New York: A snapshot

Everything that I understood about modern day New York can be summarized by a scene I witnessed while walking through West Village one night.

I was crossing the street and a Ferrari passed, with two girls in the back eating pizza. As I was crossing the street, two bros in baseball caps also saw what I was seeing. As the car turned the corner, one of the bros turned and said to the other in an awestruck manner, “That is goals”. Emphasis on the goals.

This happened fairly early on in my move to the US, and aside from the absurdity and comic relief that it provided, it was a moment that stuck with me as the epitomization of the lavishness of the 1%, and the other 99%’s consequent fascination and desire for their lives.

As I thought about the scene more and more, it seemed that New York, once gritty, cool and a place where starving artists called home, was now more than ever, a place that was pricing out the middle and lower income people to serve the unattainably wealthy.

Replacements

When my first dog died, my grandfather bought me another one the week after. He taught me that things you loved could be replaced.

Growing up, I applied this concept to all the things I lost or broke- it didn’t matter if it was a camera, a sweater, or a boy. I treated my possessions carelessly; I wore things out, I lost them, I broke them. I knew there would always be new ones.

Sometimes, the replacements weren’t as good as the originals. I told myself it didn’t matter, as long as there was one, as long as there would be a shiny, new thing to take its place.

And so I went through life, loving things, losing them, replacing them. I began to think there was nothing in life that was irreplaceable. Then, something happened that surprised me.

Someone did to me what I’d been doing to everyone else. He was the first person in a long time who took me by surprise, who’d thrilled me,. I spent a long time trying to fill the gap he left. I looked for him in everyone I met. On and on the carousel of replacements kept turning.

There were others that seemed just like him on the surface. Equally intelligent, well-travelled, successful. For the first time though, the replacements couldn’t come anywhere near to being as good as the original. No one fit me as well as he did. That one didn’t smile the right way. There was just something about them that didn’t feel right, the way it did with him.

I treated people like they were interchangeable, and this way of thinking was destructive because I didn’t value anybody for their unique self. I didn’t know then, that each person is made up of tiny, intricate details that are meaningful to some and worthless to others. I came to realize that no one is really replaceable– but still on and on the carousel of replacements keeps turning.

How it felt running my first marathon

A couple of months after I’d started running regularly, I casually remarked to my mother that I was thinking of running a marathon. She turned around, and flatly remarked to me, “You can’t run a marathon”.

So I did.

I can now call myself a marathon runner, after running Philadelphia Marathon in November 2017. It was the hardest physical feat I’d done until that point, and taught me what it really meant to feel pain.

I first started running regularly in April 2016, after I got my first adult job. A bunch of people in the office used to go on lunch runs, and I said I’d join. Up until that point, I’d only jogged on and off, with half serious efforts, alternating walking with a slow run, stopping every time I got tired. That first day, as we were walking to the change rooms, one of the girls, Z, informed me that they usually ran at a pace of 6 minutes per km. Overly confident, I said I would be able to run at that pace.

Contrary to my beliefs, I was only okay for the first 10 minutes of the run. After that, I turned into a sweating, panting, red-faced mess. Most of the others soon outran me, while one of my coworkers, S, walked back to the office with me out of politeness. I had never felt so out of breath in my life. There was one last hill to overcome before getting back to the office, and S encouraged me to start running again and climb that last hurdle.

That was the beginning of my foray into running, and ultimately, physical exercise. I was the most unfit one in the group, but I persisted with weekly runs with the group a couple of times a week. Gradually, I was even running on my own, and slowly, I got better at running. Over several months, I developed the discipline to steadily run on my own without stopping every time I got tired.

After a couple of months of running, my friend J and I signed up for City 2 Surf in Sydney, an annual race spanning 14km from the city to Bondi Beach. We were very much beginners at this stage, and even with months of running training, I still felt anxious that I wouldn’t be able to perform as I wanted to. In the end though, we both came out fine. However, there was always another hurdle to overcome, and they kept getting bigger. From 14km, I planned to do a half marathon in early 2017. And when that was done, the only thing left to complete was a marathon.

I signed up for Philadelphia Marathon around May 2017, after not getting into New York Marathon. I figured that I’d been running for over a year at this point, and with dedicated training over the next couple of months, I would be fine running my first marathon.

