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If I Can Make It Here...

If I Can Make It Here...


June marked four years that I've been living in New York City. I moved here in 2000 from my hometown, Chicago, to accept a job that I was laid off from a year later. I've rolled with the punches (because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, right?) but ain't happy about the fact that so far I've had to move more times within the city than I did in my last decade living in Chicago. Each time I've had to pack my bags and weigh my options, I've needed to come up with a more concrete answer about why I'm staying. Is it lunacy, I wonder, attempting to find rest in a restless city? Ever since I've been here all I've really wanted'second to a major book deal'is a place where I could close my door, shut my eyes, and think of nothing. Or ponder everything'including, most recently, my AIDS diagnosis, fallen T-cell count, and increased viral load'and decide once and for all if my life here in New York City is worth all that it's costing me. Back in Chicago, I lived in an affordable Michigan Avenue high-rise for several years. As I woke each morning to a sweeping view of the city's skyline, my quality of life was apparent. But on my income that same quality of life has been harder to achieve in pricey New York City. And the challenges of doing so occasionally lead me to weigh the value of staying in the rat race. After being laid off in 2001, I had decided to stay and press on as a writer. In New York, I believed, I'd have a more ample opportunity to be published than anywhere else. But if I didn't feel a genuine connection to New Yorkers before 9/11, I certainly began to develop one during and after that heart-wrenching event. Suddenly, more than ever I felt as if I were a part of the city, a part of New York's collective mourning and later triumph. Surviving the catastrophe in the city of 8 million people oddly gave me a sense of community and belonging. Afterward, I began to indulge a bit for my own sanity. I found peace in places that I never expected to: in Central Park or at an out-of-the-way teahouse. Slowly but surely I began to dig in and make New York mine. I started to seek out friends and decent health care. Over the past few years, living in this city has become more a reality and less a dream. I've swapped my Illinois driver's license for one from New York and have risen to the challenges of navigating New York's post-AIDS public-health system. Since my diagnosis, I've spent most of my time getting up to speed with a slew of clinic appointments (a part-time job), fumbling through public-health resources (another part-time job), and pounding the pavement on an apartment search (a full-time job). Most of the apartments I've seen on my quest have been, at best, suboptimal or inconvenient to my clinic or a decent grocery store. Of course, 800 miles away in Chicago, my family would love to have me back there. And it's been tempting, knowing what awaits me'a hot, hearty meal each night ('cause someone's always cooking sumptin') and abundant love and nurturing. But that ain't part of my plan. For better or worse, I keep telling myself and anyone else who asks, I live in New York now. And somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens, in Manhattan or the Bronx or Staten Island, my story continues. Whitfield is one of the nation's leading journalists reporting on AIDS among African-Americans. A frequent Vibe contributor, he is based in New York City.

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