A hundred days in New York City
I arrived in New York City in the late afternoon of the first of July, 2017. I left my family, my sisters, my best friends. I left people, plans and a road to nowhere. My bag was full of expectations – those that every long journey brings -, of the conviction that one way or another I will figure it all out and of a huge smile on my face that made me feel at home every step I took, despite the nostalgia, tears and fear. I often faced the fact that I was not able to control everything that was happening to me. Some things I kept together, others I had to let them go. One hundred days have passed from that first of July and I keep writing about them on a diary that helps me track the days.
Day 1 – Landed at JFK. The one and only thing I was able to think about was my bags. After a 10 hours flight from Rome and all the adrenaline in my body, I could just hope that all my dresses were with me. Maybe all my priorities are way out of whack, but this is me and I am so Italian in this. Got my bags back, I met my aunt from Delaware who came to the airport to take me to my house in Brooklyn. Long story short: it was a crumbling house, totally different from the one they showed me in the videos. I left the apartment and went to live with my cousin in New Jersey. Actually, lots of people do this: living in New Jersey and working in New York City, I was just one of them. Bottom line of my first day in New York is that I haven’t seen the city at all, but from Verrazano-Narrows Bridge I saw the first of many sunsets that made me feel at home, always.
Day 25 – In New York that day was raining and even inside me. I had been having problems on all sides throughout the week and the words of encouragement that I repeated to myself were losing their meaning. I had begun to wonder what I was going to do on the other side of the ocean and far from everyone. Maybe I hadn’t thought about it enough before leaving. I started walking home and at a certain point I found my safe place, my shelter, on the Manhattan Bridge. I called my friends and I broke down crying, but I found them exactly where I thought they would be, on the other side of the phone to encourage me.
Day 71 – There are stories that reach you despite the thousands of kilometers away, the departures, the silence. I thought of unconditional love, of my truest friendships, of my deepest roots. I thought about the people I left behind and those I never really let in, but that I will always remember. I thought about the fact that maybe all this endless attempt to protect myself has always hurt me more.
Day 84 – This city is the place I’ve always wanted to be in. I feel at home. Because being here is like being at home: it’s not always easy, you don’t always meet people you can sew on yourself, but you always know where to go to feel safe. I don’t even really miss my friends, because they are with me at every step. They see everything I look at and they know what I think. It’s a beautiful, powerful and such an intense feeling. I think that everywhere I will feel this sense of fullness, because I know that I never really walk alone.
Day 92 – I moved again yesterday. I live with two girls in a house with exposed bricks, I’ve always wanted one. In my room the window is on the ceiling and it inspires the way the light enters and illuminates the day. Leonard Cohen sang in Anthem: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – It’s with a smile and this sentence in my head that I woke up this morning.
One hundred and eighty-seven American days
I just keep counting my days in America and the numbers get bigger and bigger, as well as experiences and awareness.
Day 144 – I was in bed, writing the pages of my diary, all the impressions, the thoughts, the love. Then, it came all of a sudden and disarmed me. That night, after all those nights spent running away from him, after the high volume of life, the notes of the cities, the laughs, all of that just for not having him around to investigate me, painful and pungent, I found it again. I heard the silence of which I was afraid for so long and for the rest of the time before I felt asleep, I enjoyed it.
Day 148 – Today, I’ve thought about all the times in the last few months I felt trapped, when returning to Rome from my trips. Once landed, I was already thinking about my next destination. Tonight, returning to New York City was not forcing me somewhere. I was happy on my way home and the city seemed beautiful and sparkling as never before. I didn’t want to run away because I still had so much to give, to take and days to breathe. *Because I know, now, that it’s not a place that puts you in a cage, maybe it was just me who was a little broken.
Day 154 – Today Boston. I’ve always loved weeping willows. I also asked my family to plant one in the garden, as if the willows were trees to cage in a fence. I don’t know why I always loved them so much: clumsy, bulky, independent. Perhaps because of that strenght in sucking life from the water, because of those thriving roots that keep them attached to the ground, unshakable. An example of strength and freedom. But today I want to give you my eyes.
