New York or Nowhere
An Ode to NYC
I spent the bulk of my twenties and early adulthood living in the city and it will always have a special piece of my heart. I was in college on the east coast on this day 19 years ago and remember coming into work as a fashion intern at Nordstrom in the King of Prussia mall outside of Philadelphia and seeing everything happening on a group of TV screens that were side-by-side and stacked together in a large rectangular display on the retail floor. They normally showed varying fashion show footage and now all the screens were tuned to the news stations playing the same horrific scene. We were all sent home and I remember coming back and watching it happen on TV with my roommates who are still some of my very best friends to this day. One of our best friends was a year ahead of us and also a fashion major and was finishing her degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. I remember we couldn't get a hold of her on her phone because no cell phones were working in the city and we were so scared that she was anywhere near the scene (thankfully she was fine). I remember how surreal that day felt and the imagery and feelings of that day so vividly.
When we're young the gravity of tragic events often doesn't seem to weigh us down as much, and somehow I proceeded to move to Manhattan for the same F.I.T. exchange program that January without a second thought. I ended up spending the bulk of my twenties living in New York. It's where I "found myself" and a lot of my confidence. I didn't think when I first moved there that I would end up staying for several years. I had always grown up in the suburbs and mostly on the west coast. It's hard to describe the way New York seduces you once you're there. Besides being home to the self-described and largely accurate "best of everything" (best restaurants, best theater, best fashion, best culture, best nightlife, etc.), there's a feeling that anything is possible and that if you are "weird" or outside of the norm of the mainstream (for me at the time that meant not being an average-height blond girl with bigger boobs who was interested in sports and/or fitting in with what it seemed like all the guys around me wanted back then), or if you are interested in art or style or creating or music or being intellectual or new ideas or doing something different or all of the above you will find a place to fit in in New York. It's sometimes described as the capital of the world and when you're there you can feel it. Some have said they've felt some of that feeling of creativity and endless possibilities has been lost in more recent years (Garance Dore, who I've admired since discovering and buying The Sartorialist book back in the day, before social media was a thing (!), is one who has talked about this pre-covid), as the persistent influx of money and ever-rising cost of living make New York seem less and less full of possibilities. And now New York is being faced with some of its biggest challenges ever and The New York Post is publishing articles proclaiming "New York is dead" and Jerry Seinfeld is saying no it isn't, and then others say "easy for him to say" with all of his existing money and power. No one knows for sure how all of this will play out but what I do know for sure is that New Yorkers are badasses. New Yorkers are so tough. Nothing is ever easy or has ever been easy in New York so if you can make it there you really can make it anywhere. New Yorkers are trend setters. New Yorkers are kind. There's a sense of unmistakable comradery in New York. If some of those who’ve been there prior to the pandemic end up leaving for good, or if some of what was there ends up looking differently once this is finally over, maybe that will open the door for a fresh resurgence of creativity and possibilities. New York came together after 9/11 and it was rebuilt. It will rebuild again. #neverforget
**This photo of me was taken sometime in the early 2000s in my bedroom in my first NYC apartment. It was a 3 bedroom/1 bath, that I shared with 2 roommates and the entire place including the kitchen/living room was 560 square feet. We loved it. Check out my fashion photos taped to the wall and razor thin eyebrows and super cool flip phone🖤
Beautiful essay, Cheryl. You have vividly portrayed your own American moment of that shattering day. Each had a different vantage point but your story underscores how that one started-out-so-normal morning binds all Americans together.
I know many past, current, and future New Yorkers will cheer on your words about NY fostering the creative spirit. May I also say you look absolutely adorable in the photo…and very NY!