As summer days in Atlanta grew longer and more tepid, I knew I needed to leave, if only briefly. The excitement of my first foray into adulthood — living in my own apartment, working at a real 9-5 job — wore off quickly, giving way to loneliness that threatened to suffocate me if I didn’t do anything about it.
Escape seemed too seductive, and, in the beginning of July, I packed a duffel bag and backpack to head for New York — a city that was too full of glitter and frenetic energy that, surely, it could revive me. I had no idea where I was going to stay. I hadn’t planned out any aspect of the trip, except knowing that I had a handful of friends I wanted to see while I was there.
Only a day later, I found myself sitting next to you, in the corner of a Brooklyn rooftop as fireworks exploded over the glimmering skyline and another Fourth of July slipped from the present into the past.
“I’m just thinking…” you begin, suddenly breaking the silence “…I’m just thinking about the fact that you’re only visiting.”
“Why does that matter?” I asked.
New York City was almost unbearably warm and humid during the day — even for a Southern girl who had grown up in subtropical weather — but during the night, the air was crisp and biting. It made feel intoxicated, bold. I had only met you a couple of days ago, but I wanted to kiss you.
You laughed, shaking your head as if to shake away unwanted thoughts. “When are you moving here again?” you asked, and I felt my stomach lurch against my will. I had two more years of school, two more years of dreaming about a place that seemed so distant from my reality.
Two days later, I headed to LaGuardia to catch my flight home, carrying a heavy suitcase and an even heavier heart. I had spent five days in the city, booking a flight and taking an impromptu vacation from my job on a whim. I needed to heal after a particularly rough break-up, a terrible spring, and a June spent numbing my senses with alcohol and meaningless dating; losing myself in New York City seemed like the perfect distraction.
I also knew I wanted to wander unknown streets and meet fresh faces. Most of all, I knew I wanted to erase from memory the spirit-crushing pain I’d felt the past several months. I wanted to rekindle my sense of optimism. I wanted to feel as though I could fall for someone again — or maybe even fall for myself.
I had met you the day before, my first in the city, under strange circumstances. You were staying in the apartment of a friend of a friend. When I first met you, you came up to shake my hand, still groggy from an afternoon nap with only a towel wrapped around your waist. Later, when my friend explained that you drummed for a moderately successful band, I laughed condescendingly because I didn’t really know the band and because I thought you were a bit bizarre.
I crashed at your apartment that same night after I went out with you and my friend. He went to bed early, exhausted from our outing, but we were both alcohol-awake, our thoughts racing too quickly for us to fall asleep. Somehow, we ended up in your bedroom — a makeshift recording studio where you slept on a futon. It was so easy to talk to you. I felt you pulling apart all of the thick layers I had carefully constructed around myself, to protect myself.
You probed into my pain with abandon, and I felt yours pulsating from within you just as strongly as your empathy. You told me to write, to indulge in the passion that I was afraid to pursue because I thought I was no good. You made me question what it meant to be “good” as a writer, what it meant to be “successful” as an artist. You inspired me. You told me about your life, and you listened to me ramble on about my own; we had met hours ago, that very day, but I felt as though I knew you. You noticed that I couldn’t look you in the eyes when you spoke to me — a strange occurrence because I usually had no trouble holding my gaze during conversations.
I went home again with you and my friend the next day, when we made our way back from that Fourth of July party in Brooklyn. You pulled out your guitar and strummed sad, sweet melodies that you had written but wouldn’t put on your upcoming album.
“I just want to play my acoustic stuff,” you said. But your acoustic stuff wouldn’t sell; it didn’t adhere to the image you were trying to create of yourself as an artist.
I noticed that you smiled as you played, lost in a world that you were beginning to show me. As the night progressed into dawn, I felt myself wishing that I could stay in New York City longer — that I wasn’t going to leave the next day and that you weren’t going to leave the day after that. I didn’t want this sensation — this emotional wholeness, this electric energy that tingled in my chest — to dissipate.
The next morning, before I left, I knocked on your bedroom door and you let me in. We made awkward small talk, both knowing that, as soon as I left that apartment — tiny and stuffy in the way that apartments in the city are — I would probably never see you again. The world was too large, and we were too powerless to keep the courses of each of our lives from charging in opposite directions.
It’s been more than a month since I came home from New York, and meeting you feels like a wild, two-day fever-dream. You’re on tour, and your band has popped up in the news recently and frequently. I wonder if you’ll remember who I am or if, eventually, I will become just another girl out of the dozens that you meet on a daily basis. Regardless, I know that meeting you has impacted me significantly, probably more so than you’ll ever know. I went to New York City, still sad and very much broken-hearted. I came back with a renewed sense of hope that I could still connect with others on a profound level, and I came back with more of a desire than ever to find my voice through writing.
I probably won’t ever see you again, but the ephemerality — our ephemerality — is beautiful.