My Christmas Carol
Day 2 – I was awestruck the entire day. I’ve spent my first twelve hours in New York City and felt overwhelmed at every second, at every single step. A great energy sweeps the city: it is strong, it is powerful, perhaps because it is many things at once, and all these things give to the city extraordinary charm and romance. New York City is old, antique, conservative, while at the same time new, modern, progressive. So are the buildings, the trains, the people. It’s as if you oscillate through time at every block. You are completely overcome by its magic. And above all, it feels like you can be anyone you want to be, or the exact opposite.
Day 21 – I woke up very early, just to see the dawn. Photography at sunset is amazing and the pictures are intense and beautiful. The colors fascinate you; there are shades that can teach you something new every day. Every sunset is unique. But photography at sunrise is even more magical. Every day starts from a new dawn; it is the perfect metaphor for life and for every new beginning. It’s a pity not to stop and appreciate how those colder colors are able to give us the same warmth, the same strength, but through a different kind of poetry. I cannot imagine something more special than this. Anyway, as I was saying, I wanted the dawn today. It was dark outside. Eight subway stops and I was on the East River. I smelled the breeze of a quiet Saturday morning and I felt good. I love wandering around here with no direction, always finding new spots, and taking pictures seemingly without a purpose, but at the end of the day I can recognize myself in them. I thought about you for more than 5 miles. I thought about our second date. I dream of having that night back again, when I was on that wall close to the Tiber River and right in front of you. It was a perfect night to me and my wish is to be there again and to be kissed by you. I promise I will not avoid you this time and will embrace everything you wanted to give me. There was no reason not to open my heart to you; I was just too scared by what you have meant to me since the first time our eyes met.
And if someone asked me “What superpower would you like to have?” I would answer that I want be able to go back to all meaningful moments in my life and relive them intensely, without having to ask myself ever again “What if…”.
Day 77 – First it was “Do you complain about your back pain because yesterday you had rough sex with your boyfriend?”; then it was “Come here, let me caress you”; then again “Why don’t you want to talk to me anymore? What happened?”. I never had the answer ready in any of those circumstances, the answer that puts a person like that back in place in a moment. Assuming that there is one. What I’ve always had instead was to feel wrong myself, to feel dirty myself, as if I had somehow encouraged him to enter my private life, into my safe place.
He was able to touch me because I was too busy blaming myself for something I hadn’t done. I never said yes, come closer. And I didn’t explicitly say no, but there wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t clearly stating it. But, in any case,he shouldn’t have made advances like that, just because he thought he had the right, or power, to. It wasn’t violent; it was more devious than that. It was sleazy, inappropriate. I have been thinking about how the key is consent, the part that preempts the violence. Without that understanding, without creating the common consciousness that makes you say, “you are already disturbing me”,”you are already going too far,” or, “you are already making me feel uncomfortable because you are approaching my body in a way that offends me,” there is no way to protect ourselves. Consent is the key; it is what is there before the moment you receive unwanted words, it is the moment before being touched, and it is a cultural issue. You have to talk about it, define the limits. At school, at home, on the street, everywhere.
*I brought with me that days and that filth for a while. Then I talked about it, and for the first time I realized that it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to deal with something that has marked you as long as you are aware of it and then can face it over time. Only then I felt free and I was probably ready to find the words I needed.
“You must have known
You were wrong
When your fingers
Were dipped inside me
Searching for honey that
Would not come for you”.
Rupi Kaur – Milk and honey
Day 135 – Yesterday my best friend told me that she misses me, and more. She told me she would love to see me soon, that she really loves me and that she can’t wait to smell my perfume again. Her words had such a strong power on me and made me think about how much people stay on you and how they come back to you with colors, sounds and smells.
Day 138 – This journey is the best thing that has happened to me in a while. For the first time today, I’ve started thinking about my return to Italy. Something has changed in me over the last few months, and now I think I am ready to go back home. More than this, I’ve discovered another part of me, or maybe it was always there and I was just never ready to give it a voice until now. I felt completely naked: I cried, I was very sad, I thought I could not handle this, but I was wrong. I was able to be happy, and smile for no apparent reason, and I had butterflies in my stomach again. When I started to realize that being vulnerable was not my defeat, and that it was not for showing myself that I will be hurt again, in that moment I stopped being afraid and I felt strong.
*Maybe, composed of May + be. Say yes to chances –
Rupi Kaur – Milk and honey