Around 12:15 a.m. on Friday, a plane ticket was booked for me. Destination: New York City, the very next day. With little to no warning about going, I haphazardly threw together some clothes, my laptop, my phone, and a Kindle. By 10 a.m. on Saturday, I was headed to the Big Apple.
I’ve been to New York City once before—a transient, fleeting stay. Six hours with a group touring service. It was a rushed visit to see the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Columbia University. Hurried. No time to drink anything in, no time to form any sort of opinion. Besides, that time I had gone with my family and spent more time worrying about them than I did actually seeing any of New York. This time, I had about a weekend.
The reason for the visit was a business deal. My best friend James, a talented coder and tech guy, had been recommended to someone I was working in conjunction with for a small company. I was the go between, the liaison, for no reason other than that we were best buddies. It had actually taken quite a bit of convincing for James to even agree to come; he was busy and he wasn’t particularly fond of the guy he would be dealing with for the business meeting. But agreeing to the business meeting also meant seeing me, and we hadn’t seen each other in entirely too long. James also wants to live in New York City in the future, since he’s a New Yorker (though not from the city), born and bred. We’ve talked about living together before simply because we are close enough to have it work.
For convenience’s sake, the meeting took place at the airport and went about as well as a business meeting between two individuals who weren’t particularly fond of each other could go. It was only a few hours, and while the guy I was working for took a plane back the same evening, I was to stay through Sunday.
James and I hadn’t seen each other in a while. Despite being very close, we still lived a thousand miles apart, and even meeting was somewhat of a special occasion. This particular time, he had brought his girlfriend, Emma, with him to the city because she also wanted to spend the weekend with him.
New York is a big place—so say the tourism bureau, every website, the census, and pretty much everything else you can think of. But NYC certainly doesn’t feel big. It feels closed in and packed closely. with people and cars swarming in and out of the streets like rats. It is dingy buildings built stories high, blackened by pollution and pocked with constant construction. It is a skyline so far up that you have to tilt your head all the way back to even see the sky. The walkways are labyrinthine, built upon a basic grid system with pockets and shortcuts—in short, it reminds me uncannily of a dungeon in Path of Exile or perhaps World of Warcraft.
I’m not typically picky about where I am. But one thing I do love is the sky, and I walk with my eyes fixed on the horizon or the sky just above it. Not being able to easily see the sky in New York City makes me both claustrophobic and nervous. It feels like the city is closing in around me, like there is barely space between the buildings and streets for me to even breathe. But despite all this, the city is still beautiful and impressive; it is an ever-evolving beast of nature, growing and growing.
Now, I have a lot of friends in New York City. Of course, James is there. But so too are many people from my hometown, and among those people are a few that were my most beloved companions throughout my secondary education. Some of them were so dear to me that I have never sewed back the place in my heart where they used to be—right in the center, right where all the threads of my emotions tie together.
While I was in New York City, I found those pieces of my heart and put them back, one by one. I hadn’t felt so at peace in a long time. But even while I made those connections again, there was a still a dull ache—a reminder that things could never be as they once were, an undercurrent of nervousness because of the time we had spent apart. A sense of uncertainty because of our history, bitter and bloody and still so very precious, a history that we had not shared with all these people in this new place. I am their past and their reason for who they are today just as they are mine.
But even all that didn’t matter. As soon as we were back together again, things slotted together again. We still fitted into each other’s lives perfectly. They forced their way back into me, stretching and pulling and carving themselves even deeper into who I am. As if all this mess could still be fixed, if we put some needle and a thread to it and maybe some superglue.
And when I left them, I felt those pieces ripped back out, and it felt like I was alone again. I had just learned how to live without them, and now here I am, once again unsure of how to go on without them by my side again.
I love you, they once told me, and I will always love you. (as a friend, as a friend.) I will never forget you. I will always have time for you. You are important. You are loved.
I believed them then. Maybe I still do.
I cried on the flight home. New York City faded away below me as the plane rose, and the city from high up looked like stars gathering to dance in their own beautiful fantasy.
Look, the lights seemed to tell me, your sky also exists here on the ground.
And as I leave, I don’t know if New York City only signifies pain for me or if it is exactly what I need to put myself back together again.