Just like many New Yorkers will tell you, the mass transit here can be rather fickle. Although taking the trains is a quintessential instrument to so many who live in New York, there is no doubt that a relationship with them can be complicated. First, there are the delays. Then the derailments. The hot, sticky, underground subway platforms that overpopulate come rush hour.
Even on a good day, to take a train is an exercise all in of itself. First, swipe your card. Not enough fare? Trudge through the line of expressionless people behind you. Refill it. Now, go find your train. Run up the stairs to the correct platform. Quickly now, you might miss it. Walk into the train car and be careful to watch your step. Don't fall asleep either, you could miss your stop. Great. Now walk through the terminal to find your transferring train. Take a right here, a left, a left, straight. “Wait, did I make one or two lefts?” Get on your second train. Get off. Come up from the underground and go about your day.
Some may never take notice of this dance they do with the trains every day. It’s intricate and always moving. Complicated but necessary to get you from where you are to where you want to go.
So why is it so damn easy for me to get from where I am to where I need to be?
When catching the Q Train from the Avenue U Subway Station, a quick eight minute walk from my former high school, I’m only 20 stops away from my college that’s waiting for me around the corner from the 72nd Street Station. Others have miles upon miles and hours and hours between their high school and their college. Myself? A mere 20 stops.
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” I take my seat on the train. Then go in the headphones, first the left and then the right.
How does a full four years of growing up and becoming who you are get swept away in a single train ride? How am I supposed to just simply get on the Q and continue moving forward in life when it means leaving behind everything and everyone I know and love back there, off and away from the Avenue U platforms? Although a piece of me loves that I can come back home in a single train ride, another part of me is bitter. Bitter that a whole other world would be happening 20 stops away from me simultaneously. It feels like a tease.
More people pack into my train car. “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” I’m already halfway there. Everything seems to be going fine. But like I said, the trains can be fickle.
Suddenly, the train stops. It just flat-out stops in the middle of the track. Picture it. You’re underground. You hear the cool air stop blowing. The lights go out. The conductor announces there’s some sort of delay and the train will start moving as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” feels like hours to you. Your chest feels heavy. Your breaths get shorter and more frequent. Your heart is pounding. There’s no phone service, dummy. You’re underground, so that can’t distract you, but nice try.
So there you are, stuck.
How poetic. Stuck between the part of my life I don’t want to leave and the part that’s waiting for me. And uncontrollably and all at once, it comes back. The Saturday morning rehearsals. The conversations and debates my friends would have at the lunch table. My teachers and decorating their offices for surprise birthday celebrations. Class trips. Back to back English and history class. Prom. Assemblies. Double free-periods. The walks out of the front-door, high-fiving that special banner that hung proudly in the main lobby and out to the bus stop I’d go. The best part was I could wake up the next day or the next school year, even, and do it all over again. It all came flooding back. Oh, how I wished the train could turn back around to Avenue U.
But that’s just it. Trains can’t turn around.
Somewhere in between my claustrophobic episode and the flooding of memories, I realized a train cannot turn back no matter how much it wishes to. It can only go one way.
You see, there are other Q trains following behind mine full of other people who have to get where they need to go. Whether they want to get there or not, they’re going to have to get there because inevitably, there’ll be another Q behind them. So, I’ll need to get where I’m going first, but not until the people ahead of me get to where they’re going.
It’s funny how something that can only travel in a straight line can create a never ending circle of a sort.
The lights went back up. The air back on. My breathing goes back to normal. The train starts moving again.
There is no doubt that I can’t wait to start college and to get on with my life... to make something of myself. Will it be hard to leave Avenue U? Yes. Will I miss the people and the way it was? Yes. Nonetheless, I’ll get to that 20th stop whether I want to or not, so I might as well embrace it. Avenue U is no longer where I need to be. Where I need to be is where I’m going. When I think of it like that, it’s a whole lot easier.
It’s no easy feat starting all over again. But deep down I know that if I were to fast-forward the next four years, I’d be missing what I’m about to experience ahead of me, everything that lies off of the 72nd Street platforms. It’s a circle. A circle of gain, loss, love and living. However, like the Q, you can only move one way on that circle. Forward.
There’s a world there and a world here, and they’re happening simultaneously. Frankly, I can’t be in both worlds at once. Still, there is a way to get between those two worlds and for me, it’s so damn easy.
First, swipe your card. Not enough fare? Trudge through the line of expressionless people behind you. Refill it. Now, go find your train. Run up the stairs to the correct platform. Quickly now, you might miss it.
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash