We careen over the Brooklyn bridge, across the glistening body of water. I take sight of the city. Towering high with its skyscraper buildings and brick, ivory covered houses. It is bold, beautiful, fearsome.
Airport to train to subway to bus to walking the streets, we navigate from the New Jersey airport into the bustling New York city. We carry the contents of four months in our arms. Me, with my 80lb red suitcase, frayed backpack held together by a single makeshift knot, orange purse with stains and a broken zipper, and my beta-fish conspicuously hidden in an opaque plastic bag. My cousin, with her grey suitcase and six other bags attached to every available limb, a mess of purse, backpack and handbag toting along.
My red suitcase is so heavy I am physically incapable of carrying it up the concrete stairs. I try. Grasp the handle, employ both arms, and muster up all my muscle strength. My struggle is obvious. A sore sight: a frazzled young girl with her giant red suitcase unable to lift it out of the musty subway station. Each time, without fail, a man rushes to my side and offers to carry it up the stairs for me. They go to lift it, and groan, not expecting it to be quite so heavy, 80lbs and all. I quickly spurt out an abundance of apologizes and thankyous. I never see these men again. But to me they are the assurance that human kind can be good and kind indeed.
From the subway station we weave in and out of crowds. I have never seen so many people fill the streets on an ordinary day. They brush shoulders, step on toes, stampede from one location to another- with aggression, urgency and purpose. Immediately I understand why people come to New York for its energy. It pulsates all around. I imagine the lives these people must live- glamorous, strange, and foreign to a young girl who grew up in the city-country.
I am sleepy and tired, aching, but I breathe in the chilly air and feel New York fill my lungs. I am determined to navigate these streets and mull my way through these city crowds; I try to match their aggression. I yank my obnoxiously large suitcase in and out of people, crumpling the toes of too many innocent bystanders along the way. Before I have the change to say sorry, they are gone, glaring sharply as they slip back into the sea of people. My fish swishes around in its make-shift tank, held within a plastic grocery bag that flipflips around in the wind. Thrashing against elbows of strangers and subway doors. I fear that New York will kill my fish. be strong fish. we’re going to make it.
My cousin is kind and trusting and loquacious today. I am quiet and anxious and silent today.
I try to respond to her words with the appropriate nods and laughter and yes’s. Willing my eyes to convey what I do not feel: Joy and excitement that we are here, exploring this big city together.
Sadness of leaving one place to return to another.
The blur of inbetweeness.
Here I am, in this big, magical city,
but I am not really here.
I am somewhere else. Lost in my head. In the alternate space- that is intangible and immaterial- but as real as the itchy wool scarf wrapped around my neck. The space of memories and thoughts and questions. where I review the film roll of my life. where I lament old desires. where emotions collide with logic.
This is where I think too much.
And I am thinking about how this subway could derail and send me off of to my death. How this terrifies me, stills me into an internal panic, because I am not ready. Faith is still hazy and messy; I am still confused and stubborn. Please, not today. And I am thinking about a conversation back in November that I want to erase, forget, and pretend never happened. A month latter I still agonize over the words that had tumbled out and permanently altered a relationship. Never will I be able to take back those words. And I am thinking about friends who have scored internships, travelled the world, attended big conferences, started clubs, published writings in magazines…and I am jealous of their extra-ordinaryness. I feel inferior. What have I done with my little life?
And I am thinking about how I must learn to be kind to self. For these have been the weeks of hating me. Only wishing that somehow, someway, I may be strong. I scribble in my journal that: strength is trusting that you are wantable. strength is saying goodbye to people that hurt you. strength is saying hello to person beside you on the airplane. strength is keeping in touch with orphanage kids that you spent four months loving and promised you would not be another person to waltz out of their lives. strength is not giving you emotions to paper-thin hopes. strength is fixing communication lines that have been broken for too long. strength is submitting homework assignments on time. strength is integrity when no one is watching. strength is facing your problems rather than running away from them. strength is calling your friend at 2am admitting I need you. strength is talking to Jesus. Strength is everything I want to be but am not.
And I am thinking maybe one day I will be the person on the street a tourist will ask for directions. Maybe I’ll have a tiny apartment in Brooklyn and hop on the subway every morning to get to my office cubicle. Maybe I’ll write for the Wall Street journal. Maybe I’ll be published. Maybe I’ll go dancing on Fridays and spend Saturdays in my favourite café. Maybe I’ll be wise, able to quote Hemmingway and Dickens and debate politics with the best of them. Maybe I’ll learn self-kindness and find a loving home for my sensitivity. Maybe my hair will be long, finally stretching past my shoulders the way I have always wanted it to. Maybe I’ll find a man to build a future with, and match me bit for bit in this wondrous city.
And I am thinking about going home in a few days. Hugging my baby sister. Laughter and shouting in card games with my too-competitive family. Porch-swing conversations with my best friend. Mornings runs in the rain along that old dirt road. Forehead kisses from my grandpa. Home is people I love dearly. Home is also solitude, the space to exist without dozens of other college students bellowing through the dorm hallways or library corners. New York too is noisy and people filled. Home is quiet. I crave quiet.
For one of the first times in my life, I want nothing more than to be home.
This semester ends tired.aching.sad. I am worried that my mother and grandparents are hurting, grieving a women they loved dearly while the holiday seasons swirls around them.
I found solitude on a walk across the Brooklyn bridge. I left the room early, with only my red-checkered jacket and phone stuffed in its pocket.
From the bridge, the city looked magnificent. The buildings stretched across, many and tall, brick and stone and glass. They expanded around the waters edge, spilling above the ocean surface. Cars zooming, people moving, workers repairing the bridge rails, life was all around me. I snapped dozens of pictures of the scene. I wanted to remember this morning, this place.
A few feet over a young girl stood against the bridge rail, looking out onto the glistening city picture. I asked her to take my photo and she nodded meekly. Scrapping tears and mascara, with eyes squinting, focus and intention, she clicked the picture. She handed it back, claimed her brown leather notebook back into her chest. I saw a tear escape. Thankyou I said. And she was gone. I looked back and she was already halfway across the bridge, her hands stowed into her black jacket and a story I know nothing about. Mesmerizing. On Brooklyn bridge, in the heart of New York , a young girl faced her own story of hard.
Don’t we all have our stories of hard?
At the semester’s end we meet for coffee and he asks me about the last couple of months. Choosing to be a truth teller, I admit they have been hard. He asks, “why hard?” Silence lingers over our coffee cups. Not the uncomfortable kind, but the sort of silence used for careful thinking and gathering words. But after a few passing minutes, I still have no words.
Sometimes life is a sort of hard that is not clear, not easily defined. The days ache, seep loneliness and soak in sadness. Getting out of bed each morning is difficult, for almost no reason at all.
When I slap words to it all, it comes out sounding melodramatic and almost, silly. People observe and they think: what do they know of pain or heartache or suffering? they should just get over it. I too, I have made such judgements. The thing is, we only know our own story. We may only draw from our own experiences, the way our story has led us to feel and know hurt.
There is no other person who has your same combination of mind+heart+experience+family+thoughts.
There is no other person who may understand the gravity to which you feel despair or heartache or alone, all the sadness and confusion etched into your soul.
This hard is yours alone.
Depression, if I may label that, is funny in that way. It takes a seemingly beautiful, unflawed life and squeezes the joy out of it. Until all that is left is the ugly. And the aching. And the wondering how you travelled 10,000 miles from the person you once were.
I wonder how I would feel if a stranger entered my story of hard on a bridge in the middle of the city.
Then again, we enter other peoples stories of hard every.single.day.
“Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”