Sunday 17 January 2016

The Return To New York City

Despite the noise, there was a silence in me as the A train finally rattled into view, the surprisingly pure and chilly air pinching my cheeks.

People clamoured around us as we sat, still, suitcases between our knees, plunging into darkness and light, darkness, light as unmemorable stations came and passed in a blur. After changing to the F train and finally rising from our subterranean corridor, it was as though a ringing in my ears echoed through my entire body, even when we surfaced and inadvertently stepped right into an elaborate and incredibly expensive-looking movie shoot, having to awkwardly weave between lighting rigs, camera tracks, and frustrated techies yammering into headsets. My surprise and joy at that only seemed to tickle a shallow part of me.

The deeper part of me just watched, unblinking, daring not even to breathe.

It took until the next morning, after a fitful and jet-lagged half-sleep, to figure out what was wrong.

It's not the same the depth finally whispered, and I grimaced, because I already knew.

We walked the same streets and gazed up at the same buildings, but they were a caricature, an artists interpretation of a memory I'd recalled so much it simply had to be convoluted. The trees were now stark and scratchy, seeming to be more death than life, and the hibernating parks wheezed and sighed in the bitter winds. Between every crack and gap in the sidewalk, tiny little green needles confessed the Christmas that hadn't waited for me, and the sad, temporary trees which had been subsequently dragged to the curb afterward. A gust of howling chill had me pulling my scarf in tighter around my body, and suddenly I became very afraid that I'd made a terrible mistake by coming back.

"It feels like... returning to an old theatre," I say suddenly to Greg as we walk up 42nd Street, glancing over at Bryant Park, where just a few months ago I'd sat in a bikini at midnight, dipping chips into guacamole and laughing along with thousands of others up at Ghostbusters projected onto a giant screen between the trees.

"We were the actors. And I remember the set so perfectly, which scene played over there, how I cried over there, the places where the pivotal parts of the story played out, and..." I continue, the revelation a somewhat comfort, "Now we're just looking at the empty place where the set used to be." He gives a non-committal noise of agreement he so often does when I'm in one of my incurably pensive moods. I can't shake the profundity of that analogy all day. 

Because the city didn't mourn for me, like I had for her, when I left.

She didn't wonder why a part of her had gone missing, she didn't press pause until I came back, or sigh over a thread of a storyline that had tied itself into a pretty little knot as it finished, hoping it would soon pick up again one day. Looking up at the places I'd frequented, still so living and bustling as if nothing had ever happened, I was hit by almighty sledgehammer of reality so blindingly obvious, yet so heartbreaking and powerfully liberating simultaneously. 

There I was stood, straining my ear in the hopes to catch a whisper of the echo of what had been, the faint breeze of the tailwind of truth that said I was here, and what I did here, mattered, but the truth that came clearer to me with each step, was that… I didn't matter 

My New York Story was complete. 

There was nothing monumental about now ordering a coffee from the place I'd gone to every morning when I'd lived here. There was no grand seal of destiny getting dollar pizza again from the place which had been our holy land when we were so broke. I wasn't hit by a wave of tear-jerking nostalgia looking out over the East Village from Chloe's apartment. And there was a reason why the magic had gone.

Because now I was but a mere observer. A weary traveller passing through a memory, as if falling back asleep into the same dream again, except being awake had altered the colour scheme.

But looking up at those thousands of glowing orange windows, all those millions of other people who are compelled to flee to New York City for the same reasons decade after decade, I realised their New York Stories are still happening day after day, year after year. 

But mine was now complete. And that was actually okay. Then slowly, slowly, as I adjusted to this fact, just like the winter city at dawn, my heart began to thaw again.

My morose and sombre mood finally began to fall away and my heart filled with love, as one by one we re-discovered the people we had known before, people who remembered how we'd all mattered together. We laughed, we drank, we danced and ate pizza, we visited the places we'd missed before and climbed the glorious heights we'd forgone to stay grounded. I looked at Chloe and exploded with love and thankfulness that the universe bought us together.

I gradually found myself falling in love with New York City's bitterness and 
seriousness just as I had her warmth and flirtatiousness over summer.

I finally managed to let go of the justice I felt I owed to the past, and allowed myself to just enjoy the present, no strings attached. And it was beautiful.

So perhaps my story doesn't really matter, and maybe I never did. And all of those people behind those little orange windows could be worrying right now if they ever did. If they ever will. But stood on those home streets, watching the ghost of myself playing her part in this grand, extraordinarily complicated and fascinatingly complex game, 

I realised that for my part to truly have mattered... it only has to matter to me.

And my god, did it just.

So maybe I'll have another New York City Story one day, but for now, I feel grateful, humbled and profoundly honoured to have been able to add my voice to her archives, under the watchful gaze of the keeper of chronicles, the mistress of masterpieces, the city of dreams.

And I'm okay with reverting to just a wondering soul, passing through.

Goodnight New York City, until we meet again.