I get out of bed and get dressed. I eat breakfast. I walk outside. I’m down the street when I start to fully wake up. It takes a few minutes. For this city doesn’t take to zombies.
The horns of the cars vibrate in my eardrums. The grates on the street rumble with the sound of commuters. I am pushed. I am shoved. I am beaten by the city streets. Oh, New York, how I love you.
That’s the thing about this city. It’s harsh. Mayhem is unavoidable and the streets are filled with anger. Behind every blank expression is a form of raging passion. It’s contagious energy, contradicting in form. For this vigor is so loud, so strong and undeniably persuasive.
On the streets I am a stranger. I don’t exist to anyone but myself. I play a large part in my story, and each person I pass is just a mannequin in my scene. Their arms bump me. Their bags whip my sides. Each collision solidifies a fury, a frustration in my stomach. But it also reminds me how much I love these streets. The anonymity of my persona is a beautiful thing, a thing I haven’t found until now. Here, no one knows my name or where I am going. I am open to interpretation and my intentions are hidden, if even searched for at all. I am a mystery.
The hostile, uncaring energy radiating from each passerby envelops me. The heavy passion displayed in each determined citizen inspires my creativity. I write about the people I see on the subway: a man with a parrot chained to his right ring finger. It’s well behaved, but out of place. I watch as silent tears roll down the cheeks of a woman sitting to my right. I write about her demeanor, never assuming her thoughts. A lady with a screaming child drops a milk bottle on the tracks. A drunken man stumbles onto the ground near a trashcan. The chaos is maddening but complements the scene like white noise. It comforts me, this congestion of disconnected motions and noises. On this subway platform, I feel more at home than I have ever felt. For here, my own psychosis is balanced by the craziness of others. I am equal.
I am teetering on this confidence throughout my days in the city. I was once told the city has moods. I have grown to believe it myself. Some days the city is sad. Others, it is so joyful it feels like a bit of heaven on earth. You can feel it in the air, in the weather and the interactions of those around you. Each member of the crowd feels it- the good or the bad. We’re all in it together, under whatever poignant umbrella chooses to shadow or shade our emotions. I’ve learned not to take the moods too seriously. Each high will crash into a pit of daylong despair and each low will inflate with good news and rejoicing. Even so, it takes a lot to believe you aren’t at least a little bit insane.
On the low days, I imagine my family at home in Chicago. I remember the streets of my hometown. They’re nothing like this place. For a city as comparable in size, Chicago sounds so empty. The streets are cold and barren. The buildings are stained in black. The wind whips forcefully enough to tear your soul straight from your body, but most importantly, you’re never alone. Chicago is home to the men who approach you on the street, grabbing your arm and trying to drag you with them. Chicago is a place where violence creeps out of the alleys past 9 p.m. just looking for a stranger to prey on. Chicago is the place where a girl from my high school was drugged and carried out of a bar, the place my dad’s best friend was stabbed to death on a busy street while walking home from work. Chicago is dismal and heartless.
When I step off the streets of New York, loneliness washes over me. The sounds of the city that comfort me live on in nothing but echoes of sirens and distant yells. The passion never dies, but it retires as I shut my eyes and dream of tomorrow. I embrace my solitude. It’s the only way to make it through the night. At least I feel at home. I feel safe. My tiny New York room has a charm and a comfort Chicago can never offer. I feel capable of living fully without the restraints of shadowed figures in alleyways and defensive “what-ifs.” New York nights are brighter and uninterrupted. They can grow cold, but not in the sense of a Chicago numb heart.
There are days I want to escape the city. There are times I wish to be closer to the people I love. There are reasons I stay, reasons I won’t find in my hometown. From city to city, the transition is indescribable. I can’t imagine returning to Chicago and finding happiness now that I’ve tasted the full-bodied lust of New York City. The hardships empower me. Vulgar yells from commuters and rude car horns set a fire in my bloodstream. It’s an irreplaceable spirit, an incomparable disposition that has forever changed who I am and how I behave. I now have a face drained of emotion. I have a skin thicker than bricks. I have a motivation that sits deep in the heart of my soul, pulling me toward every new opportunity without looking back. I have a life free of boredom and a demeanor so hostile yet beautifully delicate. I’m a New Yorker in heart, though Chicago may be “home,” and I can’t imagine that ever changing.