Lately, and often, I’ve been asked by many about my trip back to New York.
I hadn’t actually told many about going there in the first place. Perhaps out of the fear that I’d have to entertain questions about my trip, constantly, upon my return.
Should’ve anticipated this though…considering if there’s one thing that I talk about regularly, besides my incessant ruminations on career and vocation, it is New York City. More specifically, my time there, and how difficult it was to be there at all.
This is the story that I’ve painted, anyway, about this place. True for many, yes, but still rooted mostly in my own personal experience. My experience of the city will always be my own. It is both a blessing and burden I simply cannot share fully, even with those who want to help shoulder it so.
I thought about this, while I was there. The idea that my season in New York City will forever be, only my own, shared perhaps only in spurts, only for moments, when the concentric circles of our separate lives timely overlap. But as I would soon discover, those spaces are shared few and far in between.
I was around friends, constantly, during my time back. If not friends, then at least Shuli. And by being with her, there was no chance of getting lost in my own journey back, and by this, I refer to that very solitary, internal journey that I embark upon most easily when I’m left to myself.
See, I had insisted that this be a trip she and I shared, together. I wouldn’t do it without her by my side. Especially if being back would simply feel, “too much”. I braced myself for having these intense, unexplainable feelings overcome me – a strange concoction of grief, anxiety, and nostalgia – at any given moment. I didn’t want to have at it alone, and I’m still so glad she came with me.
But I was too be, disappointed, twice. Or surprised, another way to put it.
I couldn’t quite share it, with anybody. The city, the experience, the sensory overload. There was something so solitary about the intake of it all that I couldn’t quite grasp. My friends were all around me. Shuli had been by my side, the entire time. And yet, the romance and pain of returning to this old flame of mine, this wild and crazy city, would be my own internal affair to remember. It is still hard to explain.
She held my hand all throughout our long escapades, our city-wide excursions and late night train rides back to my friend’s Brooklyn studio. And her small, soft hands in mine gave comfort and assurance, and no less. Still, the adventure my soul was on, was its own to go through without much company.
Thing is, even that journey, was a surprise, when it was all said and done.
Shuli and I made it to our plane just on time, a few minutes to spare before boarding. We settled in and prepared to rest up for a long flight back home to Oakland. I busied myself enough with the playoff game on the radio, only to hear the Heat lose in another tight, classic. But as soon as this was over and my earphones were off and tangled again upon my lap, I started really wondering…
“How come I didn’t feel anything?”
I was searching for that moment, waiting the entire time I was back in the city, roaming about the streets of Manhattan on a mission to nowhere in particular, but with the kind of urgency that always dictated my pace whenever I was going from one place to the next. We went through all the old stomping grounds, the tourist annoyance that is Chinatown, the local landmark that is the Brooklyn Bridge, the quick yet calm respite that came with strolling through the city’s parks, the linguistic melting pot that is the 7 line to Queens. We even set foot on Times Square…
This was my choice. I knew I needed to face it again. I hated that place and I stand by that still. My parents might never quite understand how much I detested it. But it reminded me constantly of how meaningless I felt my work was, having to cater to all those tourists I never really wanted to see and yet whose business my work desperately demanded. (This was, and is, the reality of any retail establishment in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, is it not?)
But I knew I needed to go back. I wouldn’t set foot in the old bookstore again. I didn’t bother heading towards the photography museum. But Times Square, I just knew I couldn’t miss. It wouldn’t be breathtaking. I was well past the awe, by now. It was anything but, by the time I had left, almost two years ago. It was people and smoke and people and neon lights and people, and it reeked of sewage.
Thing is, this time around, it wouldn’t be, anything. It wasn’t anything to me. It was void of all overwhelming feeling. It was nothing. I stood there, staring at the same sight I had grown to be so indifferently accustomed to, thinking that this time around, it might be anything but indifferent. That maybe this time, I’d feel something else. Sadness perhaps. Regret, even. Surely nostalgia would abound and memories would flash so rapidly in my mind I wouldn’t be able to think.
And yet I thought of nothing, and indifferent was, well, exactly, and all, that it was.
Shuli asked me how I felt and I went on to describe that I worked nearby, I mumbled a few more insignificant things, I shrugged my shoulders, and stated the obvious – that this was, well, Times Square. I took her hand, and off we went, back on the 7, back to fonder things in Queens.
It was too fast and too short, a blur for me to remember as much as I wanted, or feel as much as I had hoped. It simply was, what it was. A few days back to see some old friends, and visit an old love – New York City – but with my current love, with me.
And yet, in spite of everything I expected it to be, and wasn’t, I didn’t leave feeling any less thankful. Only grateful, to have been there at all, and back again, knowing that for a time, it was once both bad, and good.