New York City had always been the thing my dreams were made of. I had watched the city from afar (very afar) for my whole life. In movies and TV I had experienced the lights and the crowds and the sense of intimacy in New York scenes despite the millions of people. I had witnessed central park be a place where people fall in love and the top of the Empire State Building be THE place where long lost lovers meet. Through pop culture, An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, Sex and the City, etc., I had experienced multiple love letters to NYC and felt that I, in some capacity, had a relationship with the city. It might have been superficial and extremely lacking in reality, but I could say the same about past boyfriends, many. And those are still considered relationships. Christmas in New York always seemed especially spectacular. Everything I saw on screen, from the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and 5th Avenue’s sparkle, to the Empire State Building lit up red and green, made me want to be there and experience the magic of Christmas in New York for myself.
When Greg and I first got married I started warming him up to the idea of my little cross-country jaunt. Greg and I are both west-coast babies who had never been any farther east than Texas. And although I am quite a dreamer, sometimes to a fault, Greg is not. He is practical and content in his practicality. Convincing him that we needed to feel the pulse of NYC and pay a bunch of money to do it was no small feat but I was up for the challenge. In no time, I had booked us airfare, hotel, dinner reservations and shows for a week in the big city.
Arriving at our hotel in Midtown, we were exhausted, jolted and excited. Everything around us was different and new and we had never really experienced anything like it before. We just looked at each other like “holy shit.” The first couple of days were full on culture shock. I loved the shock and Greg wasn’t so sure. The Rockettes were fabulous, the food was fabulous, the buildings and lights were fabulous, the tree was fabulous, the stilettos running around the city like Carrie Bradshaw were not so fabulous. Greg had to piggy-back me after the Christmas Spectacular and getting lost on the way back to our hotel. Lesson learned. And after the second night we really started to get into a groove and feel more at ease in this big, beautiful place. I figured out how to get us around, we walked through Central Park, we found a coffee shop on the corner that we loved, we went into O’Connolly’s on 54th pretty much daily and visited with our favorite bartender who learned that Greg would have a Jameson and Ginger Ale and I would have a Bloody Mary. We went to The Met, and to Lincoln Center for “The Nutcracker” (dream accomplished), and to the top of The Empire State Building, which by the way is awful to get up to. I thought I was going to be strangled by a rope cord and robbed by the gift shop before I could ever make it to the top. The view was pretty freaking incredible once we got there though. We were navigating this place and this experience together and doing it well. We were sharing New York and Christmastime with millions of people but also just with the two of us. Greg got his favorite day when we headed to Carlow East on the Upper East Side to watch our Cougars play in their bowl game. I had promised Greg that we would watch the game despite being across the country and he had found the WSU Alumni Association in NYC. Slowly the bar filled with Coug fans and décor. We watched the game, visited and sang the fight song, feeling completely at home in this foreign place.
The day before we left, we were wandering around 5th Avenue, trying to find Christmas gifts to bring home and we encountered this man. He was obviously homeless and crossing 5th Avenue in literal rags. He had no shoes or socks on and was wearing a completely shredded pair of pants and shirt, on December 23rd. His face is still clearly stamped in my memory. He was talking to himself; most definitely mentally ill. We looked around and at each other and tried to figure out what to do, or if there was anything to do. I wanted to go into a store and at least get him a coat but Sacks definitely didn’t have a coat we could afford, or even a pair of socks we could afford for that matter. We thought about grabbing a cab and heading down to somewhere cheaper to find a blanket or coat or something but then we thought he would be gone by the time we got back. So we did nothing. We just watched as he kept walking, past Sacks, past The Plaza, past Tiffany’s, past the glittering lights and beauty of the city to God knows where he was going. We were distraught and I was brought to tears. I couldn’t help but think that we could have done something. No human on this earth should be living like that, with that little dignity and with so few resources. At some point this man was some woman’s little baby, someone’s pride and joy. And now this. The lights of New York were shining especially bright in that instance. Revealing to our hearts and our eyes both astounding beauty and immense suffering.
We came back from New York with stars in our eyes. We had been forever changed by the city and our experiences. It sounds so cliché, but I guess that is why something becomes a cliché in the first place; It is a universal experience. We ventured out of our comfort zones and did it together. We had shared this awesome experience and were closer because of it. We realized that we could do things as a couple that were scary and different; that we could create our own traditions and our own family unit outside of our larger close-knit community. While we were in New York I wasn’t sure if Greg was really enjoying himself, but as soon as we got home and I heard him telling family and friends about our experiences with such exuberance and pride, I knew that he had loved and valued our trip to the city as much as I had. Both of our hearts had been broken by being witness to one man’s existence and we promised each other after that, that we would always help when that situation occurred in the future. We just couldn’t bear the thought of doing nothing again. New York wasn’t the perfect picture you see in the movies. It was so much more than that. It was a microcosm of our world, good and bad. It was vibrant, exciting, fear-inducing and dark all at the same time. Sitting here looking out my window as I write this, I can’t help but long to go back and see my long-distance boyfriend. I don’t even think Greg would mind my saying that or taking that trip with me. MEB
Cheers and Merry Christmas!