Trains have always made me nervous. I hate driving over the tracks; too many possibilities and opportunities for car failure leaves me with constant anxiety and worry for an imminent death. I’m always nervous to miss a train—their rigid schedules leave no room for tardiness; subways are even worse as they seem not to run on any kind of schedule. Cross your fingers and hope you’ve timed your arrival with the subway’s: there just isn’t enough structure in that to comfort me. Getting lost is another factor—as is getting off at the wrong stop or getting on the wrong train and ending up at a destination far from the intended one.
But when you love the city as much I do, you’d do almost anything, including something that made you so anxious you thought your heart would burst, to get there. When I found a boy who had a knack for trains and a love for both me and New York City, I knew I’d never have to worry about finding my way around again.
New York is a place where dreams come true. From the moment I first stepped out of Penn Station in 1999 onto the corner of 7th Avenue and 34th Street, turning to look up at the Empire State Building, I knew the city would always be special to me; somehow, my little 6-year-old heart knew that one day, this city would be all I dreamed of and worked towards.
While we were together, my boyfriend and I went the city often. He knew his way around and always tried to teach me, tried to coax some sort of sense of direction into me, but nothing ever stuck; deep down, I never thought I’d have to try to find my way around without him.
We explored different parts of the city, found new places to eat and wandered around for hours, picking out future apartment buildings in Chelsea and watching the sunset over the pier. At the end of the night, he always knew how to get back home.
I loved the city but didn’t know how to get around. What stop are we taking? Left or right? Up two blocks or over four? He led the way; I tagged along behind, staring up at the city around me.
I was dependent on him—not only for directions but for almost everything. I consulted him before any decision, big or small. He was my go-to person; not a problem was too big or small for him and I rarely had to worry about anything.
His love for New York City never wavered but eventually, his love for me did.
I thought I’d never see the city again. I couldn’t do it on my own; I’d get lost, take the wrong train, get off a stop too early, get lost in the depths of the city and never find my way home again.
I relied too heavily on a boy to get around, to do what I liked and see what I loved, and I made a connection. Like a Pavlovian response, I instantly perked up whenever I saw a train, because trains and the city? That was our thing. After we broke up, trains reminded me of those good times and how they were a desolate thing of the past.
But my love for the city was too strong to keep me out; my fear of trains and lack of sense of direction couldn’t hold me back and despite the fact that I didn’t think I could do it without him, I learned.
I’ve gotten on the wrong train. I’ve gotten off too early and had to figure out my way back to where I needed to get. I’ve gotten lost on the subway, and I’ve missed a few trains. It’s not as bad as I always thought it’d be—it’s not so scary after all. There’s no greater sense of accomplishment of doing something you thought you’d never be able to do on your own. Taking the train seems easy enough to most people, but for me, it was rocket science and an unhealthy dependence on someone developed at a very young age.
Now, trains remind me of summer, adventures through Central Park, sushi with good friends on St. Marks Place, first kisses in used bookshop corners and finding someone I hadn’t seen in a while in Times Square. It’s lunches in the park, deep conversation on the steps in Union Square and laughing under the arch in Washington Square Park. It’s getting lost in the Flatiron District and nervously holding hands up Broadway and walking a ridiculous amount to the Freedom Tower and back. It’s proof that old memories can be overshadowed by new ones and that wounds don’t bleed forever.
I love train rides now; I do a lot of thinking on trains. It’s the perfect opportunity to sit back, listen to music and people watch. It’s a time to look into myself and think about how small and insignificant my problems really are in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes, I still think of him when I board a train, but now I think of him and I think of how capable I am without him. I think about how I don’t need him the way I always thought I did and I think about how I never thought I’d be okay on my own and I smile because I know I am.