There’s something about New York City that brings out the small in me. The immensity of the city consumed me when the bus dumped seventy of us on some remote street in the city walled with snowbanks. The lights in the luggage compartment in the rear of the bus went out as the bus driver was unloading it and she lifted her hands up in resignation. An 8-hour journey had extended into a 10-hour one when the bus’s defroster broke and everyone was stuck uncomfortably close to one another in an overheated bus for two hours, discussing possible solutions, such as walking the rest of the way (we were still 1.5 hours away) or sprinting across the highway and jumping a median to the shady inn on the other side of the road. The four middle-aged women in front of me were entertaining to listen to – “Next year we’re driving to New York for our yearly trip”, “We’re too old for this!”, “David asked if we’re still going to come visit”, “We’re going to need a whole bottle each when we get off this bus” – each sentence punctuated with laughter and pleasure.
No wanting to wait for anything else, two passengers whipped out their cell phones to use as flashlights and started planting luggage after luggage into the snowbanks because there was no other room on the street. My thighs were shaking in the cold. They were the only part of my body that only had one layer protecting them. The overheated bus had made me forget that it is still cold outside. I grabbed my luggage and started making my way down the street confidently, half trusting my gut, half following the crowd. I needed to walk about twenty blocks in under thirty minutes to make the 10:47 pm train to Mount Kisco. 10pm and still bustling. New York City. I wanted to run but I couldn’t. The sidewalks were covered in black slush and giant puddles. I watched the wheels of the luggage of the people in front of me carve out curvy parallel lines in the slush. My brand new boots slipped on the sidewalk so I started taking each step with extra precaution, stomping down a little harder than necessary while trying to maintain my speed, lest I miss the 10:47 train and have to wait in hustle of Grand Central for an hour. I didn’t slow down as I bumped into the lady in the red coat. New York City. I’m making the 10:47 train. I felt braver because I had to be but I also felt small. Small next to the crowd spilling out of the theatres, small next to the people dressed like cowboys for who knows what reasons, small next to the people who are in the city for a fun Friday night…
I felt sweat beads forming around my forehead wrapped in my thick headband, my scarf moving out of place. I hated how all my belongings were behind me, out of my sight – some on my back, some attached the handle which is attached to my hand which is stretched out behind me. I was paranoid that suddenly my zipper would break and all its contents would spill out and be stomped on by the crowds. I was afraid that someone had taken something out without me noticing. I marveled at how I could now ignore the bright lights and sounds and cut through Times Square without looking twice at anything.
Everyone else seems so much more important here. So much more purpose-driven. And I found myself yearning for the quiet that flat, farmy Ohio had. The first time I set foot in New York City in my puffy white coat three years ago, my heart raced and my lips curved into a smile as I stood still and looked around, excited by the activity and splendor of this city that I had spent all my life watching on a screen finally come to live.
I made the 10:47 pm train with two minutes to spare. As I started stripping off my many layers of warm clothing on the seat next to me, I took deep breathes, feeling proud that I had successfully bought the right train ticket and found the right track in less than a minute. I felt myself growing as I realized with what great ease and lack of hesitance I had maneuvered around the city. The well-dressed man in a trench coat swiping at his phone didn’t intimidate me. The eccentricly dressed young adults talking in loud voices didn’t intimidate me. Maybe I’ll be okay after all.