Exactly 1 year ago I wrote an article called ‘Girls, The Panic In Central Park’. It was sparked by an episode of the show, Girls, and an experience one of the characters Marnie had about love, life and being married.
The episode deeply resonated with me because in it, Marnie decided that she didn’t want to be married to her husband anymore. She realized she wasn’t happy, and she wanted to be happy.
I weaved my version of my ‘panic in central park’ in with hers. Though, my panic wasn’t actually in the real Central Park—I wrote about my process in leaving my ex-husband.
This morning the article showed up in my time feed and it made me grab my heart. Because this year I actually did have my own panic in Central Park. Not the metaphorical park, but actually Central Park.
I have been wanting to write about this for almost a year, and haven’t been able to. I’ve had to heal,process it and come to a place of strength and courage just to write these words. So today, I’m going to share the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and how it changed me forever.
Last year I met a woman who I fell deeply in love with. She lived in New York: my dream city. My soul felt so deeply tied to the city before ever visiting—in a way that I can’t explain.
When I met her and found out she was living there (we ‘met’ on instagram), I believed it was fate and the universe giving me the greatest gift in the world. Love, in two forms. My first trip there was to see her, but to me, it meant so much more.
I was married before meeting her, and when I was married I use to dream about living in the city. I use to shut my eyes and cry at the wonderful dream life I created in my head. When I shut my eyes I saw my fire escape, I saw myself walking home from work—I saw my life there even before knowing her. I could feel New York in my bones.
My son was only 4 months old when my husband and I got married, and I was only 18. Neither one of us wanted to be married, but we were blind to our parents worries and decided we could try and make it work. My days looked a lot different than I thought married life would look. I spent most of my time with Cooper, in our house. The only real time I would leave would be to go to the store or the gym. I look back at those days and wonder how I managed to walk through so much life as a ghost of myself. It wasn’t being a mother that made me feel detached from my body and life, it was the extreme isolation and lack of human connection and love that felt like I lived on another planet.
Planning my first trip felt unreal, I booked the bus ticket, packed my bags, and left. After 13 hours on a bus that reeked of dirt and sweat, sitting next to a man wearing a santa costume, I got off in the middle of Times Square.
I couldn’t have asked for a better moment. Every wish and dream I had ever had was coming true—I was exactly where I had always wanted to be. And I was falling in love.
I was only there for a weekend, but I felt every moment of that trip. You know when you go on vacation and it seems like it’s over in a flash and then you’re sad? That didn’t happen to me. Instead I felt like time stopped. Every experience felt like it was filled with magic. I felt like I was magic. Every laugh, every step I took, and everything I saw—I can still feel when I shut my eyes.
When the weekend was over, I went home and planned my next trip. I ended up staying for two weeks the next time.
People kept asking “when are you moving there?”. I didn’t have an answer. Because I had shared custody of Cooper, my son. Moving with a child who spends 50% of their time with each parent isn’t realistic.
I knew I wanted to be in NYC, but I knew I couldn’t leave Cooper.
My mom left my sister and I when we were babies, so if there was one thing I knew in the whole world, it’s that I couldn’t leave Cooper. I wouldn’t even dream of it.
My mom once told me that I was going to be just like her, that I was going to leave Cooper just like she left us. I remember thinking “fuck you”, I will never break his heart like how you broke mine.
From there I don’t know what happened, but I got this idea that maybe I could have it all. Maybe I could move to New York and also come home 1x a month and spend a week or weekend with Cooper. I told myself that I couldn’t keep living paycheck to paycheck in Ohio, what kind of life was I giving Cooper in my constant state of panic and scarcity mindset? I told myself that maybe if I lived in NYC that I could run my business more efficiently, and that even though it didn’t look ‘normal’, I could provide Cooper a better life because I was living out my dream.
I played this story like a mantra in my head until I believed it was true.
But the truth is, I was close to eviction in my apartment, had just quit my steady job to pursue SCR full time and I was panicked. I was drowning. I know now that this idea I created about how much better everything could be was because I was terrified of what was in front of me.
I had decided. I was going to go to New York. So I began to sell everything I owned. My kettlebells my dad had gotten me, the books I had coveted for years, my clothes that I loved but didn’t have room for in my bag. Everything that meant anything to me, I got rid of.
In the two weeks leading up to going, I told myself that this would be a trial six weeks and that it wasn’t a for sure thing. This I still believe was true.
I spent every moment with Cooper trying to engrain his face to my memory. Most days I spent crying because no matter how loud I tried to make my story be in my mind, I knew what I was doing was wrong.
On my last day with him I don’t think I ever hugged him so tight. I told him that I love him, and that he would be with his dad for a little longer, and then he left.
The darkest and deepest sadness that I have ever felt rose up through my body and began to make its home. Every part of me I loved, was now gone.
I didn’t tell my dad what I was doing. I lied and said I was just staying for a longer vacation. I did, however tell my sister, and I don’t think I will ever forget the look on her face and the tears that came with it. The look that said how disappointed she was in me; the look we gave our mom each time she left us.
