old (2007), Uncategorized

new york city, day three

There’s something about being in this city that isn’t as simple as making a list of the things I’ve done on any given day. It’s a feeling, an experience, a sense that this is a place where I could belong, a realization that I’ve come terribly far from a small Texas town with no train station to a city from which trains can take me anywhere. It’s the peace of sitting in an open-air cafe eating a veggie burger and reading a book while watching cars pass by on Houston street, the electricity of sitting in an art theater watching a movie that won’t come to Chicago for another two weeks, the satisfaction of figuring out the subway system, the pride that comes when I’m asked for directions and I can give them with neither hesitation nor doubt, the feeling that I can blend in as neither tourist nor spectator.

Yet it is this wonder, this excitement, this adoration of a city that is not my own which make me naive, too optimistic, rosy-cheeked with Midwestern giddiness. Whereas in Chicago I am too loud, honest, proud, and blunt, here I am too quiet, circumspect, modest, and subdued. I must make a choice about who I am and who I will become. Is this a journey inward or outward? A step forward or back? Must I grow more contemplative or less self-conscious?

If things were different, I would not be coming home. I would stay here, arrange for someone to take my cat and sublet my apartment in Chicago, sell all my things that wouldn’t matter here. I’d sleep in youth hostels while looking for a roommate and work at an open-air cafe and grow tan and limber and take lovers and smoke French cigarettes. Even now the temptation is there, even though things aren’t different, to throw everything away and disappear into this throng of millions. What stops me aren’t the excuses I make — the jobs, and the children, and the friends, and the comforts of home. The hitch in my fantastic plans is the fear of paring my life down to the point where jobs and children and friends are no longer smokescreens for big questions, the answers to which are found not in hostels or cafes or even in the arms of lovers but, instead, in small spaces and dark rooms where I sit, alone, without distraction.

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