My initial theory for training over the next couple of months proved wrong though. With several deterring factors at hand, including weather (it’s almost unbearable running outside in New York during summer) and joint problems, I realized how stressful training for a marathon actually was. In addition to that, I realized that running with strategic purpose and intent can take a lot of the fun out of it. Having to make sure I went on a certain number of runs per week, with certain distances targeted was more challenging to do than I previously thought. I began to dread going running each week. However, I persisted with training. In early September, I did a 22 mile run alone around Golden Gate Park. After 2 hours of running, you begin moving mechanically, kind of like mindless dancing at a festival when the sun is about to come up.

Then September came, and my boyfriend and I departed San Francisco for our 10 day road trip. A few days after the trip, I flew to Canada and spent 2 weeks with my best friend in the Rocky Mountains. This entire month was spent loafing around, barely running. The whole time, I felt guilty and stressed about my lack of dedication. However, I told myself that I’d be fine doing the 26.2 miles since I’d already covered 22 miles on one training day.

I got back to New York in October and promptly commenced training again. After all those months of dedicated running though, it felt like I had lost momentum. I began to hate running. I dreaded the marathon, and for the thousandth time, I wondered why I’d had the foolishness to sign up.

Race weekend finally came. The day before, Michael and I set out from New York to Philadelphia on a Bolt bus. By that time, the nerves had mostly dissipated, and I was happy and excited to be completing the 26.2 miles.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:40am. I stuffed myself with peanut butter and a cinnamon raisin muffin, put on my marathon clothes, and booked an Uber to the marathon starting spot. I was waiting in the hotel lobby, and it looked like the middle of the night. As I waited, I saw other runners filtering in and out of the lobby in running gear and ponchos, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

My Uber pulled up shortly, and as I got in, the driver asked if I was going to the marathon as well. When I said yes, she asked how many miles it was. I replied, “26.2”. She replied in a tone of bewilderment as she asked, “What do you get out of running 26.2 miles?”

My first reaction to this was speechlessness. I replied that I enjoyed the physical challenge of doing something I’d trained so long for. We chatted a little bit more about the difficulty of doing a marathon, before she dropped me off at the drop off spot.

It was still dark, cold and wet out, but the sun was rising. I followed the trail of other runners to the starting spot and weaved through the chaos and testosterone. As I was walking up to the starting spot, a woman offered me her spare pair of hand warmers. This was one of the first of many random acts of kindness that day.

While looking for my race corral, an older woman approached me and asked if I knew where the silver corral was, where we were both supposed to be starting. As I’d been walking around for about 15  minutes trying to find my corral, I felt a lot better looking with a companion. We found the corral quickly, and stood in place. It was hard to feel alone standing in the giant crowd, though my nerves had gathered again. Energy was high during this point, and people were chattering all around me. A woman standing next to me randomly gave me a hug before yelling to the crowd that she needed to pee.

Despite the designated starting time being at 7am, with so many people to get across the starting line, my corral didn’t pass the starting line until nearly 8am. If keeping the same running pace throughout the entire marathon, I should have finished the race within 5 hours with my corral pacer. The weather that day was windy, and it wasn’t ideal at all for running a marathon. Around the 8 mile mark, a tree branch fell down and nearly hit someone running in front of me.

There were many spectators that day, which helped to stay motivated. About every 2 miles, there were water stations with portable toilets. After stopping at the second one, I lost my 5 hour pace group. I continued running at my own pace without worrying about catching up. Things were going fine until about the 2.5 hour mark. Everything went downhill from there.

When I reached the 18 mile mark, it began to get extremely painful. My ankles were on fire. My left hip felt like it was going to bust. I slowed down considerably after this, and cursed myself for having the audacity to think I could run a marathon. But the shame of walking kept me going. I persisted with energy packs, a brownie and a slice of orange that a spectator stuffed into my hand as I was running.

The feeling of relief as I reached the 20 mile mark was palpable. At this point, it was nearly unbearable to continue running, and I began walking and half jogging intermittently. As I neared the 24 mile mark, a man who was running behind me overtook me and said, “Keep going, you’re doing so well”. Little things like this were what kept me going that day.

