The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to move to New York City. There was nothing wrong with NYC itself, in fact, I love the city. I really enjoyed having museums, Central Park, and Broadway shows just about an hour bus ride away. I enjoyed spending summers with my friends at Coney Island and being able to the beach whenever I wanted to. I enjoyed being able to take a combination of buses, subways, and trains to get to almost everywhere from concerts at Jones Beach to visiting my best friend Amanda in Philadelphia. No, there was nothing wrong with the city itself, except for its apartment prices. A studio apartment that was about the size of my walk-in closet had rent that exceeded anything I thought I could make from a teaching job. Even my brother, who works odd hours on Wall Street doing international trading couldn’t afford an apartment with his six-figures salary, and he lived with three roommates.
For a while, I considered moving to California too. I could apply to PhD programs there, and I knew a lot of people, who lived in California. But I had the same problem with California that I would have had with New York City, it was too expensive, and I couldn’t afford to live on my own. So I had to reconsider my options again.
The first place I thought about moving to was Northeastern PA aka NePA as my friends and I lovingly referred to it as. My best friend Bethany lived in NePA, and at the time I was in a somewhat-serious relationship with her first cousin and spent most of my weekends up there. I would drive up to Clarks Summit after my last graduate class on Thursday nights, and wouldn’t come home until around 5 am on Monday morning, when I would leave either Bethany’s or her cousin’s house and make it to campus before my ten am English classes started.
I really enjoyed life in NePA even though it was unlike anything I had ever experienced in New Jersey. In NePA, I learned to shoot a gun. Bethany’s cousin Cliff had a makeshift gun range in his backyard. Social activities consisted of fire parties, which was when somebody would light a huge bonfire, and people would gather at their house. People would just drive their trunks up on somebody’s lawn, park them in a circle around the fire, and whoever had the best sound system in their trunk would play DJ. Beers were served out of coolers filled with ice cubes, and it was completely normal to just burn things… old CDs, broken radios, furniture, clothing, anything was game to help keep that bonfire lasting through the night.
Sometimes on weekends, we would drive to Ithaca, New York, which about two hours from NePA, and we would go wine-tasting. The routine for these trips included waking up before the sun rose, filling Cliff’s jeep up with gas from Sheetz and grabbing coffee. Bethany would usually pass out in the backseat, and I would play DJ with my iPod and FM transmitter. Cliff and I generally liked the same music: classic rock like The Doors and Billy Joel, rock like Fall-Out Boy and Blink 182, and prog rock like HIM and Delain, and the two of us outranked Bethany, so she always had to put up with our music as opposed to her Britney Spears and Pink related pop.
About 1.5 hours into the drive, we would pull into a Flying J on the side of 81, get even more coffee, and drive until we got to Ithaca. In Ithaca, we’d always get some lunch, buy NY state lotto tickets, and then spend the next 4-5 hours stopping at different wineries until we were too buzzed to drive. Most of the time, we would camp at the nearby KOA in Watkins Glen and head back to PA the next day. On these trips, Bethany would always spend hundreds of dollars on boxes of different wines to hold her over until our next wine-tasting trips. Shenanigans also always occurred on these trips. Eventually, our wine-tasting group expanded, and we ended up having to take two cars, mine because it was bigger than Cliff’s. Also, Bethany’s wine cravings got larger, and then Cliff’s best friend Steve’s Mazda because him and his wife started accompanying us. I had a Cheshire cat plush from the Disney movie in my car that rode by my rear windshield and the game during wine-tasting was keep away with the Cheshire cat.
But as I got towards student teaching and graduation, life had a nice way of throwing a curveball at me. Cliff’s job transferred him to Arizona, and he didn’t want a long-distance relationship or even friendship to follow him to Flagstaff. At the same time, Bethany started dating an abusive asshole, who made her choose either her relationship with him, or her friendship with me, and she chose the former. Thus, ended my dreams of moving to NePA.
