Friday, September 14, 2012

Leaving New York

"You left
Your girlfriend on the platform
With this really ragged notion that you'll return
But she knows
That when he goes
He really goes
And do you think you've made
The right decision this time?"
 -- from "London," by the Smiths

Several years ago, I read an article by a writer who fell in love with a woman who left the United States to move to Buenos Aires. Although they'd only just begun dating, he decided to follow her, a bit in awe, but also slightly resentful. How could she just pick up and leave? "It takes a person who is remarkably independent, perhaps to an unhealthy degree, to leave everything they know and love behind to move to a place where they know no one and don't speak the language." I can't remember any other details of his story, but I'll never forget that one sentence.

I can't say I understood how he was feeling. I've never followed anyone to the other side of the world, and I doubt that I ever will. But I knew exactly where she was coming from. I'd been there -- young, restless and scarily independent. I also ended up in the same place. Six years ago, on September 15, 2006, I left New York City for Buenos Aires. The plan was to be gone six to 12 months. Six years later, I'm still gone.

The day before I left (six years ago today), I was walking down 13th Street for the last time, talking on the phone to my friend Rebecca. She had recently quit her job at All My Children, where she had played Greenlee for many years, to move to Los Angeles. Though she was still speaking the same language in L.A. as she had been in New York City, she could empathize with my fear and trepidation over leaving everything that was so familiar behind to dive head first into the unknown. What a leap of faith I was about to take!

Her parting words of wisdom: "Jeremy, sometimes when you take big chances, bad things happen. But if you don't take any chances, nothing happens." I was walking past New York Health & Racquet Club, my longtime gym, between Fifth Avenue and University Place, one street down from my apartment. I knew I had Rebecca's approval.

I wasn't moving for love or money. In fact, I was leaving behind loved ones, a great apartment, and what had been a fairly lucrative journalism career in New York City for a big question mark. I just knew that it was time for me to grow, and to do that, I had to fly, far far away. I had no idea where I would ultimately land. Six years later, I still don't. I've loved and lost, enjoyed good times, cursed the bad. Through them all, I never even considered straying from my route less traveled, packing up, packing it in, and heading back home.

"The ship that sails backwards never sees the sunrise."

Words of wisdom from Vanessa Huxtable on The Cosby Show. If I'd hit reverse after hitting that first bit of turbulence (me, three men and a screwdriver, on the floor of my bathroom), imagine all that wouldn't have been. Perhaps I never would have made it to Australia four and a half years later, or Bangkok. This blog, inspired by my expatriate experience, certainly never would have come into being.

And I would have missed one of my most memorable moments of all. It was on Christmas Day, a couple of years into my time in BA, and I had just finished my morning run around the parks and lakes of Palermo. As I wandered the streets looking for breakfast (as in Bangkok, an omelette was never easy to come by in BA; instead of dinner meats and fried rice first thing in the morning, it was all about facturas -- good morning, sweets!), an elderly woman stopped me.

"Merry Christmas," she said in English. She then proceeded to give me a big hug, obviously unbothered by the sweat dripping off my body. I was moved by her kind, unexpected gesture, and I never forgot it. Sometimes it's those random throwaway moments, the small incidents in between the grand adventures, that make the greatest impact, convince you that you're right where you should be. I hope there are more to come. I could use another one today.

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