A Sense of Place

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By Katherine Matuszak | Photos by Rick Baraff

Rebecca Bonagura knows how quickly your life can change. Sometimes it’s a matter of handling life as it happens, and other times it means making big changes yourself.

Born in New York, Rebecca grew up between the The Empire State and just over the bridge in New Jersey. She and her twin sister saw their lives change completely after the death of their mother just before their 10th birthday, and spent their middle- and high-school years raised by their father. “It was obviously hard not having my mom around, [my dad]picked his battles wisely,” recalls Rebecca. She speaks fondly of her father, whether talking about their disagreements or his sacrifices. “My dad is incredible, the strongest person I know. He had two crazy nine-year-olds by himself, and…he managed pretty tremendously.”

Luckily for her father, the twins’ maternal and paternal grandmothers acted as surrogate parents, which had a lasting impact on them. When Rebecca speaks of her grandmother on her mom’s side, she refers to her as her best friend. When she speaks of her grandmother on her dad’s side, she is equally praising and adds, “My dad’s mom was tough as nails. They were hugely influential in who I am as a person,” says Rebecca. “I wouldn’t want to mess with either of them.” The two were very different women, but both acted as loving caretakers to the sisters. Becca010

As the sisters grew, they each actively pursued individual identities, and although their bond never weakened, they were competitive in school. They ended up in the same sorority at Duke University but took very different paths. Rebecca describes herself as more conservative. She graduated at the top of her class both in high school and college and graduated with honors from Columbia Law School. She was published and became a successful lawyer, but something was missing. She’d done everything “right” from the time she was young, but the path she’d taken didn’t suit her.

After five years at her firm, Rebecca decided to make a change. She was dreaming of California, of the connection she’d felt during trips to San Francisco. The dilemma was that her whole life was established on the East Coast. It took a conversation with her father to realize what she needed to do. “He said, ‘You’re always trying to be perfect, thinking about the future. You just have to be happy now.’” He reminded Rebecca that her mother had been pretty perfect too; constantly planning for the future, but that she didn’t get a future. He said, “There is no someday. There’s today.”

Soon after that conversation, Rebecca quit her job and moved to San Francisco without much of a plan. Her first interview didn’t pan out, although she’s now friends with her would-have-been boss. She worked with a legal tech startup, and although she learned a lot—the “polar opposite” from her experiences at her New York firm—she’s still searching for that perfect fit.

Regret is not in Rebecca’s vocabulary. She is happy about her decision to move to The City by the Bay. “I’m so much happier now, even just trying to figure out what to do with my life.” So, why San Francisco? “I think you have a connection to certain places. San Francisco is one of those places for me.” While somewhat different than she expected, she says it’s exactly what she needed. San Francisco offers a break from the intensity of New York while remaining an easier transition than moving to the suburbs. Rebecca’s happily exploring her new home and ready to take on whatever life may offer her next.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is you should not just keep doing what you’re doing simply because you’re doing it,” she says.

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