Manhattan & Me
“How long are you here for?”
“Just for a week.”
I kept having to repeat this to strangers on the streets of New York City during the hot humid month of August.
New York is beautiful. I can understand its appeal and why it was deemed the greatest city in the world. You are overstimulated in such a way that makes you feel as though you have to take it all in before it vanishes, but it never does, and you get to feel the same euphoric high every day. You are there, looking up at the sky where the tall skyscraper buildings surround you and make you feel so tiny, that you forget everything you ever knew about anything and become immersed in the present. I am in New York. I am twenty-three and in New York. I am so happy right now.
There is something truly special about going on a trip by yourself, away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known and being surrounded by strangers. You yourself, are a stranger in a city that does not know who you are, and oddly enough you notice that the city begins to shape you into place. You are no longer where you came from, you have to acclimate to where you are now.
Who am I? Besides being twenty-three and in New York, who am I?
My seven day stint in the East Coast was interesting, to say the least. The weather was entirely too hot for me to be out, yet I forced myself to walk around New York during the summer where you begin to melt as soon as you step outside under the combination of a shining sun and its humidity. I barely did any of the touristy things because I don’t like to do them. When I visit a new place I’d rather go about my days as though I live there; it makes things more enjoyable for me and gives me a sense of belonging. During the trip I went to the MoMA and almost cried when I saw Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, alongside Piet Mondrian’s artworks and one of Mark Rothko’s color field paintings.
Nobody understands that I learned about these people. I wrote my final papers about Rothko and Mondrian. If I cried would I look pathetic?
In the fifth floor of the MoMA, I came across Pablo Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror, and felt so exposed. I stood there looking at the painting for what seemed like an eternity; with my eyes I traced the thick lines and shapes that formed the silhouette of a figure who somberly looks at her reflection. She is reaching out and trying to embrace herself the way I so desperately desire to do so as well. Near the end of my visit a gallery attendant looked at me and said my name, and I looked up from viewing the abstract artwork to look his way and give him a smile. Why do strangers feel so comfortable addressing me? The nameplate necklace my mother gifted me has made it easier for people to identify me, but I wish that somehow I could look at it and be reminded of my identity.
I tried taking myself out to fancy dinners each night and gave myself the pleasure of ordering whatever I wanted, which included glasses of wine the waiters would recommend me. I am twenty-three and in New York, drinking wine, having dinner all alone, and I am enjoying my own company. Strangers would walk by and stare, as if it was some sort of unnatural phenomena for a woman to be on out on her own. Some people have this weird notion of feeling sorry for an individual if they see them dining out alone. I however, have never given it much thought. One night, I took myself out to an expensive restaurant located on Madison Ave, and decided to sit outdoors even though the humidity was still prevalent. I sat facing the sidewalk and each time a stranger passed by I would lock eyes with them. What are they looking at? Can’t a girl enjoy her pasta and glass of wine alone? Once it was established that I was not going to break away eye contact, some would look away uncomfortably while others were brave enough to begin a staring contest. They would end up smiling at me and I would smile back.
“Wow, she’s gorgeous,” I heard someone say, as I looked up from trying to twirl my pasta around the fork and scanned the sidewalk to try and locate the individual who spoke. Are they talking about me? Immediately, I found the stranger that said such a thing, and they smiled.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
I shook my head.
“Have a nice night.”
I waved goodbye and smiled.
I came across various interactions similar to this during my week there. I was given a sort of “VIP tour” when I went to the Empire State Building, as a worker there persisted in walking me through the building. He stated interesting facts about the city and told me the names of each looming tower as we looked towards the skyline. The city looked so beautiful in the dark, with all its bright lights giving shape to the buildings that toppled over each other. In the end he suggested we go to a Mets game while I was still around, “Maybe we can go to a rooftop bar afterwards.”
I walked along Times Square one night and was stopped in the street by someone. I honestly don’t know why I froze because I could have kept walking but I didn’t want to be rude. So I stood there talking to a complete stranger in the middle of Times Square about the fact that again, I was simply visiting and would only be in New York for a week, the origins of my name, and which city did I happen to like more? Because at this point I had shared the fact that I had lived in Los Angeles for two years. “You know, I’m looking for a place to drink some tea or something — ” “Oh I’m good, I really want to head back to my hotel now,” and I truly did because I was tired even though it was barely eleven o’clock at night. I was called gorgeous again as I walked back to where I was staying by another couple of strangers. “You look good in white.” “Thank you.” I replied. “You’re welcome gorgeous.”
Another night, I came across a self proclaimed event promoter who gave me their business card and begged me to contact them. “You see that Range Rover? That’s mine! Please text me tomorrow, we can have dinner at a nice Greek restaurant, real fancy.” Men in New York are interesting, for they are upfront unlike men in the Bay Area. They cut straight to the point, as if they can’t afford to lose any more time. However, in a city like New York I can understand why; the fast paced life can get to you if you aren’t quick enough, for opportunities are snatched away from you in an instant. You have to be swift and not waste any time if you want to win.
