Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who'll Follow Me Into the Dark

Manhattan is frighteningly busy. Everyone dashes here and there and, most noticeably, with their faces to the ground. Don't look up, you may see someone you know, or worse, something that stops you from getting to your precious point B.

The most refreshing part of my day is something simple...friendly conversation between strangers. I get on the train and begin my slow crawl there or back, but I take a second to pull my eyes away from what I'm reading or just pull the headphones off for a second. I look around and everyone's doing the same thing. Almost every single person in my car is straining to keep their eyes, hands and feet to themselves. I can almost hear the gasp of air in the minds of the people boarding the train. They take a deep breath on the inside and solidly block out all thought that might possibly travel unspoken to the person beside then, if they happen to be a mind reader of some sort. Forbid me for feeling someone here might be interesting enough to share my small, insignificant train ride. I will more than definitely never see this person again, but I still don't want to talk to them. But doesn't anyone want to feel interesting? Interesting enough for someone to talk to?

It amazes me. Of all the cities in the world, New York City is among the most densely populated--but of course that doesn't mean we have to all talk to each other. Far from it. Striking up a conversation with someone here is like asking for a shaker of salt in a 4 star restaurant. You just don't do it.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this) that I feel so very alone here. It is not meant to offend my family or friends who have constantly supported me through everything in the south and now the north, but for the most part they are all hundreds of miles away. Any friends I make here are hard to keep, merely due to the nature of this place. People move away, train rides are tedious after work hours and bars are crowded and expensive. Unless I hang out with a friend after work, I predictably go home and spend my few hours of freedom performing some task of necessity, or not, but it all comes down to the same thing--Where did my day go and where is everyone?

It's always been about animals for me. They are always there. They always need me. They never say, "No, not tonight," "Maybe another time" "I don't want to" or "Can't you find someone else to go with you?". My dog...she's always there, waiting for me by the door and ready to shower me with love simply because I came home.

It makes me wonder why I need anything other than that. Perhaps it's the idea that with so many people around me, someone has to have similar interests as mine. But, Jesus, everyone here is so absorbed in their immediate purpose, gadgets, appointments and fashion to just give a damn about the lives around them. Even being married, this seems to be the loneliest place on earth.

Having relationships is just too much trouble.

Eclipse is an animal, but he certainly doesn't stand around and wait for me to be with him. Quite the opposite. Due to the circumstances surrounding my work, I usually only leave the office around 6pm, so getting home in time to make an hour drive out to see my horse for an hour or less and turn around and take another hour getting home--it just isn't normally in the cards. I see him on the weekends, and that definitely has ill effects.

He is so curious, social and goofy. That is, until I show up. Then he feigns disinterest and places his nose right back in his hay bin. If anyone else shows up to the barn he trots up to them happily sniffing pockets for hidden treats. Imagine how I feel when I see this. I feel like I've been betrayed by the one reason I look to escape that behavior in humanity, but there he is, reflecting everything I brought with me.

I completely understand that he's doing it because he hates that I spend so little time with him. Believe me, it's the last thing I want in the world. I sought out an Arabian horse because of their absolute, undying dedication to their person. He's smart. He sees me coming and knows how everything else will follow. I'll walk to him and give him a pat and tie him up, spend an hour grooming and brushing, saddle him and ride him for a few hours or less. Then we take off the saddle, I give him a pat and let him go eat some hay. It's a routine he's used to and that really breaks my heart.

I want him to be happy I'm with him. I know he is upset to see the other horses being played with by their owners throughout the week and I think maybe he takes out his jealousy on me when I finally show up.

This is why I am moving him to a new barn in a few weeks. I need him closer. I just can't stand seeing him sad. Since he will be closer, I will be able to play with him after work whenever I chose, and I believe that will help me feel less alone through the week myself.

I need our bond. I need to feel he needs me as much as I need him. I need him to know he's not alone, but I think subconsciously I need to be reassured that I'm not either. No one can tell me that enough for me to believe it. I have to see it. Somehow, in the massive population of the Big Apple, it's just not getting through to me.

Perhaps they are all looking for the same thing as Eclipse and me. It's a question we can't answer ourselves. In the end all we really want to know is: Who will follow us into the dark?

Trading One for Another

We came here because of work and love. Work was what I hoped to find and love was already established. Tom created a foundation here for his passions--it's more than 70% why we're here.

My reasons for NYC are diminishing day after monotonous day. I try to force feed work into my diet of self fulfillment but after emotional vomit day in and day out, I just can't rationalize it anymore. How do people do this? Where does the corporate ladder really go? For me, it leads to a very thick, possibly impenetrable, glass ceiling. I wish my art could take me higher, but I have to jump into a dark abyss of uncertainty for an indiscernible amount of time. The costs of living here will not allow me to take that chance, so I have to find other ways to fill in the holes I feel need the most nourishment. I need a horse.

