When I first moved to NYC a few years ago, I dealt with my emotions surrounding the move, all the homesickness and loneliness, by packing so much exploring and sightseeing and running around town into my days that I didn’t have time to think about how scared shitless I really was. I had wanted to move to a city since college, but prior to this experience had always chickened out and stayed close to home. Close to places that felt safe and familiar and comfortable.
In what had become a typical Saturday afternoon for my family, we set out to attack an itinerary so urgently jam-packed, you would think we were expecting NYC to implode sometime soon. The day oozed typical New York summer with 90 degree temps and air thick with humidity, trapped and held in the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks, compounded by the heat thrown off the never-ending caravan of cars and buses passing by. It was a day where the moment I stepped out of the air conditioning, sweat formed at the hairline on my neck and dripped lazily between my shoulder blades before settling in the curve of my lower back, tacking my shirt uncomfortably to my skin.
The ridiculous day we planned quickly turned infuriating after boarding the wrong train, finally getting on the right train, missing our stop, and hiking what felt like several thousand blocks in an attempt to find someplace with a public toilet my son could use. Exhausted, irritated, and ready to call it a day, we descended the stairs onto the mezzanine of the subway station, walked past a group of hooded ninjas performing under the watchful eyes of a handful of New York City’s finest, and went down yet another staircase to the platform for the train that would take us to our apartment.
On the platform, it felt as if I was standing in a steam room fueled not by water, but by urine and garbage and body odor. I became lightheaded. I need a deep breath. The laughter of the teenagers behind me, the whining of my six year old, and the tears of my two year old were muffled and far away, more like echoes from the pit of a deep well. Why doesn’t this station have a board that tells me how long until my train comes? The stations uptown have boards that tell me how long I will have to wait. How long do I have to hold it together? My fingers began to tingle and my insides were twitching, like the engine of a car just turned off after a long trip. I needed a deep breath, but it was trapped inside me. There was a wave building up inside my chest that couldn’t crest. When is the stupid train coming? I can’t stand here. I can’t be still. I must be in motion. My vision blurred and I was no longer in my body. Everything was out of my control, and then, from the corner of my eye, I saw the elevator door open. I lunged into it, hissing at my husband, “Get in here now.”
Back on the mezzanine I ran, leaving my husband and children standing just outside the elevator, confused. The stairwell leading up and out was my only concern. I wove through the sea of people, toward the daylight illuminating the top of the stairs. I was out. The wave crested. I caught my breath, walked to the curb and put out my hand, tears welling up in my eyes. Taxi, take me home.