If you had asked me when I was ten years old where I would end up at almost 30 and what I would be doing, I probably would not have guessed correctly. And no, I don't just mean the fact that I am awake in the pre-dawn hours of a West Village morning thanks to a surprisingly effective combo of insomnia and noise from the nearby bar, though I probably wouldn't have seen that one coming either. What I do mean is that I probably wouldn't have counted on living in New York City, at sitting here late at night with my adult thoughts and a really cute little mutt curled up by my feet and another beautiful soul's former lungs in my body.
You know, all the normal stuff like that.
My family spent almost every Thanksgiving holiday when I was growing up on a special vacation to New York City. We would stay in the same apartment on the Upper East Side, eat Thanksgiving dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, and see a ton of family-friendly Broadway musicals (Cats! Phantom! Les Mis! Cats again!). We would wander through the streets and look at the windows in Saks and the lights on 5th Avenue and we would brave the 6am cold to get awesome "seats" in the front row of a New York sidewalk curb for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. We would eat hot dogs and bagels, we would ride carriages in Central Park, and we would all smile through the bitter cold, because I'm here to say right now that anyone who ever tells you that Colorado is a cold state has never, ever lived in the northeast. And, of course, we would always make our way eventually into the hallowed halls of FAO Schwartz toy store, which as far as I could see was pretty much heaven -- from the huge stuffed animal section right down to the never-ending musical strains of the store's theme song: "Welcome to our world of toys!"
Heaven, no joke.
What was NOT heaven, however, was the sheer size and chaos of the city itself, or at least not from my slightly limited perspective. My Colorado mountain girl self thought the Big Apple was pretty much the definition of scary from day one. Case in point, I kept the apartment's address written on a business card and firmly shoved in my pocket with a ten dollar bill as insurance against the terrifying fate of being alone in this super crowded place with the crazy yellow cars and the buildings that seemed to me just as high as the peaks that surrounded my hometown. I always loved the lights and the colors and the food and the musicals; I just wasn't sure about the, well, about the flat-out extremeness of the place, to be honest. I may have been a child with a whole lot of spirit according to my report cards (I always took it as a compliment), but I was also a fan of at least some sort of security and routine.
(And as an aside here, my wonderful sister attempted to solve this problem by telling me I had a special pigeon who followed me in every major city to make sure I was okay. If pushed, she would acknowledge that this particular pigeon was recognizable by its distinctive grey body and somewhat iridescent green markings, and the fact that it had wings and was always the pigeon closest to me, obviously. I was 100% convinced she was telling the truth.)
Fast forward give or take 22 years. I live in New York, more or less alone (sorry, Sampson), and I am happy. I am happy to be here. I am happy and proud to call such a chaotic mass of stunning humanity my home. And I am happy beyond all reason when I am walking the streets of this wonderful place. Particularly alone. Particularly when it's most alive all around me. Particularly, oddly enough, when it is at its most overwhelming and, yes, even a little bit scary.
Of course, when I say that I am happy, I don't mean that my life here is totally free from worry or stress. I don't mean an existence without problems, or without concerns, or without anxiety. I don't mean that it's always easy to live in this place that I've come to love for its complexity with this body that I've learned to adore for the exact same reason. I don't mean happy in the way I might mean it, for example, if we could suddenly imagine a life or a world without things like cystic fibrosis or pain or fear or any of the other things that threaten to hold us back on a daily basis. In fact, just thinking about that sort of stuff can sometimes threaten to send me off in a tailspin, whirling my way straight back to that somewhat timid little girl with the address in her pocket. Because the craziness and the uncertainty are all still out there, right? They never really go away, I guess. Not for me, and probably not for any of us, if we're really being honest.
And yet I will say it again: I am, in fact, happy. Like, really happy even. I am the kind of happy that comes from having at least one moment every single day of raw, unadulterated joy. I am skip down the street like a 5-year-old kind of happy. Dance with the dog in the living room to Belle and Sebastian kind of happy. Laugh at absolutely nothing just because the whole wide world seems funny kind of happy. Oh, yeah, and "take-all-my-meds-and-go-to-all-my-appointments-or-blood-draws-or-whatever-and-smile-because-when-all-this-is-over-I'm-going-to-be-walking-back-out-into-the-best-most-crazy-beautiful-amazing-existence-any-girl-could-ever-ask-for" kind of happy.
Yep, that kind.
The difference now, I guess, is that even though my life might still be a whirling, chaotic, overcrowded ride sometimes, I think I'm coming to a point where I can not just accept that movement, but maybe even learn to embrace it. I think at some point in my life with CF I came to realize that nothing is ever guaranteed, but that the fact of the matter is that even the stomach-dropping sense of being off balance every once and a while can ultimately make me a lot more steady on my own two feet. And even if the prospect of being alone in a strange city, in an even stranger body, with a stranger's lungs and a crazy, beautiful, strange world out there all around me might sometimes be the most terrifying prospect imaginable, it is also, sometimes, the greatest blessing I could ever imagine. It's the sort of realization that can bring me back to myself amongst the madness, and back to the beauty that seems to go hand-in-hand with an existence that is, in many ways, well beyond my (or any of our) control -- and that is undeniably worth it, in every sense.
Or maybe it's that very chaos itself that makes this once so-very-scary destination also the place where I now feel the most at home.