Manhattan taught me how to love

I counted nickels on a restaurant table last night to come up with $2.50 for the subway ride home. I was about 15 cents short, but my friends didn’t mind helping the needy. They also didn’t mind as I’d sat there all night drinking water while they downed raspberry margaritas, ginger mojitos, and an assortment of guac-and-bean-stuffed Mex-American fare. I was fine—I’d made eggs before I left my apartment. I wasn’t with hunger or thirst; I was with friends in a restaurant that was spinning the best 90s playlist I’ve heard since the actual 90s, on a crisp early fall night in Manhattan.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, it buys easiness. It offers security—fending off those demons selling the fear of unhappiness resulting from poverty and poor health. I’m a 24-year-old intern in New York City. I’m doing work that I love for $11 an hour. No, it’s not an easy route—it’s scary. It’s scary knowing I’m foregoing a savings account in order to stay at an internship doing work that means something to me. It’s scary knowing that I’m putting off doctor visits because it’s either paying a co-pay or buying groceries.

But I’m so happy in this moment. I’m incredibly happy and incredibly scared at the same time.

When it’s humid, Manhattan is too humid. When it’s chilly, it’s fucking freezing. The beds are too little, and the rooms have no real walls and my food is nothing more than microwavable sodium. The city at rush hour is miserable. I hate the crowds and the smells and the prices and the noise.

But I don’t hate these things enough to leave. I could go home to my family in a nearby state where I’d feel safe, in a house with a dog and a washing machine and a driveway. Where I know the streets and the people, and change is more gradual and a well-fed savings account more attainable.

I hate stepping over a homeless person in a sidewalk-slumber to get to the subway. I hate lowering my head on the train when an odorous man in tattered clothes walks by with his bony hand out, and with sad eyes says he’s a Veteran and out of work and hungry, and could I please help him out, just a little, anything at all…

I hate it because I’m terrified of it. I’m terrified of why he’s there, and wondering if there’s a chance I’ll be in his place one day. We all started in the same form—that skeletal hand was once a tiny pudgy fist in the air. Or maybe not—maybe things were decided for those hands even before they felt the world. I hate that fate keeps so many secrets from us. We may all go back to the same stardust we started from, but I won’t believe that our time here is without meaning.

sketchbook excerpt

My life changes eight times a day in New York. Change can be difficult and frightening, but for me, confinement and routine is worse. Settling is life-without-parole. I’m putting my trust in a city that’s shown me murder with a baseball bat from a dorm window. I’m scared that I’m harming myself by living here. I’m scared that I’m giving love to something that hurts me.

But then, I’ve realized that I dole out my trust very sparingly, and only to those whose trust I’ve lost, but who’ve forgiven me when I ask them to. That small handful of close family and friends around me, I’ve wronged each of them in some way, and they keep me. What I’m most scared of is messing up and not being forgiven. But the city has taught me that it’s not about forgiveness.

I’ve insulted Manhattan. I’ve called it horrible things, bemoaned its existence, cursed the way it treats me and everybody in it—but it’s given me some of the most exquisitely beautiful moments, too. It’s shown me love in every season: marriage proposals in the Rockefeller Rink, at Christmas under snowfall, at sunset, in the rain, on the sidewalk. It’s shown me a man crying on his best friend’s stilled, cold chest at four in the morning, that love is blind to how good or bad we are. It’s shown me how to jump barriers for love, how to break walls down for love, how to change laws for love.

No, maybe love isn’t about forgiveness at all.

Maybe it’s just about saying, Okay. Hurt me, it’s worth it. Yes I’m incredibly scared but I’m also incredibly happy. Keep me, because I want good things for you and you want good things for me, and we’re so fallible and capable of fucking everything up and I forgive you in advance. I’ll stay. Promise you will too. I’ll lay by you on the cold concrete. I’ll hold your hand on the subway car. Let’s go back to stardust together.