There was nothing so special about that afternoon. There is no reason why this day sticks out in my mind, other than the fact that this was simply a day in my life. Nothing happened. There was no special excitement. There was nothing specific or notable about this day. I was coming home after a weekend out. It was summertime in New York City. I made the choice to walk from 23rd Street at 2nd Avenue over to the Westside on 8th to walk upward towards Pennsylvania Station and make my train ride home.
I was on the verge of a new change. My relationships were changing. Friendships were ending. At this point, the girl I was dating had decided to cut ties with me — and she was right to do this, by the way. She said there was no use in trying anymore. I was me and she was her and together, I suppose we made good hostages for a while. I was a young man and yet, I was too tired of life as it was. I was too afraid to make a change. I didn’t know whether to go or stay. I didn’t know how to change with the tides or rage against the sea. And still, there is no reason why this walk stands out in my mind.
I was walking. That’s it.
But still, there was more.
I moved through the varying cultures that change between parts of the city. I passed buildings and brownstones, and stores and shops. The cultures are all amazing to me, the changes too. The city is interconnected by streets and avenues yet, they are also separated by sections, by fashions and moods, attitudes and flavor.
I have never lived in Manhattan per se. I’ve only been part of its machinery. I am one of more than a trillion stories. I am not a statistic, but yet, I suppose I am (statistically speaking). I suppose we all are a statistic in some way. There are some who know, some who pretend and some who understand.
Maybe this is why the day stands out to me.
Maybe it was a moment of awareness; or perhaps I was free. Yes, that’s it. I was free to look and see and react in whichever way I chose.
I did not have to refer to the moods of the crowd. I did not have to impress anyone. There was no competition. There was the sunset. There were people like you and me, all different shapes and sizes, colors, beliefs and backgrounds. I was removed from judgment. This was beautiful because I was never able to walk without putting on a show. I always tried to put on a strut or display, as if to stroll in like I knew. Like I was royalty, as if I could play the role of a prince in my tiny kingdom, or otherwise known as my head.
This was just a walk across town. Or maybe this was a catalyst.
Maybe this was a premonition that life was about to turn the page — or wait, no.
I think I know what it was.
I think this was a defining moment in which, I knew that my life had to change. I knew that I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t hide anymore. And that’s the thing about being young and on the verge of something. This is when we realize that false bravery means nothing. Eventually, the crowd dwindles. The lights fade and the music goes soft. The party ends in certain ways and for me, there I was, walking through the world in front of me. This is when I became aware that change was about to come yet, I was petrified. I questioned myself. I questioned everything but mainly, I questioned, “What if I can’t do it?”
Maybe there was something about this walk that allowed me to contemplate the changes. Maybe I was fine (for the moment). I was fine to be and think or witness the world on my own terms. I was okay to think and wonder and not be hinged to a certain lifestyle. It was fine not to be linked to a group of people. As for my friends, who were they anyway?
Was I even my friend?
Do friends allow themselves to trade for a lesser value?
Would a friend allow for the games of sarcasm?
Or would friends laugh out loud at the expense of someone else — this way, no one laughs at them.
For the moment, I was separate and happily uninvolved. I was not insulted or pleased, placated or pacified — I was neither of these and yet, I was all of these at the same time. I was satisfied and unattached. I was fine to be alone and without the hindrance of a crowd. I was happy because there were no personalities to contend with. I passed the city blocks and took in the change of atmospheres. I went from the Eastside to the Westside in what seemed like a blur. There was a transfer that was almost like a switch in my system. And I wondered. I wondered what it would be like if I never turned around or if I never called anyone again. Would they care? Would they notice? Would I?
There is something to be said about the person who always puts themselves in the middle. So long as they do this, they will never understand the compliment of being invited. And me, I wanted to be invited rather than automatically included. As if my position was just a given, as if this is who I was in life, and that was it. This was me. This was my station and this was my place in the crowd.
Why was this so?
Was it me or you?
Was it the fact that the ideas of loneliness are too much to consider?
On my own? Die alone?
Rest assured, I couldn’t have that.
Because, then what?
The sun was coming down on a Sunday. The next day was Monday, a workday and a time of stress. I was mismatched in my surroundings. I had no business in the life I lived, nor did I have any business in the company I worked for. This was only a holding pattern. This was the end of a chapter to begin the unknown. And who would I be next? Who would I be if I wasn’t Benny from the neighborhood? Who am I if not Ben, Benny or Bean, or any of the names and personalities I’d been given? Besides, what’s in a name anyway?
But dig it— I was so many different people.
It was exhausting and nearly impossible to run around and appease each angle. I had to stop, but I didn’t know how.
I was part of a crowd or a clique— all of us were too self-involved. All of us were too interested in the competition—who has more money who earned more, who could pull off the show, and who could walk in a room and have the world take notice.
I tell you, this was exhausting.
I was unsure of I, me, you, or anyone I knew at the time. I was unsure if anyone was real or nothing more than a great façade. I saw us all as porcelain dolls that could crack at any moment. Just give it the right pressure. . . and crack! Maybe that’s it too. Maybe this is why people point so much. This way, no one points at them. This way, no one can see the cracks in their story. Maybe this way, no one will prey on them (or view them as weak).
I used to think about little kids, so eager to play, eager to forget about silly things, and eager to be them and no one else. I would think about this and I’d envy them. I envied the young ones; so pure, so comfortable to pretend, so happy to laugh or run around or shout, “Home free all.” I envy those who allow for do-overs because it’s not the game they play, it’s the fact that they understand the secrets of laughter.
But age. . . age steals this somehow. We forget to play or be us without decorating ourselves into something fancier, like a suit or a tie, or a car, or an address that keeps up with the competition.
I used to think about this and wish I was a kid again (to be pure).
Maybe this is why I’ve always had a connection with the city. I can be me. I can blend in a sea of anonymous faces, all eager to live and be free to be themselves. I love this.
We are all part of a system. We are part of a machine. Our footsteps or the beats of the pulmonary system I call “Our City,” and as for myself, I still walk the beat.
I was on to something, and I knew it.
I was afraid.
Too afraid to take a chance.
Too afraid to stay, and at the same time, I was too unsure of what would come.
God, this was so long ago (seems like yesterday).
I will always love my city.
She knows me well.
She knows how to comfort me at times when I’m lost, and how to appease me enough to realize when I’m found.
Come back New York City.
Covid can’t rule us forever.
Either way, I’m still here—
Your prince in my tiny kingdom
Waiting . . . .