You went to New York City alone? I thought you were going with friends. I don't think I could ever go alone. Good for you.
It sounded like a compliment, maybe even slightly backhanded. People think it's strange at my age to travel alone (granted, it is a privilege).
I have never understood why people find it scary to be alone. What's terrifying about it? You can't rely on others if you can't rely on yourself. You'll always hold yourself back. It's not anyone else's job to make sure everything is going smoothly.
Sometimes others can alleviate some of the pressure, but ultimately it's up to you. I've never been one to seek out others in times of crisis. It's emancipating to be content with oneself. After all, you're the one you spend the most time with. You can never truly be free if you can't be alone with yourself.
Even when I was young, I loved solitude. I've fostered it ever since, even, ironically, with the people I surrounded myself with. A friend of mine once joked about starting an AntiSocial Social Club™. Real original, right? (Calm down, we're not coming for your brand, no need to bring lawyers into this. The last thing I need is a cease and desist order on my doorstep.)
It didn't stop there though. I idolized my Latin teacher who, in turn, idolized Henry David Thoreau.
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. - Henry David Thoreau
There's nothing quite like removing yourself from everyone. It's freeing. Knowing that you can handle yourself on your own. Spend time evaluating your choices. It's easy to get caught up in life. Sometimes you have to take a step back, give yourself some distance.
My understanding of solitude has evolved. Just like everything else, it comes with its own shortcomings. Believe it or not, not every idea that comes to me is a good one (it's been a constant battle throughout my life coming to the realization that I'm not an absolute genius).
It helps to have someone on the outside to keep yourself in check. Nobody is rational one hundred percent of the time. I'd certainly like to think I am, but I can't lie to myself - one of the downsides of being honest.
I didn't go to New York with much of a plan. I told myself I would figure it out. The only thing I knew for sure: I wanted to be alone, far from the concerns that tethered me to DC. However, that didn't keep me from overthinking. Nothing ever does.
My mother ended up giving a lot of suggestions. As the trip date approached, I gladly accepted her advice. I tend to leave things to the last minute. I've never been one to plan. It's not a healthy habit but I don't know any other way. I didn't feel the need to fill every waking minute with something to occupy myself in New York. My own company would be enough.
As I sat on the train, looking out the window at the charcoal sky, doubt brewed in my mind. Am I making a mistake going alone? I didn't know exactly why I decided on New York, of all the places I could have chosen. Proximity? Notoriety? Spontaneity?
I've only been to New York City two times in my life. Two years ago, I toured New York University. Even though my trip lasted only two days, I felt as if I could live there for the rest of my life. The energy of the city captivated me.
Everything back home felt slow. I applied to NYU but got wait-listed. Eventually, I enrolled at George Washington University. Time passed and I forgot about New York for a while.
I knew I'd go back someday but I didn't foresee returning so soon. Though I told my mother I wasn't sure where I wanted to go for spring break, I had already decided. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going back to New York. But saying the words out loud felt like snapping out of a dream.
I've lived most of my life in one place, Southern Oregon. Life was good, but it didn't offer much for me outside of the natural beauty of the landscape. There was a time before I knew what it felt like to truly belong somewhere, when I could have seen myself going back to Oregon.
Now I know that home will always be home, but where you feel centered is something entirely different. An innate feeling like no other. How could I possibly feel this way about a place after spending so little time there? Perhaps I sound naive but I know what I felt.
This time in New York, I didn't feel like a tourist. I went to live there for a week.
Of the things I did end up doing in New York, I regret none.
On the first day, I walked down the steps and did a quick scan of the hotel lobby. Throughout the dimly lit bar, I could hear faint chatter, the clinking of wine glasses, and muted jazz music.
I swung open the lobby doors and stepped outside. It was as if I'd I walked through a portal and entered another dimension. An entirely new array of sounds befell me. The whisk of passing cars, distant honks, and the clangor of jackhammers. I paused and sucked in the brisk air. Though I didn't know my destination, I walked with purpose.
