It started out like any other plastic coily hair elastic, just keeping my hair out of my eyes, or occasionally living on my wrist. But then it became a symbol of survival.
My red plastic coily was part of a giftbag I took home from my second ever #NYFW. Unlike a few of the other items in the goodie bag, it was immediately useful and practical. I had just moved to my dream city, New York, after years of struggles with anxiety, panic, depression, and the lingering physical aftermath of a serious concussion. Arriving in the city was a Big Deal in every way. I was thrown into a new job, a new home, and around millions of new people. I rented a room in the Bronx for a few weeks, working almost every day at a catering company. The little red coily became part of my uniform, helping me keep my hair in the tight bun style that my bosses required for catering gigs. Everything seemed a bit overwhelming, but extremely exciting too. And then it all spiraled out.
In the course of three days, I discovered the place I was staying had bed bugs, threw away most of what I'd brought with me (which wasn't much!), including a few items of extreme sentimental value, and most everything I'd gotten in my NYFW goodie bags. I threw everything that could be washed on high heat into a garbage bag and fled the Bronx, heading to Bushwick to stay in a place I'd found on Hotels.com for a few days. The red coily stayed on my wrist, a salvaged part of the good parts of living in this crazy city. My first night in Bushwick, my phone and laptop were stolen out from under my bed as I slept.
It was the typical NYC story. Girl from the suburbs moves to NYC with nothing but a couple bags, $400 and big dreams. Girl gets robbed and becomes almost homeless.Girl couch hops for weeks while living off ramen, bananas, and the free coffee at Trader Joes. Girl calls home crying to her mom on her $30 pay as you go phone she had to buy to replace her stolen phone. Girl cries a lot in general, but tries to be plucky at Macy's, where she's taken a job at a cosmetics counter. Girl somehow moves to Brownsville and almost gets shot.
I lasted until early January in the city. My sinuses were destroyed from getting sick three times in a row between December and early January. Seeing gun violence in person was enough to shake me out of thinking I could continue to live in Brownsville. My financial situation wasn't great. In a swift move, I decided to flee back to New Hampshire "just for a little while," to get healthy again and catch my breath. I brought that red coily with me, holding my hair back on the over night car ride from NYC to New Hampshire with my brother.
"A little while" stretched into months. Months stretched into seasons. I fell into the worst depression I've ever had, getting so low that I dragged myself to the doctor thinking I was suffering a serious physical ailment. I felt so exhausted all the time that I could barely function. This wasn't the light fatigue I had envisioned depressed people experiencing... this was such strong exhaustion that I felt as if someone was feeding me Benadryl in the water. It was a dark time. The red coily became a comfort blanket of sorts, because it reminded me I had lived in New York City, and had survived so much.
(The coily in happier times)
In summer, I took a job at the Starbucks in Concord, NH. The job, and the wonderful people I worked with, helped bring me out of the depression cocoon I had sunk into. Despite my fears that I might never be able to master the countless drinks that Starbucks offers, I soon realized I was actually.... good at the job! I loved my team, and I was earning decent money that I could save for going back to NYC. Every day that I worked, that red coily was on my wrist or in my hair, a visual and physical reminder of my goal: Get back to NYC.
We lost one of our customers while I worked there. He was a kind man who used to live in NYC, who loved it desperately and loved to reminisce about it. He once held my hand and said I had to go back to NYC, for both of us. When he passed away, I knew I had to work even harder to get back there for him.
In January of the following year, I was in Boston for a scifi convention when a friend connected me with another friend who knew someone with a room for rent in the city. Everything happened very quickly... from the time that I heard about the room until the time that I moved into it was a couple short weeks. And even though things went much smoother for this move, that red coily was still always firmly attached to some part of me. I wore it even with nice outfits, because I had become superstitious about leaving the house without it. A few times I thought I had lost it and almost panicked. Every time I found it, I thought, you can't lose it! It's your good luck charm!
A few days ago, as I took the coily out of my hair at work, it snapped. I felt like Samson when he lost his hair. My power was gone, leaking right out, all of my bravery and sense of adventure following after. The feelings of superstition were too strong to ignore, especially when I ended up running into an almost comically weird disaster that night. What would this mean? Had I really just lost what made me cool enough to move to NYC not once but twice? Was I really about to dissolve back into the girl I was years ago, when I was still too afraid to move, to start a new job, to even leave the house?
An NYC friend, upon hearing about my lucky charm breaking, had a different perspective. She said maybe I don't need that coily anymore. Maybe its job is finally done, after having gotten me through some tough times. Maybe those particular challenges had played all the way out, been resolved, and I didn't need to carry them around with me anymore. My best friend, a few hours later, agreed with that.
So I'm going to give it a few days, let things reset, and then go in search of my new coily companion. Maybe it'll be gold this time, shiny and optimistic for whatever comes next. And until then? I'll be like Dumbo, and learn how to fly without my magic feather, cheered on by friends and family who believe in me.