I turned twenty the week I moved to New York City. I wore a pale, blue dress on my birthday and I was young and skinny and much more beautiful than I realized.
New York was instantly everything.
It was sudden and disarming and utterly consuming. Before a week had passed I couldn't imagine ever leaving.
In those early days I swayed under the weight of the buildings towering above me. The ribbons of people on the sidewalk pulled me to and fro, and I learned quickly to just give myself over to it all.
Colin had been living here for two months when I arrived. I told myself that it would just be for the summer, that I'd go back to Vermont and college in September, but even then I knew I wasn't going anywhere. The second I stepped foot in Manhattan I had no intentions of ever leaving. In the fall I applied last minute to The New School, the university where I would finish my last few years of college.
I had insomnia that first summer, and stayed up watching as dawn rose lazily outside the window, quietly extinguishing the city lights until the landscape was something solid and dusky. Right away I knew I shouldn't have moved in with Colin, that we were too young, and too damaged to see the thing through.
On those nights I thought about my mother, about her living here for all those years and I wondered what she would think about me being here. Each street I walked down I wondered if she had done the same. Every bar or shop I went into I tried to picture her there too. I imagined my timid footsteps leaving dusty prints on top of hers.
My mother wouldn't have approved of me being here, that much I knew. New York was too big, too gritty for the daughter she had known.
The night I moved to New York I drove down the FDR highway, alongside the rushing brown river, past the high-rises and the Domino Sugar Factory. My cat mewled quietly in her carrier in the passenger seat beside me and the Lower East Side loomed in the foreground. I couldn't shake the sinking feeling that this was not the girl I was supposed to be.
No, the girl I was supposed to be would still be at college in Vermont. I would have some sweet and apologetic hippie boyfriend who I would spend the summer with before starting my sophomore year of college. We would drink coffee all the time and take walks in the woods. He'd have those stupid poetry magnets on his fridge and would write me little messages that would make me blush with both gratitude and embarrassment.
But, gripping the steering wheel as I made my way into the East Village that night I knew that girl was lost forever.
She disappeared the night my mother died and I was never going to see her again.
Three years passed. Three years without a mother. Now I am irrevocably this girl: the one who has tattoos and drinks too much, the girl who rushes from her noon-time writing classes in Greenwich Village to her bartending job in Union Square, the one who is sometimes afraid of her alcoholic boyfriend.
In three years my grief has grown to enormous proportions. Where in the very beginning I often felt nothing at all, grief is now a giant, sad whale that I drag along with me wherever I go.
It topples buildings and overturns cars.
It leaves long, furrowed trenches in its wake.
My grief fills rooms. It takes up space and it sucks out the air. It leaves no room for anyone else.
Grief and I are left alone a lot. We smoke cigarettes and we cry. We stare out the window at the Chrysler building twinkling in the distance, and we trudge through the cavernous rooms of the apartment like miners aimlessly searching for a way out.
Grief holds my hand as I walk down the sidewalk and grief doesn't mind when I cry because it's raining and I cannot find a taxi. Grief wraps itself around me in the morning when I wake from a dream of my mother, and grief holds me back when I lean too far over the edge of the roof at night, a drink in my hand.
Grief acts like a jealous friend, reminding me that no one else will ever love me as much as it does.
Grief whispers in my ear that no one understands me.
Grief is possessive and doesn't let me go anywhere without it.
I drag my grief out to restaurants and bars where we sit together sullenly in the corner, watching everyone carry on around us. I take grief shopping with me and we troll up and down the aisles of the supermarket, both of us too empty to buy much. Grief takes showers with me, our tears mingling with the soapy water, and grief sleeps next to me, its warm embrace like a sedative keeping me under for long, unnecessary hours.
Grief is a force and I am swept up in it.
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