Streets away from Sarah Lawrence College, a Tudor-style apartment stands with short stature. Its foundation is Bronxville, a title that sounds as though it belongs in Grimm’s Fairy Tales with lopsided houses and peculiar people. On the third floor, Toni, an elderly widow, draws the speckled, dull orange tip of her tobacco tube towards her face, only to moments later drain wafts of recycled air from her crinkled lips. 2013 will not be her year of abstinence. On the other side of her living room divider, Molly Brewer, a 20-year-old college dropout, sits with unfastened windows in fumes of Febreze. The room is fashioned for Toni’s Italian nationality, with planks of wood that lie perpendicular to the stained, beige walls. It is furnished with a lamp, two formal chairs, a dining room table, a tv, and a pull-out sofa, under temporary ownership of Brewer. For $400 a month, Brewer rents this semi-cushioned piece, and as Toni tucks herself into her bedroom, Brewer unfolds the bed and positions herself over the crossbar, like a cat furled in its suitable spot. During her stay, the small patch of grass outside her window buds and then crisps, and her belongings remain stored in luggage and then plastic containers.
Seated in the pew of Liberty Church, 18-year-old Brewer felt compelled by God. It was April 1, but her decision was no joke. That spring, 2011, Brewer decided she wanted to pursue ministry. She began to confide in friends from her hometown Brevard, North Carolina, and relatives in Seattle.
“She did it before she let us know. I mean, it was a done deal. She had already talked with her advisor…I was devastated. I started to cry,” Brewer’s mom says with her southern accent clinging to every vowel.
Originally attending The King’s College as a Politics, Philosophy, and Economics major, Brewer aspired to be a young-adult fiction editor. She wanted to have an eye for unique authors in the same way that Julie Strauss-Gabel discovered John Green. North Carolina molded these dreams. New York disfigured them. By the end of her freshman year, Brewer attended Interregnum, the college’s last event of the year and her last event in college.
“This was the first year we won in like ten years. So this was 2011, when Barton won like everything. I think we actually also won interregnum,” Brewer says. “So leaving Kings, winning it all, the championship, for the first time for Barton, all of us sort of participating was just—it was sort of a magic moment, and I was like, ‘This was supposed to be just a year.’”
Looking intently at her subway app, Brewer navigates her family, two new roommates, and their families through the city. This Saturday is warm and the night is brisk, as September approaches. Only being in the city for 24 hours, Brewer informs her newfound friends they are getting Thai food tonight, and everyone bounds behind like herded cattle. The following day, she and her family visit Liberty Church, as they announce to the modest crowd their new location in Union Square.
“So, my parents finished moving me into my apartment on 36th. I stood on my balcony. I watched them leave the apartment, get in their car, and drive away. I finished crying, and then that night, I went to a planning meeting to plant a church,” Molly says with a sense of pride and amusement in her tone.
Seven years later, Brewer still attends the church. She is no longer one of eight people. She is one of 100.
Brewer’s friend Erin Wert describes her—“She’s much more charismatic than me. I’m like Presbyterian frozen-chosen, and she’s much more charismatic. I love like that contrast in how she challenges and pushes me in my faith.”
For the last five years Brewer has worked at Apple, after deciding against ministry. She prefers having “funny hours” or different, quirky jobs, if it means she can be free of corporate responsibility.
She says, “I think we live in a culture where that is so heavily emphasized like, ‘What do you do?’ as an ultimate question, and I can answer that, and I understand why that is a question to be asked. But also, that’s not necessarily my motivator.”
Brewer’s job title, creative, involves teaching sessions about Apple’s new software, yet after five years, Apple has become her core.
“I remember a year ago or something, someone brought in the paper, and a bunch of us were all filling out the crossword puzzle,” Brewer says. “So we would do a word, and then somebody would go back out to the floor, and then like twenty minutes later, two other people had filled in different words. And it was one those things where my mom came up to visit, and she was like, ‘You found your people, the people you can fill out crossword puzzles with at work.’”
After relocating 13 times, Brewer has decided to move to Seattle. The decision has been in the back of her mind for years, but she “didn’t want to be running.” She “wanted to be going someplace.”
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Seven years ago this weekend, my family unloaded our minivan full of laundry baskets and towels and boxes of silverware into an apartment in midtown, Manhattan. I took this photo that weekend, riding around the city on a boat and trying to take in every moment. I’d grown up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, a beautiful and amazing place that I love with everything in me, but a place that wasn’t really home. I was a little too bookish, a little to techy, a little too coffee shop-ish, and my dreams of working for a major publishing house were not going to be realized from the side of a mountain. (They weren’t going to be realized in New York, either, but that’s another story.) I moved in, determined to make this city my own- I was not going to add my name to the list of people who tried to make New York happen, and left defeated. Doors opened right and left, and I met friends who would become some of my dearest. I got connected to a church that became family, and the years ticked by. Some good, some bad, but humbling and thrilling and wonderful. What’s ironic is that I’d come to know myself as a city person when I’d lived in Seattle for a summer in 2009. It was everything I’d hoped for, and I fell in love, before New York was ever in the picture. I’ve told people for years that I came to New York for college and just never left- it’s not exactly a place you would call a college town, and yet here we are- seven years- I made it- in one of the craziest cities in the world. I could keep going, plugging away at this beautiful, struggle-ful, wonderful chaos forever, or… I could… not. This October I’m moving to Seattle. I’m excited and nervous and thrilled, both to experience something different, but also because I’m leaving on the best of terms. I’m choosing when to leave and how to leave and it’s been a choice of joy, not desperation. Seven years ago was a lifetime, and I have no idea where the next seven years will take me, but I’m really excited to find out.
Brewer sits on a damp, oak bench in the coffee shop’s outdoor patio. The air is thick and her hair is tousled. Small, brunette threads stretch away from her head, refusing to lay in their proper place.
“There is a book I read that was talking about a writer’s different experience with different cities, and she described New York as a city that was—the word for the city was achieve…when I realized the word for New York was achieve and that that wasn’t the season I was in my life and that I didn’t want to be achieving, I just wanted to be living, I thought, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore,’” Brewer says.
“What do you think Seattle’s word will be?”
“Im not sure yet…I’m hoping it’s going to be something more like create.”