Having lived in the 'perfect family' my entire life, I felt as though I needed to take some risks and live a little. My parents had given me the classic sheltered upbringing, lined with curfews and restrictions, healthy meals and a private school education. In hindsight, I was grateful for mostly everything they'd done for me, no matter how hopelessly deprived I may have felt at the time. Nevertheless, I was the sort of person who yearned for independence, and this was my chance to dive into the deep end of that pool.
My family had always been supportive of me and my big plans, my dad and brother especially. Dad knew that I was living the dream that he always wished he had've. My brother wanted cheap American car parts. Whatever their motives, they had been a great help in the process. Mum had taken a little longer to convince. Apparently the idea of her 'baby' leaving on a one-way, twelve hour flight, wasn't what she'd had in mind when telling me that 'the world was my oyster'. I knew where she was coming from, but this was my dream, and I was so ready to finally live it.
Yes, it had seemed rather fantastical for a start, but the closer I got to the actual time of departure, the realer it got for everyone. And now that the day was finally here, I couldn't have been more excited. Not scared. Not anxious. Just ready for whatever the future held.
Perhaps the only downside of my move was the inevitable loss of constant close contact with my friends, my family, and of course my boyfriend. There were definitely some people who had contributed to my desire to move more than ten thousand miles away; I had always hated the gossip and petty drama. But the fact that I had to leave behind a bunch of people who I really did care about was a tough pill to swallow.
"I sorta can't believe this is actually happening," Rebecca spoke from beside me. The two of us were wheeling our bulky suitcases towards the entrance to the international departure gates. This, of course, would be the last part of the airport where our entourage would be permitted, but I tried my best not to think about that too much.
Said entourage, consisting of both our sets of parents, my brother and his fiancé, my boyfriend and a small selection of close friends, were trailing behind Becca and I, resembling what I could only describe as a sort of funeral party. No one spoke. No one really smiled, or had any distinct expression for that matter. The only thing missing was tears, which I assumed were on their way.
As we arrived at the gate, the two of us set down our suitcases and bags, freeing ourselves of that burden while we said our final goodbyes.
"Well I guess this is it, guys," I attempted to sound enthusiastic but failed quite miserably.
A short silence followed. No one really knew how this was to work.
"Come here, sis," my brother Jake was the first to speak up, pulling me into a tight hug. "America doesn't know what's about to hit 'em."
We all laughed, and the awkwardness was broken. Trust Jake to be able to turn the mood around.
"I love you, big bro," I said, before shifting my gaze to where his fiancé Maddi stood behind him. "And I can't wait to come back for the wedding."
"Oh yeah true!" Becca pitched in. "I forgot the bit about you leaving me all alone in a foreign country."
"It shouldn't be foreign by then!" I laughed. Jake was getting married in just over three months' time, which I of course would be coming back home for. I was pretty confident that by the time we'd been overseas for that long, leaving Becca alone for a few days wouldn't be such a big deal.
"True, true," she agreed.
I continued doing the rounds, hugging all my friends goodbye, taking a few final selfies with them for the sake of social media. Although it was hard to part ways with all my mates, by far the hardest goodbyes were yet to come.
"I'm gonna miss you so much, baby," my boyfriend Mason engulfed my small frame in a breath-taking hug. He was tall, but far from lanky. His muscles filled out his figure and added to his attractiveness tenfold.
"At least I'll see you when you visit in a few weeks," I sighed into his chest. "God only knows how much I'm already looking forward to that."
If it wasn't for the fact that Mason had such a stable job and an established future here, he would have been moving with us. But it just wasn't an option at this point. His aim was to climb up the corporate ladder until he was in a position where he could relocate. Until then, long distance was the only way forward.
"I love you, Al," he kissed me deeply, putting all his emotion into this final bit of contact. I, of course, returned the gesture, savouring the feeling while I still could.
"I love you too, Mase."
A tear started to form in my eye as he went to pull away. One and a half months; just six (hopefully short) weeks until I could be in his arms again. He gently wiped away the tear before it could fall, giving me one last peck on the forehead before releasing me from his hold.
My mum, who was already standing close, smiled dearly at Mason as she took his place and wrapped her arms around me. The waterworks once again kicked in, despite my best efforts to stay composed.
"Be safe, Ally," she whispered shakily, indicating that she too was finding it hard to control her emotions, "and know that we are always just a phone call away."
"I will, mum," I pulled her even tighter against me. "And I'll call you as soon as we have reception."
I felt another pair of arms surround the two of us, looking up to meet my dad's glassy eyes. He wasn't a crier, so the fact that this situation was bringing him to tears proved it's significance.
"Your mum and I are so proud of you, Al," his comforting voice vibrated through me due to our proximity. "And I know I don't need to tell you this, but make sure you take every opportunity you're given. Never settle, Al. Promise me you'll never settle."
"I promise," I choked out.
This mantra was something he had engrained in me for as long as I could remember, and was one of the main reasons I was determined to leave behind the safety and comfortability of home. Of course I wanted to find my place in the world and settle down, but how was I supposed to know where I belonged if I only gave myself one option? Moving to New York was just the beginning of the broadening of my horizons. I had so many unanswered questions about what would await me there, but for once in my life that thought didn't scare me.
