On an hour-long subway trip from Coney Island to Long Island City, surrounded by my groggy, equally exhausted comrades, I sat with my head resting upon one of the many cold metal subway poles, observing Brooklyn's sizable difference from the towering steel fingers of Manhattan. We passed the Brooklyn Bridge on an adjacent train track, and I watched the waning sun pop back and forth in the minuscule spaces between the ever-growing skyline like a grand peek-a-boo game. It was my second time in New York City, but my first time on my own. The one that had started it all had simply been a school trip, and we'd done every possible tourist thing there was to do. Regardless, I became rather smitten with the town. As a history lover and a lifelong big city person, the Big Apple offered a uniquely American historical experience, and was, in the words of Woody Allen, "still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin." But anyone who has ever visited NYC knows that there is a vibrancy in the air, a collective heartbeat that is constantly thrumming, and the feeling that something wonderful could happen right in front of you at any time.
I'll be the first to admit I had my doubts about college, though I know I'm not alone. I knew I wanted to attend Kent State University from very early on in my junior year, so that made the college process significantly easier on my part when senior year finally came around. While my friends were compiling lists of schools to apply to, I had finished my application in early September. I watched them have slow, almost methodical breakdowns over which school to choose, but I remained stalwart in my choice until about the middle of the school year; I suddenly began to doubt whether I'd really put enough thought into my college search. I'd applied a few other places, of course, and even visited them, but there was something about Kent State that held me. But my panic was stewing, and it felt as if I would never feel secure in my decision again.
When March came around, our senior class was scheduled to take a four day trip to New York City. For months, the thought of the trip had been the only thing getting me through the stress of midterms, school plays, and FAFSA applications, and now that it was upon me, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. It was a wonderful trip, despite the city's bitter cold even in the latter winter months. Being in the midst of living, breathing history was almost addictive to me. I had seen an original, first-edition signed copy of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, stood under the statue where George Washington was sworn in as president, and rode past Ellis Island the way my Italian ancestors did in the early 20th century. When I returned home, I thought of nothing but New York City. I had felt alive there, felt whole, after an emotionally draining senior year, and my grandest wish was to someday return on my own accord.
After we returned, a friend of mine with whom I'd mutually bonded over our love of Broadway and ultimate dream of working on it someday, had suggested we make an attempt to come back up once summer rolled around and we'd all received our graduation money. I was very much in favor of the idea, and despite myself, began planning almost immediately. We went through list after list of every hotel in Manhattan and the boroughs that would rent to an 18-year-old, and eventually, in mid-June, we settled on a little place in Queens with a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline. The planning in of itself had been tremendously stressful, and I took it upon myself to hope that everyone had a nice time, but as far as first vacations go as adults, the trip was a success. I lived the life of a true New Yorker, taking the subway everywhere, wrestling the crowds, exhaustedly stumbling back home at two in the morning after a long day's end. At night, as we walked back to our hotel, I would turn and admire the beautifully lit Chrysler Building; we could see the iconic art deco landmark perfectly from the moment we stepped outside our hotel, and I rested easy knowing I would wake up and it would still be there.
It isn't often that you know you've chosen the right path, and some could make the argument that there is no truly right path at all. When an opportunity presents itself, we like to think we take all the right chances and end up exactly where we're supposed to be. I'm not a big believer in fate, but I do believe in what Tom Wolfe said of the beloved city: "One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years." The American Mecca, the City that Never Sleeps had proven to me that I was making the right decision after all. I had felt the same sense of belonging at Kent State as I had in New York, and I knew in my heart there was nowhere else I would rather be. New York had also provided me with a dream; that glorious, long sought-after thing that causes humans to move mountains and build skyscrapers, and I had collected my own little piece of it. Now as I continue on in pursuit of a communications degree, a writing career, and ultimately a dream, I only hope I will be able to return once again to give back to the Big Apple what she so selflessly gave to me.
Lead Image Credit: Ashley Lamatrice