Finally, I passed the 25 mile mark and started running to the finish line. Crossing the finish line was the biggest relief that I’d experienced in a long time. I stopped running immediately after crossing, and turned around to see Michael waiting for me.

The hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the Philadelphia Marathon finish line, but the walk back was agonizing. I never endured a more difficult walk in my life. Once we got back, we quickly packed our things and headed back to New York on a bus.

I had a tremendous feeling of achievement after finishing, but also an incredible sense of physical pain that didn’t dissipate for a couple of days. Even turning in bed resulted in a sharp stabbing sensation in my joints. One of my coworkers, S, who I used to run with, used to say that running is just the ability to tolerate pain. After running the marathon, I finally understood what he meant.

Autumn (and monogamy) in New York

Despite a rocky start, the last couple of weeks in San Francisco ended up being blissful. As we prepared to leave San Francisco and drive across the country though, I had a topic on my mind that I didn’t immediately broach.

My boyfriend and I were about to fly out from San Francisco to Arizona to begin our road adventure before getting back to New York, when I suddenly asked, “Are we still going to do an open relationship when we move back to New York?”

Previously, he’d told me that we would, despite the debacle that happened in the earlier months, and despite that we were monogamous in San Francisco.

His reply was, “If that’s what you want”. I thought his answer was decidedly non-committal. I then asked, “What if I don’t want to anymore?” He then replied, “I would be fine with that,” before kissing me on the head. Based on what he’d said, I had a feeling that he was happy being monogamous. An open relationship had been a failed experiment for us.

Things in the last month between us had changed rapidly and significantly in San Francisco. From bickering over little things, I suddenly woke up one day and realized I had a wonderful person in my life who I had never really fully appreciated. I looked on the relationship with a new found vigor that I never had before.

We left San Francisco, and had a wonderful 10 day road adventure across the US. We then got back to New York, and went apartment hunting. We found an apartment that both of us loved, and signed a lease. I was ready to depart for Canada in 2 days to visit my best friend, when M accompanied me to the airport. During the ride to the airport, one of my friends back home was texting me about the relationship situation, asking, “Are you still going to be monogamous in NYC?”

I replied that we were going to go back to how things had been before, and M, reading over my shoulder, asked, “Are we?” as I just finished typing.

So there we were, in an Uber to the airport, having an uncomfortable conversation, just as we’d had many times before. M said because of an incident that took place earlier in the year, he no longer felt comfortable having an open relationship, but was open to me dating women. However, there were time constraints on how much I could date per week. He said he wasn’t comfortable doing a fully open relationship anymore, and that we would probably have to break up if that was something I needed. With my just blossoming romantic feelings for M, and my realization that I’d never find someone like him, I wasn’t prepared to give up the relationship, so while we were at Newark Airport, we agreed to semi-monogamy, and said goodbye temporarily.

I flew to Canada and had a relaxing two week getaway with my best friend in British Columbia, then returned to New York, where M was waiting for me in our new apartment. We had a perfect first week back, and in the following weeks, I settled back in. I was never so happy to be back in New York, and M was happy to be back, together. I settled back in, and this time, I tried harder to do everything that I had the first time around. I got a job. I got back on Bumble BFF and started making new friends.

Basically, I got my shit together. And when I least expected it, happiness crept into my life and settled there.

Leaving San Francisco

The first month in San Francisco was rough. It was difficult for me to adjust to the city, and to begin living with someone I’d only been dating for a few months.

Since we only planned to be in the city for about 2 months, I didn’t bother looking for work. Instead, I picked up writing the novel again, engaged in all my leisure activities, and started volunteering at a food service for homeless citizens.

Upon a critical self-evaluation, I realized what my problem was, in moving overseas to change myself for the better. I was still looking to an external source to change myself, whereas what I should have been doing, looking to myself for change (sounding sickly spiritual and preachy there, I know). So, I decided to stop looking to places, people, situations, to change me, and to develop myself on my own. I planned that when I got back to New York, I would pick up the job hunt again properly, and seek new experiences to get out of my comfort zone.