One night, not long after our move, Tom and I took a random stroll out to Little Italy for some dessert. He didn't want anything, but I insisted we get a bottle of wine to share and enjoy the evening. I downed a second glass and introduced an idea. I was feeling pretty claustrophobic (who could blame me?) and upon reflecting on my regret for not studying abroad and decided OUT is where I want to be.

I want to travel the world. Ok, who doesn't... he says. No, no. You don't understand. I want to travel the world on the back of a horse.

What ensued was a very lively discussion on how one could theoretically ride through any area one could backpack. A few of my friends had done it and I have heard countless stories of "couch surfing"...why couldn't I do it on a horse? No one's saying it can't be done.

That conversation started innocent enough, but quickly turned into an obsession. I ran to the bookstore after work to sit for hours pouring over walking maps of various different countries, hours upon hours were spent searching the internet at work finding stories of people who had accomplished what I could only dream and before I knew it I was searching for a horse.

To my husband my ambition probably doubled as recklessness. He was fine thinking of it as a very lofty goal that may or may not ever happen, but I'm not sure he expected I would take it as far as I have. I want it. Need it--with or without him. I started making plans...charts...journal entries...starting discussions on message boards...but those things were harmless enough.

The real threat happened when I took time off work to fly down to Tennessee and collect my car. It was a three day weekend and I bought the first flight ticket I way. In order to have a horse to train and ride long distances, I would need a car in order to drive to wherever I decided to keep him. After a few hours of research I found that what I wasn't having to pay in rent each month I could turn around and spend on board for a horse...whether I leased or owned.

What happened to my career goals? Wasn't I supposed to become this power-driven Manhattan woman bent on nothing by success? Why didn't I think of this when I sold Ironman? Did I have to make him a sacrifice? Those thoughts of being the next big WHATEVER came and went as fast as the pleasant as imaginable--invigorating--for a week or two, then painfully painfully gone...left with nothing but bare trees and cold wind whipping you senseless for even considering weather could be lovely. As I mentioned...I found out there isn't much of a future where I was headed. Even if I made it to the top, what would I really have? In my field of work...not much. Sure, a decent pay check...but what else? Who knows... Success doesn't always come without a career path diversion, but none of the branches out strike my fancy. Not yet anyway.

So what if I changed my mind? What if what I decided has nothing to do with living in New York City? What can I do?

But, I'm here as long as Tom needs to be here for his art. It's such a bitter thing for me to accept. I left the south, left the best friends I've ever made, left stability, left the one thing that meant more to me than most freedom. My freedom was on the back of that beautiful black horse, wind slashing my hair across my face, galloping to nowhere through a beautiful meadow speckled with wildflowers. I left it all, for love and what I thought I really wanted.

What do I want now? I want to be the girl I was back there...back where time didn't matter anymore...back where I was happy. I spent so many years wishing to be away from it and when I finally left I realized how so priceless it all was and how stupid and naive I was for taking it all for granted. But, God, I did it too because I wanted to show them all I was better than that dead-end little town! I traded one for another.

So, Eclipse, you are my second chance, my second horse, my second hope for freedom...for escape. Can we go along together? When? Can we now?....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's a living!

New York City is an icon. What makes it so memorable, even for those who have never set foot here? What is it that comes to mind when thinking of NYC? The skyscrapers? Amazing food? Broadway shows? Central Park?... Really, just name it and New York has some claim to fame for it. How many movies do you see a year set in Manhattan? This must mean something. That makes it important, right?

But what about the things you don't hear about? The headlines in our daily reads are slightly different than the typical suburban landscape... Bed Bugs, poverty, crime rates soaring on the subway platforms after several MTA budget cuts, another Starbucks on another corner... Name a million warning signs of a bad living situation and quite a few will apply when considering this place. I thought I was prepared...sort of. Mainly, I knew I would be uncomfortable, but it's worth it! Sure.

The truth is, the cost of living here alone, even far out in the outer burrows, is inconceivable. Luckily, Tom had already established an apartment deep in Brooklyn where we were able to live cheaply when we arrived. Please, do not mistake my optimism. That was the only practical reason tolerate that place. Until you've lived it, there is no way to comprehend the tension of submitting yourself into a situation like this. It was one of the deciding factors in my decision to sell Iron Man and the number one reason why I sought out another horse after a year of living there.

