Friday 17 July 2015

Big City Blues

A slanted, cylindrical beam of golden light streams in through the porthole window of my cabin, an infinity of gravity-defying dust motes dancing and swirling within it. 

I lay on my back, body facing the empty bunk above, and slowly raise an arm, fingertips gently grazing the untouchable gold.

The only sounds which punctuate the silence are the periodical creaks of ancient wood and the soft rattle of the fan upon the writing desk. I roll over on the bed to face the porthole, and watch as the reflections of the water streak silver across the ceiling.

 I sigh deeply.

It's only me now. 

And the silence grows steadily louder with each passing minute.

I know that if I don't get up now, the day will have passed and I won't have stepped outside once. I'd worked deep in the decks all day, laboriously polishing seemingly endless swathes of brass bed knobs. Really. With a punishing reluctance I clamber to my feet and dress, and, as I have found myself unable to cope without these days, I pop in my headphones and leave the boat. 

Today I don't chose 'Everyone Sucks But Me' or 'Gravel Fingernails'. Today's choice is a playlist I haven't touched in months, perhaps over a year. My thumb gently taps 'Silence of the City.'

I walk with a pace that professes no purpose, an idle at best, and gaze at the shadows of the stones as my steps crunch across them. A small movement catches my attention and I look up to see two swallows chasing one another in a perfectly-choreographed dance against the sunlit backdrop of the boat. It's the first time I've ever seen swallows in real life. I give a small smile.

I walk down the familiar streets of Red Hook, gaze over at the familiar skyscrapers of Manhattan, and I suddenly realise something quite painful. I realise that my sense of home has slowly detached from what I know to be familiar.

I know the city more than ever, but it continues to feel less and less to me like the home I'd been so convinced it was becoming. Because, as I then realised, my sense of home here leaves when the people I care about do. 

I'm not sure I've ever been more shocked at myself, than upon the discovery of just how scared I'd become.

Because just as equal to the days where I feel lost, are the days of pure magic. 

The days of laughter and music, when we watched Clueless at the open air cinema,  arm in arm drinking sangria and remembering England, the glittering evenings on various rooftops with friends and strangers alike, that night when we slow-danced to soft jazz by candlelight and watched Goodfellas whilst drinking vermouth, the days of glorious sunshine and in-jokes between crew members, when those NYPD cops were bored and pulled us over just to have a conversation and let us get in their patrol car and switch the sirens on, the night Chloe moved into her new apartment, and she had no furniture so we sat out on her fire escape drinking Red Stripe and sellotaped the first bottle cap to the wall in celebration... all of these nights and so many alike have been simply divine, and I've found myself falling in love with this life, so enraptured with profound gratitude at the amazing life I've been lucky to have here. 

But then the very next day she chews you up an spits you out onto her cold hard streets, and that tantalising prospect of what your life could be here is cruelly torn away by heart-aching loneliness and a realisation that this is all, actually temporary. 

And it's only become apparent to me now that the others, my friends and roommates, have left the boat and flown the nest, and I'm the only one left on board. 

Because all of these moments I've had are just a sequence upon a thread for the friends I have made here, me being just another passing stranger to share a joke with. Yet to I, these moments and these people are inevitably my everything, what my sole happiness and plans revolve around, as I just don't have anyone or anything else.

It reminds me of Perks of Being A Wallflower, where Charlie says something like 'Can't we all just go back to being good friends again?' and Mary-Elizabeth snaps 'Do you mean the people that I've known since kindergarten and you've known for six months? Those good friends?'

That's what New York City does. She can be so kind, so generous, and lures you into feeling like you've actually found a home, and then one day you wake up and realise she's torn the rug from beneath your feet in your sleep, and now you're in a cold, concrete world of other people's lives and other people's stories.

And I guess the only person who managed to reassure me in these unspoken sentiments, the only person who truly understood what it means to be alone and frustrated and angry both, was the person who ended up breaking my damned heart before continuing on with the way life had always been for them. 

This incompleteness of self is something so alien to me, I think its safe to say it has left me well and truly fucked up.

Back in the UK, back in shitty Hatfield, Uni, my hometown and even in London, my sphere of perspective was so much smaller to me that I felt completely in control. I felt effortlessly confident, assured in the belief that I could find a way to make anything work. I'd happily spend time alone - request it in fact - and have no fear when taking risks and chance opportunities. It was all a playground to me.

Kind of like in 'Matilda', when she's so under-stimulated by the requirements of her school year that her yearning mind actually develops superpowers. But then they cease when she gets moved to a more challenging academic environment. (Which is a coincidentally apt reference, because in one of my ploys to rediscover my independence I have booked myself to go and see a talk by writer Mara Wilson this weekend- who played Matilda in the movie as a child.)

But now this place is so wild and broad and open, whereas before my mind struggled to contain everything that was exploding from it, now I just hear my solitary signal echoing from the avenues and skyscrapers like a post-apocalyptic survivor desperately searching for a siren call among the silence.

Only alone, do I realise I'm completely out of my depth.

I find myself now at Fairway, the sprawling grocery market inside the row of ancient warehouses which line the shores of the East River. The sky has melted a delightful shade of orange as the silent stoic sun quivers and hums just above the horizon.

The Statue of Liberty is silhouetted to near perfection, and the city can be seen just peeking around the corner of the Brooklyn warehouses. 

A video posted by Katie 🔮 (@scarpheliablog) on

I look up into the pale amber expanse to where the sky fades at first to yellow and then cerulean, and watch the tiny airplanes and helicopters glinting in the last light of the day.

I find myself wondering; why is it that we come here?

What is it about New York City that convinces the young, the frustrated, the ambitious and the creative alike, that we'll arrive here and find where we belong? Is it movies and books that tell us this city holds the answer for everything we are looking for, even if what we seek is inside of us?

I reflect back upon my time here and realise I have found what I'd been looking for - inspiration, adventure, excitement. But had I lost something in that process too? Had I lost sense of who I am, the support from the people that I love and the iron will to brave any circumstance that lends itself toward opportunity?

Did coming to New York City serve only to tell me that I didn't need to come to New York City to find the sanctuary I sought, because it actually lies in the people, not the place?

The opening chords of Breathe - Matt Corby float into my eardrums, the sound like a cool pale liquid soothing my burnt out brain, and I close my eyes, inhaling deeply. 

When I look out across the water again, I find myself captivated by the beauty of the way the dying golden light crests the tops of the oscillating turquoise currents, and with a sigh, I realise being here is an uncomfortable blessing and a beautiful burden to carry all at once.

As the glowing sun finally disappears beneath the horizon line, I turn back to down the pier and realise that perhaps Perks of Being a Wallflower is actually more accurate than I'd first thought.

 “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”