By Sierra Brown
I didn’t know I was taking a giant leap until I was in mid-air. I glance at the horrible death that could await me if I fall. I fly over the One Atlantic Center, its familiar illuminated green tip atop the 820-foot building signal my departure. I made plans to leave Atlanta, but the roadmap didn’t look like this. That’s my sentiment as I make the transition from “Georgia on my mind” to “Empire State of mind.”
My pensive mind suspends me as it goes into spin-cycle mode, and once I get over the self-induced fear of falling, I get to know the streets, buildings, and alleyways I glide past with my eyes. A new world opens up and I’m not so afraid.
There are no streets, only a sea of cars lined up next to each other. The yellow taxis like sprinkles on a fruitcake, or confetti decorating a drab party. The sidewalks look the same except that people flood the walkways instead of cars.
I see dried up gum turned black and poop stains on the sidewalk complemented by the silver shine inside empty chip bags, white Styrofoam cups, and glass. New Yorkers step over it—or in it—while keeping pace. I see the grime of New York, its dirty streets. I see art, but a different kind: a quirky collage of trash, or mixed media, plastered on the wall of a gallery. It looks interesting, and it’s expensive, but I leave wondering if it’s sophisticated art or glorified garbage. I see the hustle of New York. Street vendors sell anything they can get their hands on.
Their customers—and the people who ignored the temptation to consume—disappear into an opening. Where do they go? From up here it looks like the ground swallows them whole and they descend straight into the musty mouth of the subway. Some run or walk straight into the underground belly. Others stroll, taking things one step at a time, preparing for the journey ahead.
Although the underground seems like a cesspool of New York City at its worst, I see acts of humanity, New Yorkers who act like people as opposed to robots. A tired couple lazily grazes each other’s arms as if to check to make sure they’re both still there.
I can see why they would. The slightest hint of companionship must be clutched. In this town full of people, it can be lonely. It charms and alienates. The city’s never-ending event agenda is always full. It gives me options. Am I comfortable with my own company? Or would I rather puff that intimidating thought into a cloud of cool venues and Instagram-perfect moments?
My borough, Brooklyn, brings some momentary relief. Some neighborhoods, like Brooklyn Heights consist of peaceful brownstone rowhouses decorated with scooters and strollers. Ornate flowers hang out of tall windows. I could sit on the curbs of these clean byways. Mostly White people live in Brooklyn Heights, their peachy-cheeked little sons and daughters pushed along by their nannies, Black and Brown women with children of their own.
Some neighborhoods, like Downtown Brooklyn, are just as grimy as the streets with apartments stacked close together like the chips in a can of Pringle’s. The industrial-like buildings made with red brick appear filthy and worn in some areas. The windows match the jail-like aesthetic. Mostly Black and Brown people live here. These seemingly different worlds co-exist one block down from the other.
This city tests my ability to walk in a straight line with my head tilted back while singing my ABCs; its hustle and bustle gets me drunk, so I must find balance. That’s my new task in this new city I had no intentions of being in. I thought of New York as a cliché and I thought I was too cool. I thought of New Yorkers as miserable people who hated their jobs, their families, and themselves. I thought things moved too fast. I thought I would be stressed out. I lived in the suburbs my whole life; I thought I couldn’t handle it.
As a lanky, Black third-grader I never imagined publishing a book in my future. I didn’t think my dreams of becoming a writer would bring me here. “The beach, the people, the Cali tree is meant for me,” I told anyone who would listen, and I was hell-bent on getting there.
My aspirations stretched further than Black Hollywood of the South that is Atlanta, but it took some time and some convincing. Going to a historically Black university wasn’t my intention either. I planned to be a pre-law student at Vanderbilt or a psychology student at the University of Georgia. I believed that I could only get a prestigious degree from a “prestigious” school.
Begrudgingly, I became a Florida A&M University Rattler—the best decision of my life. My transformation took place and Tallahassee felt like my country hometown. After college sucked out my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, leaving conformity and a longing to be accepted by the mainstream media industry, I spent three months of boredom, self-discovery, and new experiences in Kentucky at an understaffed and overworked daily newspaper.
I realized that this could be it; this could be where I start my career. And that saddened me. I knew I was destined for more. Everyone was in my ear: stay at the newspaper, come back to Florida or Atlanta, make sure you have a plan before you move, secure the bag, the city is scary, you’re going to be struggling, it’s hard, don’t lose your mind.
Three weeks before my last day at this daily newspaper I faced a choice: Did I want safety and security, or growth? When I shut out everyone else, things became clear.
I decided to jump and bought a one-way ticket to growth, my cheap seat was God’s approval of my impulsive decision. I flew into town with only a suitcase and a carry-on. I only need my necessities, I thought to myself. I can ship the rest. And now here I am.
Everything is an adjustment. Everything is foreign. Molded from the red clay, there is no clay in the concrete jungle, so will I harden? Fiending southern-fried chicken and diabetes-sweet peach cobbler, there’s only chopped cheese. Will I starve? I’m rock and everyone else is jazzy, so will I make friends? Eight million people live here. How will I stand out? I miss my old Georgia home decorated with family, the smell of lavender, and nature’s hues of green now upstaged by my small-ass New York apartment decorated with strangers, the smell of piss, and hues of gray.
If it sounds miserable, it’s not; it’s change. I’m not miserable; I’m changing. I’m staring at my destiny right in the face, crushing my fear and squeezing life’s lemons into its eyes.