise, I rationalized. I was still a writer. I’d been playing around with the idea of staying at People for awhile and seeing where it went. Maybe I could parlay it into a gig in the Style or Entertainment section at The Washington Post someday? I mean, that would be an all right career, right?
I quit the job I was working just for the money a week shy of getting health insurance. I kept working forPeople full-time, pulling 10-12 hour days 5 days a week to make up the difference. I landed a few bylines in the magazine and on the site. A major coup for me.
I stopped sending out resumes and cover letters. I stopped hording my money and only spending it on "necessities." (I'd developed the insane habit of using extra money to go to Costco or Wal-mart to buy supplies that I would need when I returned to New York: MULTIPLE extra large rolls of toilet paper of paper towels. Industrial size bottles of Dove soap. Pantene shampoo and conditioner. Family-size bottles of ALL detergent and Downy fabric softener, etc.) I booked three vacations in a month— Hawaii, LA, and Miami. I unpacked a new box of clothes. I went to Georgetown and shopped.
By August, I'd narrowed down my apartment search to a building in Greenbelt, not far from where I'd gone to undergrad. Everything was brand spanking new. Lots of space, A/C, plush carpet— the basics in MD. I was debating a two bedroom because I wanted an office. The rent was still under 1k. My parents were positively thrilled about the idea.
I'd taken the morning off from writing and was headed to the gym for a much-needed run when I got a call from the People DC Bureau Chief inviting me to lunch at a fancy downtown restaurant later that week.
A couple days later, I was sitting across from her and a woman she introduced as her deputy editor. I'd seen the lady around at parties, but had never been introduced to her and she'd never introduced herself to me. She knew who I was; I didn't know who she was. Turns out, she'd been singing my praises to the BC. The woman nodded profusely as the BC told me over the bread basket as that I could really make something of myself if I could get to New York. She said it like it was a fact instead of opinion.
I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. I didn't want to go to New York anymore. Actually. That's what I was telling people. The truth was, I was tired of the rejection. It was taking a toll on myself esteem. It had been months and it was seeming harder and harder to get back and easier and easier to stay. I was tired of running on an incline. And too, I was tired of telling people about this big dream, and then never seeing any results. I was becoming one of those girls who was all talk and no action.
I told the BC I was wishy-washy about moving; she told me if I wanted to cover entertainment, I had to go. I would only get so far covering celebs in DC. And if I still wanted to go to New York, she would work on having me transferred. She asked me point-blank if I’d been saving money and if I had enough to pay to move if she could pull some strings. (I did.)
I’d had a lot of people look out for me in my life—mostly teachers, people who knew me. I’d barely talked to this woman about anything other than assignments. In fact, she emailed me most of the time. We didn’t really talk. Was there a catch?
“Why are you doing this?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “You told me at your interview you wanted to go back to New York. I remember what it was like to be young and have a dream. I figured it was time. You’d do well there.” It was like stating water is wet to her.
I nodded. I think I was in shock. I wasn’t getting my hopes up, but there was no sense in shooting a job down before it had officially be offered.
“Yes, if you can pull it off, I’d go,” I told her.
She nodded and flagged down the waiter for us to order.
I didn't tell anyone (maybe Ace and Tariq) about the offer. I didn't want to jinx it, or worse, speak it into reality and it not work out and everyone— Peter and my parents included— know that I tried and failed. Again.
I got my hopes up again. I said this would be the last time. If it didn't happen for me by September, I was done. I'd move on to something else.* Nine months is the birth of a kid. If I couldn't make something of my life in the time it took to produce a life, maybe I was just trying too hard at something I had no business trying for.
Three weeks came and went with no word from the BC. It was the beginning of August. I'd checked in with her twice. She assured me the ball was rolling, but it would take some time. I was getting nervous again.
I was heading out one Thursday evening to go cover some event for People just as my mother was coming in. I waited around a few minutes to shoot the *** with her as we'd only seen each other in passing due to my work schedule. I had a two week vacay coming up on Monday and had been working around the clock to get hours in.
The phone rang as I was telling her what I was up to. It had to be for her or my father since anyone who needed me called me on my cell phone. (I hadn't answered the house phone in months.)
My mother grabbed the ringing receiver from the wall. I waved and headed for the door, lest I be even later for the reception (DC loves receptions.)
"Hey," my Mom called after me as I was headed into the garage. "It's for you." She looked as surprised as I was.
I screwed up my face, went back in the house, and took the phone.
It was the an HR woman. From that government agency. She said the head of the agency was really impressed and wanted to offer me a job. In New York. She laid out the salary and potential bonus. Was I still interested?
It was the moment I'd become too scared to hope for. I didn't think about how much I couldn't stand the woman I'd be working for, that the pay was crap, or that it the job had little, if anything, to do with writing. It was a definite and People was a maybe. I loved New York more than People after all.
"Yes," I said without even remembering to negotiate for better pay. "I'll take it."
She told me the start date, I told her that was fine without it ever really registering how soon it was.
I hung up the phone, then turned to my Mom.
"Mommy." I didn't even shriek like I thought I would when I pictured this moment that I never thought would come so many times before. "I'm going back to New York!"
Her face fell. She recovered quickly, but not quick enough for me not to notice. "Well, don't cry," she said, and pulled me into a hug. "There's no need to cry." She sounded... weird.
I didn't even realize tears were streaming down my face.
"Well, when do you go?" she asked when I'd somewhat recovered.
I told her the date. She screwed up her face. "You're leaving for LA and Hawaii on Monday. You'll be gone for two weeks. How are you going to find an apartment? That gives you..." she paused to do do the time. "This weekend?"
I did the time as well.
I called the woman back to re-negotiate. She said they needed someone immediately. If I wanted the job, I'd need to start on the previously agreed upon date. Sorry. There was nothing she could do.
I pictured her shrugging as she hung up.
How the hell was I supposed to find an apartment in three days? (And no. Not going to LA or HI, my first time for the latter, was not an option.)
* One of you e-mailed me about this story, and I realized I forgot a huge turning point in my outlook. Around this time I was complaining to a good friend, Mazi, about my best days passing and how miserable I was currently. He told me that I had a choice, whether I knew it or not. Every morning, I chose to stay in DC, to get up and go to a job, stay for 8 hours, and go home. If I wanted to, I could get on a bus, go to New York and never ever come back. If NYC was where I wanted to be, I should just go, if that’s what would make me happy. Happiness, he said, was a decision, not a dream.
Those words changed my life.