Imagine, if you can, a newly married couple living a perfectly normal life in a perfectly normal city on a modest budget in a one-bedroom home with a dog and a cat. Now, take away the normal city and place them in the heart of a grungy Brooklyn neighborhood (but slightly up-and-coming with some ethnic families, artists and hipsters). No lawn to mow may be a plus, but the loss of mostly green for mostly gray has a larger effect on the mind's emotional health than generally assumed. Now that our couple is in Brooklyn, we're going to take away their modest one-bedroom house and place them in a loft apartment that was a part of a warehouse recently converted from a knitting factory into a residence for artists of lower income. You're picturing them alone, aren't you? Guess again. Though the square footage of the high-ceilinged studio is comparable to the cottage they shared in the heart of downtown-wherever-they're-from, the rent per month is higher than both of them make, combined, in a two week period. Some couples can rationalize spending more than 50% of their monthly income on a place to lay their head. We're not that kind of couple.

Living beyond one's means in NYC is perplexing...especially since so many young people do it just starting out. But what really makes no sense is why anyone would spend over half what they make on a meager salary in one month on a storage facility. That's all it really is. Ask any New Yorker how much time they really spend at home and more than half will probably say they spend maybe a couple of hours plus sleeping hours at home and nothing more. It just doesn't make any sense. People, generally, want to live nicely, but between transit times, outside entertainment, and insane work hours, there is no time left to relax at home. I learned that lesson the hard way.

We thrust ourselves from a comfortable $500 a month 3 bedroom home in a nice neighborhood with a front and back yard and easy commute to work into an inflated artist's loft for ever 2k a month, 5 bed rooms, 6 residents including ourselves, 1 kitchen, 1 bathroom and no heat or AC. **Note to readers: Do NOT visit NYC in the summer. You will regret it.

Of course I had the "new bride" mind-set--I can't be expected to live in other people's filth and be forced to tolerate substandard living conditions just because it's cheap! I admit, I still adamantly believe a married couple should live alone for the pre-baby years, if for no other reason than to spare other inhabitants the horror of an angry young-woman who can't seem to get her way. It's awful. After countless attempts to make Tom break down and let us find our own place, I decided to take a different approach. If I couldn't spend money on residential privacy to find some peace and happiness, I'd have to spend it on something else entirely...something I couldn't share with my husband. I got the "grin and bare it" speech more times than I can recall, but it finally clicked when I started paying board for my horse.

I am about to make a rather bold statement. Horses in the NYC area (and other animals belonging to human beings able to spend ungodly amounts of money on their welfare and comfort) are expensive to keep. In about a month from now my horse will officially cost more for room and board than I pay for myself.

Take it in. It's sick.

So the absurdity of it comes down to this: What is happiness worth? Does it make you happy to come home and be alone in a palace of an apartment from which you will never see your hard-earned money return to your pocketbook? Or are you comfortable lowering your standards of living so you have more money for something else in your life?

It's something I wish I had considered in more depth before moving to NYC.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the beginning

I faked the address on my cover letter and resume to make it look like I was already in New York City. This one guiltless little lie landed me an interview that ultimately changed my life forever.

Before I met Tom I had no desire to travel farther north than Ohio. My love of the south ran deep in my veins, but with the love of a man comes confusion and, ultimately, alternate thought patterns. He was here and I was there...and distance wasn't an option anymore. Once he entered my life, all I wanted was to be with him in New York and live out a life I pictured meaningful-as a career-driven woman and wife to a spectacular artist and musician. I was, perhaps, a little diluted.

It doesn't matter now, and looking back on my naivety it's probably best that I felt that way. Nothing can prepare someone for the kind of life change the city will demand. I understood, in a sense, and yet I still wanted it. I was ready to embrace the new me with open arms and never look back-to jump from the cliff that was my life and submit my soul to the mysterious, unpredictable sky. I wanted the danger, the lights, the steel...the adventure.

And yet, there was something back in that modest southern city I can't quite let go. He was tall, dark and gentle with eyes that pierced my heart and sent my soul bounding through fields of wonder the mind can't quite imagine. He was my horse, Iron Man, and trading him for an airplane ticket is one of the greatest regrets of my life. He was a freedom I took for granted.

I sold him the same day I left for Manhattan. I can still see the little white horse trailer fading away up the long driveway, past the far pasture and out the farm gates. I remember the exact smell of that spring day like it was the last pleasant thing I might ever recall in life. The slight morning chill still stings in the back of my throat when I think of it. It was the day I told myself to put away my toys and button my suit. I had to stand tall and know he wouldn't be the last horse in my life.

But there I was, a single figure standing in the face of that bright southern sunrise, knowing I'd soon be against the skyline of a Manhattan sunset and wishing I could run to catch him-to take him back and spit in the face of my opportunities. I hated myself for wanting them horse...and the city.