Monday, December 15, 2014

Alone in New York

Back in mid-October, I was sitting in a southeast Asian restaurant, eating tom yum soup, waiting for a callback from the super, as the recent cold spell had sent the new flat's heating into hissy, obnoxiously loud overdrive. I was missing E acutely. There were other couples everywhere, and those uncoupled ones were at the bar watching a noisy game of football - the NFL kind with helmets, that's the most detail I could absorb. Coldplay's Yellow was the jaundiced soundtrack. I was reading about love; the pure and unconditional love of a mother for her child aged six, and suddenly I felt older and emptier. My life felt so comparatively narcissistic. Suddenly I wanted to grasp a small hand, more than anything. It was all rather sad.

It was so often in those early days that I caught myself sitting alone, eating some kind of soup-based noodle dish or another, thinking of the people I loved that were far away from me. Often at that time of the day it was long after my mother's bedtime in London, and E's in Spain, and I hadn't had any internet installed in the apartment yet, and I got to thinking, "I ought to write things down more often". Only from this kind of no-man's land of semi- boredom does creativity come for me. It's a place where the Internet, and cats playing banjos, and halfhearted instagram-posting cannot place its cold dread hand on my shoulder. So I usually found myself outside of the apartment, trying to pass the evening amongst others, but not really with anyone. Just watching and listening, making mental notes and trying to stave off the certain loneliness that came from arriving home to nothing and to no-one. My flat was missing furniture, life. It was missing E.

It's getting dark at around 4.30 now, and light at 7, and it's much harder to wake up. The window in the tiny corridor that passes for a bedroom in my New York apartment faces a brick wall, and as I'm on the 4th floor of a 6th floor walk up building, the sun must be far overhead to begin to reach the crevice between window and wall. Waking up alone makes my movements mechanical, automated. There's something so forlorn about not being able to turn, reach out and touch the warm body next to you in the bed, and to re-enter consciousness next to another human doing the same thing.

And then before I know it, the day has whooshed past in a flurry of activity - of work - and it's become time for bed again, and I sort of guiltily enjoy the luxury of getting ready in my own time. I idle in the shower, using lavish products I've treated myself to. Then I feel deep woe, thinking about all the people I've seen sleeping rough; those haunted, lined faces that New Yorkers hurry past every day; those forgotten children who wake up every day cold and hungry, and lost. And I think: this city is making me selfish. And lonely. And there is the state of being in this Big Apple - it looks lustrous and inviting, but when you take a bite, it's occasionally floury and maggoted. 

So what's the remedy? Time with family and friends, when they visit, as mine did for Thanksgiving last month. Regular calls, texts, sending photos of things you know would tickle them. Planning ahead for the next break. Joining things. Trying to do good, spending my time unselfishly. Donating a coat, clothes, or money for hot meals, and signing up to volunteer. And realising that I have things to be thankful for, in that I'm holding the maggoty apple in the first place.