After NePA was Austin, Texas. I had just gotten out of a serious relationship, not with Cliff, but with a guy, who I had been on and off serious dating since undergraduate years. It was a really hard breakup for me. I knew I was better off without him, but at the same time, it’s really hard to end something that you feel so passionate about without lasting and lingering emotions.
My cousin Bambi lived in Austin, Texas. Her and I had always really clicked well. She was like the older sister I always wanted, and lived a very interesting life in Austin. To get my mind off of Ex, my parents were more than happy to send me away to Austin for a week, in hopes that it would cheer me up.
I had a blast in Austin. It was a completely different planet from New Jersey, and even more different from NePA. I spent the week in Austin doing mainly outdoor activities even in the Texas humidity. Bambi and I hiked to the top of Enchanted Rock and meditated atop of the rock as we waited to see the sun set. We spent hours sunbathing and swimming at Barton Springs. I had my first ever food truck experience. It was a taco truck and they were the best tacos I had ever had in my life, and made my favorite Taco Bell Chalupas go to shame. We went to a twenty-four-hour Thai restaurant and had Thai Teas and I tasted my first ever curry. Ever since then, I love curry more than almost anything else. At the Thai restaurant, around three in the morning, we bumped into a tarot card reader, who offered to read our cards. She asked me how old I was going to be and when my birthday was. When I told her, I was turning 27 on September 27th, she told it was my golden year, and it would be unlike any other year I had lived before.
The week in Austin was amazing, and I wanted to go back as soon as I could. I booked a three-day weekend around Halloween. I flew down the night before Halloween, and Bambi and I dressed up the next day. I was Alice in Wonderland and she was Little Red Riding Hood. We went to a club and befriended some local musicians, who were pretty well known in the Austin music scene. After their set, we followed them back to their house, where the party continued. We got drunk on apple cider Jell-O shots and listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and contemplated all the different genres of music until the sun rose the very next morning.
After Halloween, Austin was the only place I wanted to be. I started researching doctorate programs at UT and found one that focused on autism and other behavior disorders and started filling out my application. Bambi and I texted daily about how we would change her house up once I moved down there. I even planned the route across the United States that I would take to drive there, planning detours at Graceland, Nashville, and Dallas on the way.
But then Matt happened. Matt was one of my friends from sleepaway camp, and we had recently reconnected on Facebook. To be honest, at the time, he remembered more about our friendship than I actually did. All I remembered was that he used to get all the male leads in our camp musicals. Matt was a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia and absolutely loved it and invited me down to tour the campus and visit graduate services. Temple was one of the few colleges that actually offered the MFA in creative writing that I had always wanted. So that November, I drove down to Philadelphia.
I’ve always loved Philly. I spent a lot of time in Philly because most of my undergraduate friends lived in suburbs of Philly from one direction or another. Matt lived across the street from the Franklin Institute and was within an easy walking distance of the Philadelphia Art Museum, FI, Wawa, Whole Foods, and Starbucks.
Matt was true to his word and showed me all around campus. There were delicious food trucks with cheesesteaks and crepes. I enjoyed all the buildings I spent time in while I was there and really could envision myself being at Temple and living in Philly. After marching band practice and an ice cream food truck, we went back to Matt’s apartment and marathon-watched Firefly, while eating delivery sushi, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. About a month after I had first visited Matt, we started dating.
From then on, everything was about Philly. My graduation was getting closer and closer. I graduated that May and still had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do after getting my Master’s Degree. I fell in love with Philly. I loved walking downtown or taking the trams around the city.