I caught sight of the Washington Square Arch. Crossing the threshold, I stared up at the sun. I was broken out of my trance by the sound of singing. A crowd gathered around an acapella group singing Flo Rida's "Low." (I happen to be a fan of acappella— I quote Pitch Perfect regularly.) A man tracing giant bubbles in the air. University students chatting around the edge of a fountain. People hanging around chess tables, waiting for a brave challenger to step forward.
I hadn't played chess in a long time. Most of my skills had long since atrophied but I've retained the basics. I used to play with my grandfather. It was probably the way I connected with him the most. He'd kick my ass every time. Eventually, I started to win. At first, I thought I was getting better.
Maybe all that practice had finally paid off. It hadn't. My grandfather was soon diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I didn't want to believe it. Each time I had played him, it'd gotten easier and easier, and now I knew the reason why. It hurt to know the truth, to see a brilliant man slowly deteriorate in front of my eyes.
I walked by several times, working up the courage just to sit down at a table, half hoping one of them would just call me over. Thankfully, one of them asked for a game. I jumped at the chance.
I made the mistake of playing speed chess. I've never done well on the clock, been one to make quick decisions when it comes to strategy. When I'm rushed, I get sloppy, reckless. It becomes difficult to see the whole board. Instinct kicks in over reason.
I struggle to shore up my defense or pick out my opponent's weak points. A free-for-all ensues. Each individual piece fending for itself rather than operating in cooperation with one another. Tipping over my king, I shook his hand. As we re-arranged the pieces on the board, he looked back up at me.
Want to play another?
Learn from defeat and move on.
Later, I met up with some old classmates. A miniature reunion of three. Only a handful of us left the West Coast behind to pursue our education. Most chose to stay close to home. I welcomed the feeling of nostalgia. Seeing how much people have changed, how much they haven't.
One thing I learned: I didn't talk to people enough in high school. I saw everyone in one dimension. Through one simple conversation in New York, I know some of my classmates better now than I ever did.
Some, though many miles away, stay tethered to home. Always knowing what their friends are up to. Others like me, are more distant. It's hard to stay in touch with everyone. There's enough going on at college as it is. Going back home doesn't feel the same as it once did. Though my body returns, my mind remains on the other side of the country. Talking about home seems like a memory nearly long gone.
Seeing one of my classmates in particular again felt odd but comforting. Part of me wanted her to see how much I've changed. Maybe she would remember all the little things I used to do. Waving to her every day, as she left the school parking lot in her yellow Volkswagen beetle, a smile stretched across my face.
I used to go to the local theater productions to watch one of my friends, but she would be on stage as well. Seeing my friend gave me the excuse to hear her sing without looking conspicuous. The next day at school, I'd congratulate her as I walked by.
I couldn't help but wonder what might've been. Maybe if I was less awkward then. Less nerdy too. Apparently, not everyone wanted to talk about the complexities of the Hussite Wars or the most underappreciated and greatest general that ever lived, the one and only, Jan Žižka. I implore you to google him, he's a Grade A Badass. Just to give you a sense, he actually wore an eyepatch, a fucking eyepatch.
Skipping the school dances to play Super Smash Bros or Dungeons & Dragons probably didn't help. Though the actual feelings are gone, I haven't forgotten why I was drawn to her. Her shy intelligence, her passion, her deft humor, and her enduring optimism. Despite my own aversion to it, I've noticed I'm often attracted to optimism in others. Perhaps I'm searching for something I need that I can never provide for myself.
Seeing her, made me recall a conversation I once had with my Latin teacher one day about love. I don't remember how it came up, but I decided to voice my concerns.
I haven't felt that way about anyone yet. I don't know what it means to love that way. I don't know if I ever will.
He looked out over the parking lot, pausing before he gave his reply.
You will, that I have no doubt. It's not something you expect. There's no feeling quite like it. You know, the Greeks called it theia mania, a madness given by the gods. It takes over your mind, stifling any capacity for reason. You've got your whole life ahead of you, just give it time. There's no need to rush.
When I left for college, I took his words to heart. I didn't rush. But the gods had other plans.
Several days later, I went to the Museum of Modern Art. Before I begin, I'd like to state that I appreciate good art. I really do. But contemporary art often baffles me. What do people see when a jumble of shapes are haphazardly thrown together? Are we applying meaning to objects which really have none? Can't we just appreciate objects for what they are?
