I live in a little hermetic world in an urban/suburban enclave in St. Louis County, Missouri. Now that I live alone and write from home, most days are fairly routine—writing in the mornings (and some afternoons), taking a 30-plus minute walk outside or on my treadmill in bad weather, saving most afternoons to interview sources for articles, set up meetings or lunch dates, going to the library, and doing volunteer work.
Evenings are relegated to staying home, reading and watching old movies, happy hours with friends, going to concerts, or attending lectures or plays. Yet, life is never really that steady, or finished. I have learned this as loss and change continue to permeate my routine.
In 2011, I experienced the biggest upheaval when my spouse of 42 years died. What was I now supposed to do? It took almost two years to figure it out. At that point, I remember thinking about leaving St. Louis but decided it wasn’t realistic while my parents were alive and depended on me. I was the only one of four siblings who lived in the same town as they did. By default, I became the designated caregiver.
After my mother died almost three years ago (my father was already deceased at that point) I thought again about moving to a new city, maybe to LA where my daughter lives. I spent some time there but didn’t love it; it wasn’t a comfortable fit for my lifestyle and values. I rationalized that I was too entrenched in a comfortable routine in St. Louis and concluded why move, uproot myself and go through the aggravation of selling my condo. In addition, my life was easy, my elder son still lived in St. Louis, and my husband’s family including his mother and sister were here.
And then early this year my older son left St. Louis for a job in New York, where my two sisters and writing partner Barbara live. I no longer had any nuclear family members left in my sphere, although I did have a strong relationship with my late husband’s only sister. After she passed away a few months ago, that became the tipping point, as writer Malcolm Gladwell says. It seemed the right time to move on and New York City was beckoning.
I fantasized about what a new life would be like in another place. As the days passed, the thought of moving to New York City became more intoxicating. This would be a shot to start my life anew while I am healthy and energetic.
And one day, I processed this out loud. I always do that for I need to hear myself say what I intend to do to make it real. Then, I tested it on Barbara who gave me a huge thumbs up. She was enthusiastic that we would be much closer to work together more in person than by computer and phone and she would love the companionship and to share her East Coast friends. I also started visiting New York more often and felt readier to dip my toes into a place where I never intended to live—the Big Apple.
This decision is ironic. My late husband and I visited New York many times. We’d go to see my two sisters and each of our three children who went to college there. We’d return to St. Louis after a visit exhausted and exclaim (forgive the cliché): “Great place to visit but we’d never want to live there.” If he were still alive, I highly doubt that he would have ever wanted to move there even if it were to live closer to two of our kids. He frequently said he’d never move out of our house and leave St. Louis. I asked my daughter what she thinks. Her answer: “He didn’t like big cities and really enjoyed the slow pace of living in Missouri.”
Over time our preferences change. What in those days left a bad taste after a draining NYC visit, has now morphed itself into seeming quite appealing.
New York has always been the place to test your mettle whether starting out in almost any career or ending up there as one ages. You don’t need to drive, you can walk everywhere, have ready access to multiple hospitals, great public parks and every type of entertainment and restaurant imaginable. And my relatives and writing partner I knew would be there for me if I got sick or simply needed someone to take me for a medical procedure.
In addition, I no longer want the responsibility of owning a home, car or even so much stuff. I could rent and in a huge number of neighborhoods near good public transportation, grocery stores, libraries, movies and museums. The list goes on and on. While it can be very pricey, there are also half price or reduced fares and memberships for seniors that are widely available.
That said, I am now putting the plans in place to exit St. Louis within a year. It means leaving behind my apartment, many good friends, and the city where I grew up. Currently, I am in the research phase to decide which neighborhood appeals most and what I can afford based on my wish list: close to my sisters and son on the West Side, at least 1 ½ baths, washer and dryer in the unit, a low floor (I get spooked living up too high). I plan to visit NYC a few times this year and stay in different areas to get a feel for the flavor of each.
Change is never easy but as many are telling me since I started sharing the idea, I can return to visit and always will have a place to stay. I realize too that a new city means, for starters, changes in doctors and dentists, banks and Medicare.
One of the dangers of looking forward is the tendency to romanticize. I envision my first year will be like one long adventurous vacation with so much to choose from and then reality will set in. But when it all shakes out, I will know whether this is where I should and want to be. And if not, I can pick up and move again.
As the year unfolds, I will post blogs that will permit you to come along on my journey. Buckle up! I know there will be bumps along the way, but I promise there will also be highs as I discover new restaurants, coffee shops, great museum shows, lectures, concerts and enjoy some celebrity sightings.