With my two bags, one of which that held 11 of my books, I got on the plane.
I spent most nights crying myself to sleep while I looked at pictures of Cooper. I had this video of him saying ‘mommy, I love you.’ I would watch it over and over again until I fell asleep, a sick form of torture for what I had done.
My friends in New York told me that I made a good decision. I wanted to smack each of them in the face. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? I wondered why anyone didn’t have the balls to smack me in the face. I would have understood. Maybe even felt better.
I don’t remember a lot of my time there; all I remember feeling is nothing. Feeling was too hard for me. Feeling required me to face the choices I was making head on, and I was a coward.
I would Facetime cooper 2-3x a week, that's when I would feel.
Halfway through my six ‘trial’ weeks, his dad filed our divorce (we had been separated for years but now officially we were making it legal). He asked me what I wanted to do about custody and I told him I wanted to explore options with me staying in NYC.
At this point my sister told my dad that I wanted to stay in NYC, and my dad and I hadn’t spoken in 2 weeks.
My dad is my best friend. Two weeks without communication felt like 2 years. I was ashamed and scared, and no matter how many times I picked up the phone, I couldn’t dial his number. It was like my hands turned into cement. But they weren’t cement. They were filled with truth and knowing that if I called, my dad would tell me what I needed to hear.
One day I was really sick, so sick that I had to stay in my room, in bed, for a week. My dad called, and I finally answered.
“Are you ever coming home?”
Seemingly unending, tears poured from my eyes. I told him that I wanted to make it work in NYC but as I said it I knew I couldn’t. The story, the lie I had told myself was breaking—It was time to go.
His words were filled with kindness and love. He told me that I needed to come home. I told him I no longer had an apartment, or car (I had given it back to the dealership). He said it didn’t matter and that I could sleep on his floor if I have to, and that we will make it work.
My heart broke into a million pieces but this time the pieces weren’t all sadness. They were relief.
I called my girlfriend and told her that I was going home. She knew this was coming, she knew the whole time, but I think she was afraid to say it. Because if she said it, she knew that I would have agreed and probably gone home sooner. She left work and came home and upon her arrival she begged me to stay. I knew her heart was breaking, and mine was too as I said no. I had to go home. Sometimes I wonder if it’s harder to love me, knowing that Cooper will always come first. How hard this must be for my partners, and particularly how hard this was for her. She knew me as ‘Rachel in New York’ not, ‘Rachel the Mom’. I don’t blame her for begging me to stay. I remember crying and as she asked ‘why?’ and all I could say was that I had to. I couldn’t explain it in a way that would have made her heart hurt less. But my heart also hurt, resenting her ask of me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in love, but I hadn’t been until I met her. I loved her with every part of my soul, bu I loved Cooper more. I needed him like I needed to breathe.
This moment of us sitting in my dream room, the room that overlooked Park Slope, equipped with it’s own fire escape, was one of the greatest moments of my life. I saw every fear and scary thing that lied in front of me. Knowing I had no home, no car, and would have to rebuild SCR, but there was no choice that needed to be made. It was Cooper— I would have Cooper and that would be all that mattered. I would work my ass off, and we would walk if we had to, and we would be together.
My girlfriend and I then went to Central Park. Now that I knew I was going home I felt like I could finally breathe and I was slowly starting to sink back into my body and I wanted to make the most out of my time left I had there. Eleven days and I would be home.
As we sat at the park I emailed my ex-husband telling him I would be coming home and I wanted our custody to go back to what it had been. He told me no, and I said I wouldn’t stop until I had Cooper back.
I packed my eleven books (that are now tattooed on my arm) and my bags, got back to Columbus, we went to court, and we both got Cooper 50% of the time.
I did sleep on my dads floor of his one bedroom home, and Cooper and I would spend the next few months walking everywhere we needed to go. I also had to *mindfully* hustle my ass off to grow SCR again.
I didn’t care. I didn’t care how far we had to walk, or if my body hurt from sleeping on the floor. I didn’t care. I had Cooper.
I haven’t wanted to write this, and writing it just now feels just as hard as I thought it would be. But I’m happy I did.
I’m 24, and I don’t always do the right thing, just like most 24 year olds do. I don’t always get everything right, and being a mom is hard. But, going to NYC and coming back made me realize who I wanted to be, so I became that person. A woman who dances with fear, and doesn't run when things are a hard.
Going to NYC made me realize the power of love, and how sometimes it makes you do crazy things. Though, I won’t blame love for what I did. I made the conscious choice to go. Love did make me come back though.
I didn’t just have a panic in Central Park, I had a panic in New York, I had a panic in Columbus, I had a really fucking massive panic.
What I know now is that it’s not a place or person that will elevate your career, your mindset or your life—all of that is an inside job, and I didn't need the City to do that for me. Though, I always really knew that. I carry my New York state of mind in me everywhere I go. So, I guess what I really know now is that; life is scary, and I don’t think it will ever stop being scary, but running away from those issues never solves anything. What I know is that learning to dance with fear will be one of the greatest dances of your life, it was for me. And that Cooper’s love changed my life.