The first time I ever went to New York City, was the summer of 1999. I fell promptly, uproariously and heartbreakingly in love with it as I walked up the stairs from Penn Station. I was smack in the middle of college, two years in and two years away from finishing and totally conflicted about what I wanted to do with my life (some things never change). I wandered around for a bit by myself, followed some subway directions and found myself sitting in Washington Square Park, a street fair taking place nearby, waiting to meet up with my friend Matt.
I met Matt for the first time when I was just a few hours old and he was five. The son of my mom’s best friend, he was the closest thing I ever had to a brother and I absolutely worshipped him. We went to the same high school (although not at the same time). When I was a freshman, I loved telling the older students that I knew him, so much did I want to publicly connect myself up with him.
When my 20 year old self was sitting in the park waiting for him, I hadn’t seen him in at least two or three years. I was so excited to see him, and when he did arrive, he looked so grown up, with tattoos and spiky hair. He was happy to see me too, but without my exuberant, innocent excitement. We walked around that afternoon, had dinner and talked. I took all of my uncertainty about life and dumped it in his lap, assuming that since he was older and filled my big brother role that he would have some answers and guidance for me. I didn’t know then that I needed to be a little protective of my hopes and emotions with him, because his plans and identity were still fluctuating and forming as well. I allowed him to plant ideas about leaving college in my head, and to fan the flames of unhappiness I had lit with the path I had chosen.
After dinner and a stop at Coyote Ugly (before the movie of the same name came out), where his roommate worked, we headed back to his apartment in Williamsburg. This was before Williamsburg was the ultimate in all things hipster, and I just knew it as the setting of one of my favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We sat and talked a little more, before he flipped open the weekly newspaper laying on the coffee table and said, “Let’s see what Free Will Astrology has to say.” I don’t remember what the horoscope said, but I do recollect that it’s prediction felt apt, so right on that we cut it out and I put it in my wallet.
I went over to the Free Will Astrology website today (something I do almost every week) to check my horoscope. For the first time in years, that action swept me back to that 24 hour period with Matt, in New York seven years ago. I don’t know if it was because the horoscope felt true, or if it’s because I’m in a similar place now as I was then, but I traveled hard and fast into the past.
When I got back to my grandparents’ apartment in Philly after that day, I was confused and spent chunks of time walking in circles in my head. I also had several tearful conversations with my mom over the phone. The conclusion I came to in the end was that I was going in the right direction. That finishing college was an excellent idea, and that I had even picked out the right school for myself, despite all the locational regrets being in New York had made me feel.
I’ve been questioning a lot lately, and this memory makes me think that I’m going to come to the same conclusion this time too. The choices I’ve made, and the life I have are good ones. That I am on the right path. The problem is that coming to that realization is never a comfortable process.
*The picture is of Matt and me, at about ages 8 and 3.