Despite all the interactions and offers I had received from the opposite sex, I realized how badly I wanted to be alone. I wanted to reserve this trip for me and me only, I did not want to ruin it by adding a man to the mix. I took this trip in order to get away from everybody, and in my solitude I was reminded of how independent I once was. I felt it before when I lived in Southern California, and I was feeling it again in another city located on an entirely different coast that was unfamiliar to me. When I was finally alone standing on top of the Empire State building I started to get teary eyed, and it didn’t help that James Blake’s voice crooned in my ears as I listened to “I’ll Come Too”. I can’t believe I’m in New York, I can’t believe I’m here. Two years ago I was living in LA and now I am in New York, and I am making the younger version of me proud by going to places I once dreamed impossible. I am making myself proud. I was alone in a city where no one knew me, and yet I found that I was rediscovering who I was.
“I wouldn’t do this on my own, but I’m not on my own tonight,” Blake sang, as I looked at the 360° view of New York City and smiled.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t too ecstatic about going initially. I was going through a weird depressive phase where all I wanted was to be in bed. I avoided talking to people in my life as much as possible, because when I get into these phases I want to be alone. Avoidance becomes my best friend as I try to repiece myself together, for I feel that I have to rely on myself so as to not become a burden to anyone. In the weeks leading up to my trip I can barely remember anything, because I somehow dissociated and put myself on autopilot in order to survive in the real world like a normal adult. I could not let my sadness overtake my ability to carry out my responsibilities, and yet I felt as though I was hanging on by a thread at the end of each day. If I can make it to New York I’ll be okay, I kept thinking, but as the date of departure came closer I became fearful. What if I get more depressed while I’m there? What if I feel lonely? What if I spend those seven days in bed at the hotel instead of being outside? No, I thought. I can’t miss out on this, I will regret it. I will regret not going and feel even worse.
Ultimately I decided to go last minute, squished all my clothes into a blue carry on suitcase the day before my flight, and flew six hours away from my friends, family, and California. Deep down, I knew this trip was something I needed to take, for I wanted to familiarize myself with the beauty of solitude again. It didn’t hit me that I was far away until I saw the New York City skyline from the window of my car when I was driven to my hotel the day I landed. I’m really here. I can’t believe I’m here. I still couldn’t believe it when I woke up the next morning in the cloud that was the king sized bed I slept on, but I came to immediately. I was alone in a different place that I did not recognize, and nothing was going to stop me from enjoying it. However, despite my positive experience and constant claims of loving the city, I quickly realized that New York was not for me. No matter how hard I tried to envision living there, my imagination would not allow such a possibility to transpire. How can I claim to love a city and not see myself living in it? This is supposed to be the next step of my life. This is where I am supposed to move to after I graduate school. You aren’t supposed to settle. How will my future look like if New York is not the end result?
I began to find the answers to these questions alongside my identity again towards the end of my trip and even after I arrived back home. Throughout my week long getaway I kept thinking about some lines from an Ocean Vuong poem:
The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.
I did not feel lonely at all in New York even though I was alone for the entire trip, and maybe it was because I finally reached a state of solace in my solitude. Who am I? I am a woman who is turning twenty-four in two days and I feel that I am close to finally gaining a greater sense of self-respect. I no longer want to allow the perceptions of others to define me, for I am starting to look at myself in the mirror and can recognize the outline of a person whose reflection stares back at me. I see her, myself I mean, focusing on idiosyncrasies that come together to form my complicated nature. I wish I was easier to understand, but maybe it’s just the lack of interest I've had towards myself that makes me feel as though I am so burdensome to live with. However, I realize now that I am not as difficult of a person people have made me believe; I just require patience, and I know I can extend this graciousness to myself for I have given it to others. I am finally allowing myself the chance to make mistakes without feeling shame, for my incessant need to practice perfectionism in all areas of life is being redirected to satisfy more important aspects, ones where I know this curse will prove itself useful.
I know how my future will look like if New York is not the final destination because I have decided that Los Angeles may be my last stop for a very long time; at least until I grow tired of the ocean blue hues that run along the edge of Highway 1 in a city that refuses to have seasons. I cannot imagine myself leaving behind the California coastline, for I have tried and found that I would entirely miss the experience of speeding past green and brown pastures while a blue heavenly sky safely engulfs me. I blast my music loudly in the car and look out at the Pacific Ocean, whose vastness makes me feel at peace once I truly immerse myself in it. The most beautiful part of my body is where I am taking it, and it’s somewhere alluring beyond my imagination where the world will keep me company wherever I go. I may change my mind in a couple of years for I might end up somewhere entirely unexpected; maybe I will be in a different country altogether, but the decision will be of my own accord. I am finally undergoing the coming-of-age experience that I have read, seen, and heard about throughout my entire adolescent life; I can wholeheartedly say I am prepared to become the person I am meant to be, and I will not settle for anything less than what my heart desires.