During my visit, I read a guide on how to visit art museums. Clearly, I needed the help. I took the time to inspect the sculptures and paintings, to look past the surface level. What were they trying to say? What was the artist thinking? (Someone, please, tell me.) I had some success at first, but when I came across the canvas painted pure white, I lost my resolve.
Despite my complaints, I did take something away from the visit. Perhaps I should turn my own criticism inward. My writing can always improve. I like to think I'm thought-provoking but maybe all anyone sees is a muddled mess of words thrown together. Can I look at my own writing with a straight face?
I didn't have to wait long for another opportunity to reflect inward.
I went to Broadway and saw Dear Evan Hansen. The timing couldn't have been better. I'm ready to move on from the past. Though pain I felt during high school is gone, it's not forgotten. One line struck me: I can promise you, someday all of this...this will all feel like a very long time ago.
I wish I believed that then. Sometimes you do have to live for the future. The present can drown you. Engulf you. Back then, like Evan, I replied, I don't know. I didn't believe I could ever move on. Nothing else seemed to matter but what I was feeling right then and there.
Where I am now feels like a stepping stone. It's similar to the way I felt back home but I've grown since then. I can look forward to the future but still appreciate the present. Take a moment to enjoy life. Learn as much as I can now. Don't waste time waiting for the future. Let it come to me. I thought I had my life figured out but I really don't. It's an ongoing process. I'll always be learning about myself. A part will always remain unexplored.
On the last day, I went to Central Park. It mesmerized me. It's one of the rare places on Earth where I've felt in tune with myself. I walked around for hours, attempting to scour each and every corner. My mind wandered to the future, envisioning myself amongst the foliage. Keeping mental tabs of good places to read. Places to share a moment with someone.
I stopped before the statue of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet. I followed his perpetual gaze to the elm branches extending above the path and continued walking while glancing at the vendors on either side, selling beautiful portraits and photographs.
Reaching the end of the Mall, I came upon the site where the death of Ms. Perkins took place in the film John Wick, one of my favorite films. I proceeded cautiously, half expecting Ian McShane to appear and say, Your membership to the Continental has been by thine own hand, revoked, followed by a group of assassins slipping out from behind some pillars to gun me down. Sometimes I let my mind run away from me.
Needless to say, I survived and approached a bridge spanning the lake. I paused before stepping onto the bridge, giving a couple some time to take a picture of themselves as they embraced. A saxophonist serenaded them as they leaned in to kiss. I turned toward the lake, gazing at the rowboats floating atop the lustering surface.
As I neared the beginning of the forested area, away from the crowds, I looked back at the sun shining in between the skyscrapers and entered the woods. A group of house sparrows and tufted titmice gathered amongst a sapling Himalayan pine. I removed my headphones, mad at myself for not doing so earlier, and began to listen as I walked.
The scrape of asphalt, the soft crunch of mulch beneath my feet. Pausing by the edge of a creek, I stood completely still and watched mosquitoes hover over the bits of algae swirling about. I listened to the steady trickle of water, the rustling of leaves as a squirrel darted by.
In the distance, I heard the screech of jays and the soothing call of a mourning dove. A woodpecker hammering against an oak. I reminisced on my days as an amateur ornithologist. Flipping through my guidebooks, marking off species as I came into contact with them. As the wail of an ambulance pierced through the stillness, I kicked a pebble into the creek and listened intently for the soft plop.
Turning my attention away from the creek, I set my eyes on a rocky bluff. I hopped across the water and scaled the lichen-coated boulders. Holding onto the knoll of the tree, with the sun beating against my back, I looked down at a small waterfall.
My eyes followed the water down the jagged slope until they came upon a kid tossing stones. I smiled as a concerned mother beckoned him toward a group of children. He reluctantly climbed back down the rocks to rejoin his compatriots.
As the light began to wane, I heard D.C. beckon. It was time to go back, to wake up from my dream.
The day I had to leave, I didn't feel sad. I didn't have any reason to be. On the Lyft ride to the train station, I took time to take in NYC one last time. As I looked out the train window at the city I was leaving behind, leaning my head against the window, I smiled, knowing I'd return.