"I love you guys," I gave them one final squeeze.
After returning my sentiment, they finally released me, giving me space to collect my bags and get ready to set off. By this point, Becca, now puffy-eyed and slightly dishevelled, had also said her farewells, and was placing her backpack straps over her shoulders. Once we were both comfortably loaded, we headed a few steps closer to the departure gate. And, after turning around for one final wave goodbye, we set off into the great unknown...
The moment we touched down on the tarmac of JFK, all negative emotions were instantly pushed aside as the adrenaline took over. From there, everything was a blur. We were reunited with our luggage, funnelled through customs, and pointed towards a shiny yellow cab. Our friendly driver escorted us to our apartment block on 46th Street, giving us countless helpful tips and making the fifty minutes fly by.
"Oh, and always make sure you have a good umbrella," he spoke as we weaved our way through the concrete jungle that was Manhattan. We'd requested that he play 'Empire State of Mind' at least four times during the journey, as we felt there had never been a more appropriate time to listen to Jay-Z's banger. "You never know when you're gonna be caught out in the rain or snow."
"Oh true! Snowww!" My eyes lit up as I was reminded of the fact that this year I would be experiencing my first white Christmas. The holiday season back at home had been quite the opposite; stinking hot with the occasional dust storm. The only time I'd even seen snowfall was when my family and I had travelled four hours to the nearest mountain, only to discover that we'd picked a bad day where it was hardly even covering the ground. Needless to say that I was beyond excited for winter here, even though it was several months away.
Once we had reached our apartment block - a rather dingy, white-brick high rise - the cab driver pulled up in the only free curb-side parking space. As he helped us unload our bags from the trunk, we thanked him immensely for the ride, as well as for his warm welcome to New York.
"Just doing my job," he smiled cheerfully. "Good luck girls. I hope you make it big."
We waved him goodbye as his cab pulled away from the curb. I don't think 'making it big' was my main priority. Simply making it to tomorrow seemed good enough for me.
I gestured for Becca to head on in to the lobby, following behind her with my few belongings in tow. Making our way up to the service desk, we were greeted by an elderly lady, who seemed to be expecting us as she called us by name. In a matter of minutes, the paperwork had been signed and the keys were ours; a much easier process than I had anticipated.
Opening the door to our studio apartment - the place we now called home - we had very little idea what to expect. It was cheap, and that was virtually our only criteria. We were instantly met with an overwhelmingly musty smell. The place obviously hadn't been opened up for a while, which was definitely our first port of call. I walked over to the two tall windows on the far side of the room, cranking them open to let in some fresh air. I also took a moment to take in the view. We were on the twentieth floor, with front-facing windows, allowing us to see quite a considerable amount of the city around us. We were at the heart of Midtown Manhattan - just five minutes from the famous Times Square, and twenty by foot from Central Park - and the streets were teeming with cars and people. I also noticed for the first time that our windows were attached to one of those classic fire escapes, which in my eyes were so quintessential to this stunning city. It reminded me of the classic shot of the apartment complex from Friends (which I was definitely going to be visiting when I had the chance) and almost made me want a reason to escape, just for the sake of testing it out.
The apartment itself was minimal, but not the worst I'd seen. It had dark hardwood floors and an exposed brick feature wall, which added a bit of character to the room. Apart from that, the kitchenette consisted of a fridge, range, sink and a small bench-top, and the bathroom was just that; a bath in a room. The only other piece of furniture in the main space was a double mattress, pushed into one of the corners. It definitely wasn't new, but we were honestly just thankful that it was there. One thing that the apartment really had going for it was the vast amount of wardrobe space. An entire wall was in fact dedicated to it. At least we would have somewhere to shove all our clothes in, to free up a bit more room when we eventually got some more furniture.
"Well," Becca began, hesitating for a moment as she took everything in. "It's definitely.. something."
"It's not that bad," I chuckled. "I mean it needs some work, but it definitely has potential."
"I'll leave that up to you, then," she laughed, knowing full well that interior design was one of my passions.
The rest of the day was spent ticking some of the smaller jobs off our list. Before leaving Melbourne, we had not only set up our apartment lease, but had also moved our savings into American bank accounts and applied for all sorts of insurance policies. All we really had left to do was sort out our mobile plans, as well as, of course, start applying for jobs.
It didn't take too long to work out the phone situation. The change-over was pretty seamless, and within a few hours of touching down in our new home, I was able to get in contact with my family to assure them that we were safe and sound, and settling in well. After promising that I would phone again soon, I ended the call, before sending a quick goodnight text to Mason, letting my man know that he was still at the forefront of my mind.
I was practically falling asleep by that point, exhausted from the full day of travel. Digging through my suitcase, I pulled out some sweats and a baggie hoodie, getting ready for bed. I lay down on the mattress, covering myself with a few more random clothes to keep warm.
As we drifted off to sleep, with the distinct sound of car horns and revving engines from the streets below filling our small apartment, it sort of hit me for the first time that we were actually in New York, and that real life started now. I was fully aware that our current situation was far from perfect, but I also knew that there was nowhere else I would rather be.