Starting Fresh in the Big Apple

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I’d visited the Big Apple many times before I crash-landed here last fall. My younger sister never left New York City after she graduated from Barnard College six years ago, and as my closest family member and best friend, I had always wished she would move back to California. Whenever I asked, she would patiently explain that California did not offer the same opportunities to do what she loved most: dance.

That, combined with car-free living and a myriad of other treasures only city life could offer, kept her anchored in place. When our college years overlapped, I would spend a weekend here and there with her, and during those brief encounters, the city swept me up in its Never Never Land fantasy, and living in the tiny town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania where I studied Medieval and Renaissance history at Dickinson College (and yes, launched a women’s and gender issues magazine provocatively and post-modernly entitled NAKED [truth]) seemed rather dull by comparison.

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But I was a sunshine girl at heart and returned to Southern California after college to start my career in the midst of the recession as a workers’ compensation claims adjuster. I absolutely hated it. So, I did what any twenty-something whose fondest memories were of her year abroad in Italy would do—I applied to be a CIA operative. Just as I made it past the second round of interviews in Virginia and had secured an offer on non-CIA, “cover” letterhead, I got a call from a recruiter who made me an offer I couldn't refuse for a job doing business-to-business marketing and government agency RFP responses. I told the recruiter I had never done a RFP response in my life, but I ended up landing that job and moving to Orange County.

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You can probably imagine, given what happened only a few years later, that I often wondered what my life would have been like had I taken that job with the CIA. Would I have stayed with my Battlestar Galactica obsessed abusive high school sweetheart, only to move on to another abuser who would not only leave me emotionally tormented and ultimately go on to frame me for a diabolical crime? Or would I have avoided them both? Was I just wired to end up in abusive relationships, a product of the environment in which I was raised?

I could drive myself crazy with the what ifs, but I believe that things happen for a reason. But for these ill-fated choices, I would never have met Jackie, and I would never have been brave enough—and had so little to lose—that I would have relocated to NYC in search of a fresh start, some physical distance from my abuser and the haunting memories of being imprisoned, and proximity to my sister.

There I was, my entire life packed into two suitcases, a duffle bag, and a pink backpack. I arrived at my sister’s apartment at 2 a.m. and passed out on the couch where I would sleep for the next two weeks. The next morning, I woke up to a sweltering, humid NYC summer and cat butt on my face. My sister’s roommate’s cat, Begemot, lived up to her namesake: she was a behemoth of a lady, and she was also the neediest cat I’d ever met. And thus went my next two weeks. Wake up to Begemot on my face, already sweating from the heat. Drink some homemade pour over coffee and make whole wheat toast with almond butter before I got ready for a day of freedom and interviews.

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If I didn’t have an interview scheduled, I would plan my day around viewing apartments in NYC and checking things off my bucket list. I had been unemployed ever since I resigned from my job as a marketing manager when the abuser and his wife began their assault by sending fake LinkedIn requests under the wife’s ex-boyfriend’s name and filing a fake restraining order against me. Although victims are supposed to get restitution, the reality is far different. Even after you’re granted restitution (which for me finally happened over a year after authorities arrested his wife), you only get money if the offender has assets. Not surprisingly, my offender did not and was an unemployed jailbird. It made the process of finding apartments incredibly challenging because I did not have a recent, stable employment record or much to my name. To add an extra layer of difficulty, I had an arrest record that had not yet been expunged from the system. All of this meant I was limited to options that were dodgy at best with roommates that had less-than-ideal environments to offer.

Still, I kept my mood up by planning runs in Central Park, a long-time dream of mine, or meet ups with my sister at The Met, my own personal heaven. I tackled the Metro system as I navigated to and from interviews in the summer heat, switching from flip flops to black heels on NYC sidewalks. Unlike California, the NYC job market was hot, and even someone with my Google search results had no trouble landing interviews for jobs that paid what I expected as a recent graduate from a MBA program. In the evenings, my sister and I would go to bars for a glass of wine or, when she won free tickets, an Interpol concert.

Two weeks later, I had moved what was left of my life into a stereotypically tiny NYC room with no closet. I had a clothing rack instead—clothing racks seemed so edgy and romantic when I saw them in Domino magazine, but in reality, they were a pain in the butt—and a queen-sized bed my self-proclaimed alpha female roommate insisted on installing in the space even though it was far too big. Regardless, I had an amazing, hipster coffee shop downstairs that brewed Intelligentsia coffee and had a friendly, neighborhood vibe. From this launching pad, I took the next critical steps to rebuilding my life.

Less than a month later, I had landed a job I loved, was about to experience the magic of fall in the city, and was beginning to feel like a real girl again. And I never went a day without good coffee.