I lived in New York City for about 6 months starting in September 2015. This moment is one that I will always remember and one that I knew I had to capture in words.
It was getting dark when I left the building – feeling frustrated, hurt, angry, sad and alone. It was like I had this big ball of upset burning right in my chest and all shields around my heart were failing.
I walked quickly, head down, no real plan in mind but, as usual, towards the water. I reached the boardwalk and headed north, trying to control my breathing – trying to regain control of myself.
I stopped and hesitated when I saw the Pier and the line of commuters waiting for the next ferry to arrive to take them back to their homes across Brooklyn. I hadn’t taken the East River Ferry before because it cost more than the subway, but in that moment decided that was what I’d do now. I thought to myself that none of this really matters in the end.
I bought a ticket and stood off to the side, avoiding eye contact with others in line. I didn’t want them to see the emotions in my face. I didn’t want to connect with anyone – I felt wrapped up in my pain and protective of the fragile, fractured part of me that felt very vulnerable to the outside at the moment. To be honest, I also felt ashamed and felt that if I didn’t look at anyone, I wouldn’t catch them seeing me like this – all alone and broken.
When the ferry arrived, I handed over my ticket and followed the line in. As others settled into seats inside, I kept moving – determined to get upstairs and outside. I found the stairs and made it to the top, opened the door and stepped out into the cold, dark November night. I walked towards the railing at the back of the boat, facing the island we were about to leave behind and, just as my hands gripped the freezing metal rails, the taxi took off with a lurch.
I didn’t expect the speed. I also didn’t expect the resulting attack on my senses. The boat was going so fast that the wind was whipping me in the face – and what had already felt cold, now felt freezing. Immediately, my cheeks felt tender, my eyes watered and my cold hands gripped tighter to the railing as we zoomed across the East River. My hair flew in different directions and the sound of the wind rushing past my ears combined with the boat’s engine filled my brain so, for a moment, I couldn’t find my thoughts. I couldn’t help but laugh in surprise and expel some of the breath that I was holding in tightly.
I didn’t know it when I left the others nor when I bought that ticket and not even when I boarded the ferry. But I know now that I had desperately needed to feel something else. I needed this – to be overtaken by all of my other senses, by something bigger than myself, so that I could be dragged out of my head and my heart and into the current moment.
That’s what it did. That cold, cold wind hitting my face and the sounds rushing into my head pulled me right out. It only took 10 seconds.
Then we passed under the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge and the grandiose of the Manhattan skyline filled my vision as we flew across the water away from it and I felt another sensation overcome me. As I looked out at these magnificent buildings of different shapes, sizes and styles, I had the great city of New York shake me even further out of my pain. It was larger than me, older than me, and full of all these stories that were beyond my knowledge. It reminded me of the magic of this city.
More than that, it reminded me of how amazing it was that I was living in NYC at that moment. As warm, fat tears streamed down my cheeks and that big ball of upset started to decompress, I remembered all that it took to get me to this very moment. I remembered all of the things I had to overcome, all of the strength and determination I had to find, to get to this amazing place and be here right now.
It was hard, probably impossible, to stay in my head with that harsh wind in my face, the beautiful city full of stories in front of me, and those gorgeous bridges that we flew under. Instead, I had been dragged right out into the moment – all senses at full alert. I was still hurting and crying but my mindset shifted slightly and I felt like it was going to be ok.
As we flew under each bridge, I let my head tilt back and look directly up – marvelling at their beauty and how small and insignificant I was compared to them.
At some point, I pressed play on my iPod and it did that amazing thing where it got the right track at the right moment. Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York came on and I continued my journey, flying under bridges and with the best view of Manhattan’s magic and lights, with the most appropriate lyrics filling my ears and reminding me that things were going to be ok. I hadn’t actually listened to the song before then and its simple but appropriate lyrics struck me and helped my inner shields start to find strength again. It reminded me that this city of change, hope and optimism, with its never failing magic and complex history, and all of those lives that have passed through it was here. That I am right here, in this amazing city. That this city has been waiting for me with open arms and is here to play its part in this new life I was creating .What a place to be reinventing my life and on my own terms.
When we pulled into Greenpoint, my nose felt numb and my tears had frozen to my cheeks but that didn’t matter. I was wide awake now. The pain was still there but had shifted and my anxiety was giving way for something else. Perhaps determination, perhaps strength.
All it took was a random decision and for nature to grab me and give me a good shake to give me some perspective. Not to make me think my problems were insignificant but to remind me that there is more to life, more to this very moment – you just need to remember to look.