Three weeks ago, I took a train into New York City. Walking out of Penn Station, into the warm, late Summer air, my life felt like not my own. I found the PATH station on 23rd, walked down the steps, and saw a man squatting on the landing, pants around his ankles, a pile of human excrement beneath him. The emotion that rose up wasn’t foulness or pity or disgust. No, it was sadness. I felt sad that in a city of eight million people, where wealth skyrockets into the billions, that we haven’t found a way to take care of every human so that fundamental dignities can be given, such as a room with four walls and a bit of privacy when taking care of basic human needs like defecation. This was my introduction to becoming a New York City resident. Those were my thoughts as I lugged my backpack down the steps and onto the train to take me to the Airbnb in Jersey City.
A week later, I arrived home after work—an apartment I had signed a lease on a few days previously. A home without furniture, without utensils, with nothing but an air mattress. But at least it was my own space. I had four walls. The man I saw on the subway landing comes to mind, and my thoughts turn to privilege. How privileged I am, to live alone in New York City. How lucky I am to have been born into an era where there is a market that is in high demand for my skills. How lucky to have a family that loves and supports me. How lucky that I have the full capacity of my mental health, that I had medical insurance when I broke my ankle, that I was able to save money over the past few years so that I could completely upend my life and start over. How tenuous do many of us live, close to an edge that one misstep might send us over into a hole that we may not be able to climb out of?
To be honest, these thoughts didn’t arise on that Monday. Instead, I was excited. I walked out to CVS, bought some necessities and, on the way home, stopped in at Anchor Wine Bar. I pulled out my notebook, red wine swirling through my veins like a snake on fire, and wrote. Sitting at the bar, words and thoughts and the thin veil of a light buzz clouding my eyes but pulling my lips into a smile, coalesced into the realization that I was no longer myself.
How precarious and strange our lives can be. How remarkably unknowable who we are might become. To think that this woman was lying in wait underneath my pale, Irish skin, waiting through the monotony that Boston had become. Don’t we all have the capacity to change? To evolve? We all can dig and scrape at the surface of who we think we are. I wondered, sitting in that bar, the shadows growing longer from the sun falling, who it is I will become here in this city. What type of woman will this next five or ten years create? I can’t see the end of this thread; from here it’s a jumbled, knotted, lovely mess. This excites me to no end.
I don’t know if it’s getting older or being in a new city but the self-consciousness, the worry about how the world viewed me, is largely gone. I care less about the outside, the surroundings, the extras: is he flirting with me, are they staring at me because they think I’m ugly, am I allowed to be here? Almost all of my life has been wrought with the concerns of other people. Nearly all of my life has been considering what everyone else’s needs are—worse is what I thought other’s needed. I think it’s the combination of being older and the new city that I care more about being a part of everything, of being out in the world, holding it in my hands, watching it, and letting it go. I care less about what you think of me than what I think of me. This leopard is changing her spots.
Can a person change? Does their core stay the same? Can people remake themselves? Yes, I fundamentally believe that people can change. Yes, I have to believe that people can radically change because when you don’t like something—or many things—about yourself, the only real remedy is to change (or maybe accept that you’re just not as unique as you want to pretend you are). I think I remember somewhere that humans believe they are better looking than they actually are…that there is some skewing of self-perception when we look in the mirror. I mean, it’s got to be accurate, right? How many people can actually be hot? How many people can’t actually be above average? In knowledge? In skill? In kindness and love and singing and writing the next great American novel and in…well, anything really. So, we have to change. We have to be able to change our spots.
New York City, the new job, leaving everything I owned behind and buying new furniture, new utensils, new bowls, and mugs and feeling unabashed and fearless and wandering the streets of 59th Street in a haze of music and exhaustion—this is me changing spots. This is me trying on a second skin (actually, this must be the fourth or fifth skin, to be honest). This is easy for me; I have no one to keep me accountable. No one to tell me this isn’t who I am. No old friends to remind me that I’m not the person they remember. Sure, I keep my kindness, I keep my sense of being less than, I keep the cowboy boots. Some things are part of you for good; those things can’t be replaced. That core, the kindness and self-esteem shit, and love of country music—that will always be part of me. But wait, maybe not…my love of all things country wasn’t planted until after working on a dude ranch at twenty-one. Could it be that all parts of a human are malleable? Could it be that I just haven’t found the skin that fits and forms around my elbows without any wrinkling?
I have no answers. If you read any of these blog posts, you’ll know that I am full of question marks; not one single period amongst these essays. Ha. Essays…verbal vomit. So, while I care less about what the world thinks and have grown into my older age, I still worry about a life unlived. In nine years, I’m going to be fifty. That fact hits me hard (knowing that in nineteen years, I’ll reread this and laugh at my tender, young-hearted forty-one-year-old self does not escape me). At forty-one, I have not lived my life yet. I am still searching. I am still trying on new skins. I am again changing spots. And I’m okay with that. I think more people should try it.