The second month in San Francisco wasn’t exactly blissful, but my boyfriend and I stopped arguing, and things gradually got better. There were many things about the city that I still didn’t like, such as the plethora of crazy homeless people, the hills, the inconvenience of having little convenience stores, opening and closing times of stores, the windy weather. But I made do.

The last day in San Francisco, as I was packing up the apartment, having sold off some of my boyfriend’s furniture, and sitting on a mattress on the floor, clothes strewn on the floor, I felt something odd. I thought about how many times it had been since I got to America, that I’d packed up all my things, and left, to start again afresh. That morning, I had nothing but pleasant feelings on leaving the city I so disliked, but as I packed up and left, I felt grateful to be given the opportunity to begin again.

Life in San Francisco

So, shit happened in New York, and I moved to San Francisco, where I never really wanted to be. The incident that occurred in New York left me feeling troubled over my life decisions and judgment, but I had my best friend in New York with me to help me (mostly) forget that uncomfortable fact.

The day after she left New York, my boyfriend and I packed up all my belongings from my Brooklyn apartment, bound for San Francisco. In a number of months in the US, I had quickly gotten good at writing goodbye notes on pretty paper, and packing up and leaving.

Moving to San Francisco so abruptly after Candy left seemed like a good idea at the time, as I was reeling from the recent incident, and thought it would be good to get away from the city, recharge, and get my bearings right. Instead, the move resulted in a further shock to the system. I was still emotionally processing the events of the last several weeks, and being in a new environment (especially one that I wasn’t fond of), and moving in with my long distance boyfriend, who I’d had a tumultuous relationship with, left me volatile, irritable, and somewhat miserable.

In the first couple of weeks of our cohabitation, we bickered like children. I wondered nearly every day, if I’d made the wrong decision in moving to San Francisco. All the while, I dreamed of going back to New York. My boyfriend promised me we’d be back in no time, but it couldn’t be soon enough. If things weren’t already complicated, my boyfriend stated that we should close our relationship temporarily, and be monogamous during the time that we’d be living together in San Francisco.

It was one thing to be living with someone and to have to get used to all their quirks, but it had been a number of years since I’d been in a live-in monogamous relationship, and it just added to the list of the things I had to quickly get accustomed to.

In the period after Candy left, I daydreamed about returning home more than ever. There was a yearnful longing that she’d awakened in me, a longing to be with my dearest friends and family once again. Where I’d once longed to be away, now, I desired more fervently than ever to be back in the place where I’d once wanted so badly to get away from.

In these lonely moments, I often recalled lyrics to one of my favourite songs: ‘Home is where I want to be/ Pick me up and turn me round/ Numb, born with a weak heart/I guess I must be having fun’. I felt like a fool, chasing a ghost of a shadow I had found three years in Tokyo. I thought the move overseas would change me for the better, but instead, I was just drifting through life again, effectively in limbo. The dream had ended.

The end of my New York life

After nearly three and a half months in New York, a fiasco occurred in my personal life, so ridiculous it could have formed the basis for a plot in a Woody Allen movie. And the worst thing was, both myself and all my friends had seen all the warning signs. I’d been heavily cautioned otherwise, but as I was wont to do, I threw caution to the wind, and did as I pleased. The sudden turn of events left me mortified and traumatized.

Consequently, I decided to pack up and leave New York briefly, and run away to San Francisco to be with my on again, off again San Francisco boyfriend, who was so willing to accept me despite my flaws, and the emotional roller-coaster we had been through in the past several months. I was down in the dumps, but I really had nobody to blame but myself for the way things had turned out, and I had been prepared to accept the consequences of my actions once I went down that path. However, I was grateful that the circumstances hadn’t been worse.

In hindsight, I thought I would use the move to challenge myself in different ways and grow as a person, but looking back on the past several months, I had really only used it so far to engage in hedonistic pursuits. And while it was fun for awhile, it wasn’t really challenging or fulfilling to live in that way.

It was with these reflections in mind that I packed up my belongings from my Brooklyn apartment, and said goodbye to the city that I’d had a tumultuous relationship with, for the past three and a half months.

The next day, I arrived in San Francisco thinking about how I’d left only 4 weeks earlier, and that I had left intending never to come back this year. Ironically, I was now back to live, temporarily.