The day I graduated from college it started to storm. I’m talking a real, hard rain – the kind that made us wet to the bone as my family carried my things to the car, bags ripping and slipping from our grasp. My clothes fell in dirty, scraggly piles on the concrete. We were screaming at each other. I shielded my diploma underneath my shirt. We drove straight to the beach, because everything important in my life has happened at the beach, and I didn’t know where else to go. The minute we arrived my sister and I dashed out of the car and down towards the ocean, and as we ran we heard the sounds of country music blasting from a nearby house. Some college students were having a party. They hadn’t graduated, just yet.
We sat overlooking the ocean and I knew somewhere inside of me that I wasn’t okay but I would be okay. I would eat a lot of donuts and drink a lot of wine and become obsessed with melodramatic TV shows, and eventually I would move on, leaving behind the sounds of college parties and adopting the screeching of subway cars and taxi horns, letting New York invade my senses and plant its roots deep within me. Eventually I would be unafraid. But out of this fear came a sort of shield; an inexhaustible desire to be surrounded by the people and places of New York, losing myself in the rhythm of its mess. I stared at the ocean ahead of me, silently pulsing back and forth. I would be ready, soon.
When I was living in England there these baristas who took care of me. They loaned me a bike and made strong coffee and ran with me through the park. One of them had wild, curly hair and long limbs. Just before I left I went to say goodbye. I was sad – tearing up and trying to hide it – but he just looked through the window and whispered: Impermanence is key, Kendall. We are not meant to stay anywhere too long. Go ahead. You’ll be fine. I packed up my bags and left that day. I went on my way, and I never saw him again.
It didn’t storm that much when I was living in England. Everyone said it would, and I was well prepared for the worst, but I grew accustomed to the early morning drizzles and cloudy afternoons. I would run through the cobblestone streets and cow pastures, smelling the fresh earth around me, becoming more and more alive with every breath. In many ways, England healed me, and maybe the drizzles were part of it. They gave me rest. They replenished my soul.
I thought I would move to England after graduation, but I didn’t. I chose New York, instead. I got into Columbia’s MFA program and I cried on the phone as they told me – collapsing in the middle of an airport terminal and mouthing the decision to my mother. We were coming from a weeklong vacation in Florida where I drank Long Islands and red wine every day, burning underneath the Southern sun and cursing the universe for rejecting me. I didn’t have a plan after graduation. I was losing control of my life, adrift in indecision, and I didn’t know what to do. I took control in other ways, carefully calculating every calorie I consumed, measuring and planning my meals, staying just tipsy enough in the evenings to forget what was ahead of me. And then I got that phone call. Suddenly it happened, hurdling at me, investing in the parts of me that mattered. I accepted the admission without a second thought.
I think sometimes we work so hard towards becoming one thing that along the way we forget what we really need. We run from the storms in our life, run from the transitions, stay intoxicated with distractions, and then we crumble. We become alone, isolated, unsure; desperately clutching our favorite blankets and logging hours on the couch, catching up on Netflix and avoiding the phone, nursing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or a cheap six-pack from the local minimart. We are burnt out, weary, and distressed. We are healing.
Moving to England was easy, in comparison. England excited me. I wanted to reach out and grab the air in my fists. I couldn’t get enough of it. Moving to Harlem was terrifying. The air smelled like weed and piss. I held my nose when I walked outside, watching the rats scurry down the sidewalks. I wanted it to drizzle like it did in England. I wanted it to wash everything away.
Those first few months were full of mistakes. I didn’t understand subway etiquette or Northern mannerisms. I was frequently offended and broke, clinging to my pride with half-hearted prayers and cursing. But then it came – slowly at first, and then all at once. The magic happened. I began to feel okay. I kept meeting people – amazing people – people with life and personality and freedom. They would invite me places and teach me things, sharing the secrets of city living. I was inspired. So inspired that I started writing again. The stories came naturally, and the work was actually good, and my edits were clean, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas, full of so much goodness that I’d never had before. Full of stories. Full of words.
I went back to the hardware store the other day. I’m moving out now, and I needed to fix a scrape by the door. The Spanish cashier is named Garcia. He waves to me when I run by the store, and sometimes he calls out good morning on my way to school. He’s friends with our mailman, who always makes sure that I get home safe and updates me about local crime. He has a daughter himself. He doesn’t like it when bad things happen to young girls. I like this about him. I also like the tattoo on his left arm. He still won’t tell me what it means.
So I went to the store to buy supplies, and Garcia only charged me one dollar for plaster. I refused. It was at least fifteen. Garcia leaned over the counter, looked around, and whispered. He didn’t want the other customers to hear. We take care of you, aie? Don’t you remember when you first moved in? You and your mom, out there on the street. So bright eyed. Now look at you!
Now I’m hardened, I suppose. I understand the subway system and I don’t talk to homeless people and I can spot deals at the supermarket. I have friends who love football and drink beer on Sundays. I write about cheating and vanity and addiction. And together we have formed this little pod, inspired by the city, becoming something better than when we arrived. We have become ourselves. We have become our own voice, impermanent and free.