Copyright © 2015 by Lindsey Okubo
New York is an idea, not a place. It was a story I could never write. The idea is different for everyone but New York somehow has come to represent opportunity, bright lights, strong coffee, high heels, higher standards. It is the ultimate test of self. Yet, after two years of developing an acute awareness for the color yellow, always being five or six hours ahead of my loved ones in Honolulu, Hawaii, three trips to the ER and living through my alter ego in a blue fur coat, I wonder if New York is a lie, or if we lie to ourselves when we come here.
I no longer have the essays I wrote for the Common Application I submitted to transfer from the University of Denver to New York University for the 2013-2014 school year. All I remember is that the last sentence I wrote said something about “finally being able to call a place home”. From the black t-shirts with “NEW YORK FUCKING CITY” printed in white letters hanging proudly at every souvenir booth in Chinatown to the fact that I walk down Broadway to get to school, New York never lets you forget that you’re in its grasp. It demands that you are here, why would you want to be anywhere else? With that demand comes presence and through that presence, a certain kind of freedom as long as you are willing to vanish. The sky is scraped of its agrarian charm amongst 86 stories of architectural constellations and just because the sun is shining doesn’t mean you’ll feel its warmth.
My first year in the city I was infatuated. Living at 400 Broome Street in Manhattan’s SoHo district meant that my neighbors were a nightclub called Southside charged $10 for a Coors Light, the seemingly famous Eileen’s Special Cheesecake and a pizza joint that served $1 pizza till 2am. What I loved most was leaving my cel phone at home, grabbing my iPod and walking, no where in particular but just walking filled with an embrace that I was here. The simplicity of knowing that you’re in the “city of dreams”, “the city that never sleeps”, the city that Frank Sinatra sang about and the city where Joan Didion resides is more than enough for most people. Yet I wasn’t most people. I was a 20 year old, formerly suicidal girl who hadn’t lived in one place for more than 9 months since high school, now attending New York University as a junior from Honolulu, Hawaii. I came here thinking that New York was going to solve all my problems and for a while it did, until who I was began to writhe its way back into the person I saw in the mirror.
It began with waking up in the middle of the night, around 1 am not being able to breathe. My airways were obstructed by tonsils that had swollen to the size of golf balls in my throat. It was the second trip to the ER I’d make that week, alone. “It’s bad again, I’m gonna go”, I told my half-conscious roommate as she fought off REM cycle. “Okay”, she mumbled with her eyes closed. It was April 2014 and I was tired of being brave. Hailing a taxi, “NYU Langone Medical Center please,” I said trying to hold back tears. I texted my Aunty Janice, my father, my family. I imagined all the drunk couples smashing their faces together in attempts to combat the loneliness against these car seats, imagined all the phone calls made whilst peering desperately skywards at the Empire State Building simultaneously trying to remind themselves that all this, was still worth it despite the words “I miss you” rolling off their tongues. This too is New York. When you live here you realize what you need. I had needles stuck into my throat that night by three doctors with mint-colored masks over their faces. All I saw was their eyes. They tried to drain an abscess that wasn’t really an abscess. They numbed the area first but I wasn’t numb enough. It was seven o’clock in Hawaii. What they really drained was my belief that I belonged here. If I was at home my eyelids would flutter and I’d see my grandma with her purple tinted sunglasses staring down at me warmly beneath the fluorescent lights, my dad with his arms crossed pacing the room, and Aunty Janice would be holding my hand. I wouldn’t have caught a taxi to the ER. I wouldn’t be alone. I wouldn’t feel so hollow.
Hawaii is 4,899 miles from New York. I have been asked if we ride dolphins to school, if we have electricity, if everyone surfs. It is a place that I was so ready to leave four years ago, denied that it was the only home I would know. Now all I wanted was to go back. Growing up in Hawaii we take it for granted. If its overcast it’s an “ugly day”, sand can be too “soft” if it gets stuck to you like a dusty memoir, hiking to the same waterfalls and going to the beach can get “boring”. The culture hinges on an unwavering appreciation for simplicity. It is a place that you need to leave before you can truly come back because the rest of the world doesn’t sell char-siu manapuas at 7-11, wear aloha shirts to work on Friday or has the chance to see migrating humpback whales at any hour of the day between late December to early May. No other place waves at one another in thanks as you switch lanes, no other place do you call your friend’s mom, "Aunty" and their dad, "Uncle", no other place is there so much love for one another, a stranger, the land, demanded and yet never has to be asked for. Hawaii is the place that invented homesickness. It is the only place all my friends see themselves raising families. I found myself wondering if we ever truly leave this place? How could we if so much of who we are is because we are from Hawaii? How are we supposed to know that until we leave?
New York is not a lie. Leaving Hawaii is a lie. It is the spring of my senior year and I am counting down. 68 more New York morning lie between me and graduation. 72 lie between me and my flight home on United Airlines flight #730. I can envision myself sitting in row 29, seat A desperately craning my neck to get a last look at Manhattan’s skyline, it was its own horizon. I think I will be sad to leave that island only because I know that not all islands are created equal. Manhattan is no O’ahu. New York is no Hawaii. But I am a product of both. But I know where home is now. I don’t need a subway map to get there.
Spring // March 2015.