Also, Amanda lived in Philly, and I loved how easy it was to see her. The two of us had a favorite coffee shop called the Rim Café, that had the best frozen raspberry mocha I have had to this day. Amanda and I were there so much that the owner knew us by name and even took selfies with us on his Instagram. I loved spending my weekends with Amanda during the day. We would wander South Street and giggle at the sperm fountain in Condom Kingdom or catch concerts at the Electric Factory, TLA, or Troc. We would hang out during First Fridays and show off Amanda’s jewelry or photography. We had a favorite Thai restaurant in Fishtown that we would go to. We would go to the zoo with our cameras and tripods and take pictures of all the animals we saw. Sometimes we would hop into Amanda’s car and drive to New Hope for the day and see if we could see ghosts at the crying bridge.
Sometimes I would just spend weekends with Matt. We were both introverted nerds so our weekends together consisted of ordering takeout, binging RiffTrax’ of our favorite movies, or re-watching favorite shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Other times, we would just play video-games. I’d play final fantasy or chrono trigger games on my Gameboy 3ds, we’d play Peggle on the computer, or Matt would try to get me to play games like Portal.
Philly became my new haven. I started researching public schools in Philly that I could apply to work at, and Matt and I talked about how we would transform his one-bedroom apartment into a place that we could both live in. It involved installing curtains to separate his huge bedroom so that we would each be able to have some privacy, and starting to budget how much it would cost to split the rent and utilities.
Right before graduation, Matt and I broke up. He had been cheating on me with a girl her met on the internet, and cheating on her with me, and eventually it slapped him in the face. At the same time, Amanda’s family decided to move to South Carolina and she decided to move there with them.
Then my grandfather died. I had been in Israel on birthright, the summer after graduation, and came back to my father and brother waiting for me at 2 am at the international arrivals sign at JFK airport to tell me he had died while I was in Israel. I had been very close to my grandfather, and I fell deep into depression, and just stopped caring about anything. I didn’t care about my future, I didn’t care about moving, I didn’t care about getting a job, I just wanted to be left alone to wallow in Farscape reruns on Netflix.
In December, my friend Kat invited me to Houston, Texas. She had been seriously dating a guy named Chris for four years and thought he was the one. Since she had thought he was the one, it seemed fitting that I needed to meet him. Every year her and Chris threw a huge New Year’s Party, so she thought that would be the perfect time for me to meet him.
I flew to Houston on New Year’s Day and had laryngitis. I was fine when I landed, but the second that plane touched the tarmac, my voice disappeared and I had to rely on communicating via a notebook and pen. At Kat’s party, I met this guy named Justin. Kat had told me all about him and thought we’d either really hit it off or hate each other. I hated him. He was drunk and obnoxious. But as the party went on, Kat wasn’t really good to game with because we were playing cooperative party games and she had no poker face. At the same time, Justin always got thrown out of those games first, so I thought maybe if him and I teamed up, we might have a chance of winning.
We didn’t, but we spent all night “talking” and for the rest of my week in Houston, wherever I was, so was he.
About two weeks later, we started a long-distance relationship.
Two years later, I moved to Houston to be with him.
One year later, we got engaged.
Three years later, we got married.
Last week, we celebrated our five-year anniversary by buying a ready-made Coldstone ice cream cake and getting drive through Chick-fil-A since every restaurant was closed because of the coronavirus.
I’m now officially a Texan. Houston is NOTHING like New Jersey. For example, there are no Dunkin Donuts unless I drive about thirty minutes from my house. There’re no such thing as back roads, and there are highways on top of highways. In New Jersey, BBQ was my dad cooking something on the grill. In Houston, BBQ is an art form. There aren’t any seasons in Houston either. It’s either bearable, hot, or unbearable. Christmas is a thing. There are so many different Christmas displays and celebrations. There are food trucks for everything, from artisan soda to peanut butter and jelly to grilled cheese sandwiches. People are friendlier here. The first time we went to Freebirds to get nachos and the worker started having a conversation with me, I was extremely confused. There aren’t just neighborhoods or streets in the suburbs of Houston, everything is a smurf-village housing development. The beaches have no waves.
It’s not exactly like the moon, but it might as well be, but I don’t think I would have it any other way.