|I wrote this story as an essay with World Nomads to win a travel scholarship with famed travel writer Tim Neville. The theme was "Making a local connection" and had a 700 word limit and I struggled to infuse my story with all of the elements I wanted until about ten days before it was due. I spent nights of Red Bull and my best friend Sasha on the line as my editor and idea bouncer offer. My story is not just about making a person to person connection, but a connection with an entire city, a lifestyle, a reconnection with my theatre life and goals, with writing and most importantly, with myself. I was my own local connection (in discovering my newly transformed self) with the help of a special friend, but then stranger, who reached me when nobody else could break through. I'm not sure if that counts for the essay but it made for some good reflection. I had a full extended story, was ready to add photos to make it unnecessarily longer, and I refrained after some time away from it because I felt like adding to the story may take away from it. This is the whole essay, trunkated as it is, to help explain why I am in love with NYC, why the whole city feels like a hug of acceptance and excitement. Before I went on my trip I was in a dark place for my own standards and I was trying to get out of it without any real hope. Hearing words spoken like "broken", "lost", "heartbroken" or "loser" would send me into a spiral of tears. Just hearing words! And as soon as I got to New York it all started to vanish. My misery armor started cracking right away just by being there and then I met someone who caused me to remove it completely (mostly- we all of those days). I still find it difficult to put my obsession into words anyone else would understand other than I feel like I am meant for this place, that my entire life of being and feeling left out forced me to carve my own places where I could fit in, and that this place, this city, completely understands me like nobody else ever has and I don't need to make a new path to feel accepted. I can just be. Since day 1 I felt renewed there, like I finally found my destiny and it felt like fresh air. So, without much further ado, the 699 words that made the final cut to Tim. I didn't win, but that stopped being the point once I actually got started on my first energy drink binged night in front of my screen freeballing it. Cheers to my confidence returning (still got it!), cheers to solo travel and growing from it, cheers to Aunt Stephanie. It's all a part of this world, and, like Ariel, I'd trade in a body part to be a part of it again. I'm coming for you. New York, I love you. I don't do you justice.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment you stop feeling like a person. I felt like my body was in atrophy, my mind blank. Too much was happening at once and I distinctly heard a ping from my brain. I was broken.
March 31st is forever the day my mom died. I spent years holding my family’s collective hands to soothe their grief. After five years I was exhausted and the one person I needed the most was my mom; my Lorelai Gilmore. In a moment of stress last year I left one project half-completed at work and was fired without warning. Devastated didn’t cover it. I had no job to distract me and my entire self-worth crumbled in bereavement like a store-bought cookie in a glass of milk. So I did what we dispossessed are driven to do. I ran away.
I asked a friend to call her Aunt Stephanie-a Bronx native- about a discount ticket to a Broadway show that I was desperate to see. She came through and I hopped the cheapest flight to the Big Apple so that I could block out the 31st in style. Shattered. Jobless. Guilty. Traveling solo. With every worry upon me. Fun!
New York is gritty, fast paced and punk rock. It’s everything I wanted. I felt like I belonged the moment skyscrapers came into view from the window seat of Spirit’s 19th row. I walked 14 miles my first day because I wanted to see everything. I offered to take Stephanie for a drink that night to say thanks and pay her for the ticket. When we met I was hit with an air of seriousness. She seemed so stoic and stern. Honestly, I was a little afraid of her. I didn’t really know what to say to her so I focused on the red pigeon strutting outside of the ATM vestibule. I suddenly felt very small in every way a person could feel small whilst we chit-chatted toward an Irish pub. Over drinks we gabbed like it wasn’t our first time meeting one another. I grew unabashed in my storytelling with this stranger, this angel. She listened intently and only showed mild discomfort as I ranted myself to tears without judgement.
I told her why I came to the city; how much I loved being there and about my mom and work. I said I was fine now that I was away from it. Stephanie immediately called me out on my bull and said “Distance doesn’t change anything. You seem exceptionally sad and lost.” I thought I was better at hiding it. I was not, apparently, and I wasn’t prepared to hear that. I was glad we were in a darkened corner in the back of the dining area while I ugly cried. She asked me to think about what I wanted out of my time here, and what I hope to do when I get home. I wanted to get back into theatre, I realized then. She told me that she wanted me to take the ticket and that she hoped that I would spend the money I had brought on something fun because I deserved it. I cried even harder at her kindness, feeling undeserving of her gesture, but mostly undeserving of her. The more I tried to stop sobbing the harder and louder and snottier I became. The weight was lifted after that.
Broken no more. Unbreakable. She mommed me. I cried because I ached for that mom hug. I cried because of her kindness. I cried as a goodbye to the shattered woman I felt I was. Finally, I cried because I was inspired for the first time in weeks. All of my darkened days of yearning and anger dropped away and replaced with this moment of loving contentment. Aunt Stephanie helped me grow by forging the connection I felt I lacked by neglecting myself to others. She was firm in her words to make me stop and look around at where I was, both metaphorically and literally. I felt connected at last. I found myself in New York City. This beautiful, loud, slightly smelly, overpriced and overcrowded city was my refuge. My mom hug.