The loneliest place.

“When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses and sorrows but because of them,

that you would not have chosen the things that happened in your life, but you are grateful for them,

that you will hold the empty bowls eternally in your hands but that you also have the capacity to fill them?

The word for that is healing.”

– Cheryl Strayed

I didn’t cry on the way to the airport. Julio, my Lyft driver, wouldn’t allow it. His questions began the moment he loaded my suitcase into the trunk of his Kia Optima.

“Sarah, why you leaving? You no like Miami?”

I explained to him that I did like Miami, but I had come there for a film festival and now that it was over, it was time to return to New York.

The questions continued. Did I like Reggaeton music? Did I have a boyfriend? Did I know how to dance? “Next time you come to Miami,” he said, “I will teach you how to dance Reggaeton.”

I laughed, but wondered if I should be worried. Who was this guy? What did he want from me? But a few minutes later, we were at the airport, and as Julio bid me a cheerful farewell, I realized it had all just been playful banter. And I felt grateful, because I had been too busy deflecting his questions to cry.

It wasn’t until much later, after the flight to LaGuardia, after the cab ride to Morningside Heights, after picking up the mail, unpacking my suitcase, and grabbing dinner at my favorite speakeasy on Broadway, that – safely inside my eighth-floor apartment, the door bolted behind me – the tears I had been holding began to fall.

I had been holding them since the night before, since the Casablanca-themed awards ceremony for the Bogart Film Noir Shorts Competition, where we had accepted an award for our film Speak No Evil and my soon to be ex-husband dedicated that award to my dead parents. Emotions rising, he choked on the words, and I pressed my lips together and looked away. I’m one of the most sensitive people you will ever meet, but sometimes, I avert my eyes. I have to.

He was right. We never would have been there, at that film festival in Coral Gables, if my parents hadn’t died. More accurately, we never would have been there if I hadn’t used money I inherited from them to help finance our film. So, when he spoke this truth – more elegantly than I just did – I averted my eyes. I had to.

I’ve played the “If my parents hadn’t died” game many times over the last few years. It’s a self-destructive game, but one that I’m quite good at. If my parents hadn’t died, I never would have produced that film. If my parents hadn’t died, I never would have written that play. If my parents hadn’t died and we hadn’t sold their house in Olympia, I never would have gone on that exhaustive search looking for a place called home, the one that led me to wander cobblestone streets in Prague at winter, and hike a sweltering trail through a Mexican jungle, and take a ferry boat to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest to sit in a circle with strangers and share intimate stories from my life. And if my parents hadn’t died, I most certainly never would have trashed most of my belongings, sold my car, packed up what remained of my life, and moved to New York.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat on a patio near Lincoln Center with a friend from L.A. and tried to analyze why New York – a city of eight million people – felt so lonely. “It’s the loneliest place on earth,” she declared. I had only been in town for a few weeks and yet, I couldn’t disagree with her. “I guess there are so many people here it just desensitizes you,” I offered. And then I repeated something that I’d heard someone say: “Apparently, you can cry in public and no one will look twice at you.”

My friend paused, taking me in. “Wait,” she said, “You haven’t cried in public yet?”

I hadn’t. Just like my return trip from Miami, I had been holding in the tears. But sure enough, shortly after she said it, it happened. It was late at night, and I was headed home on the subway after a long day. A busker boarded the train. “Ugh,” I thought. Another stranger asking for money, another reason to avert my eyes. But to my surprise, he lifted a violin to his chin and began to play one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It was a sweet, plaintive melody that sliced right through me; the type of music that reminds you you’re alive. When he finished, I handed him a dollar, and he looked at me with such sincerity and said, “God bless you my dear,” that my eyes immediately filled up and spilled over. I got off the train, tears running down my face, too tired to wipe them away, and I walked home. And as I passed two police officers who barely acknowledged me, I realized what I’d heard was true: you can cry in public here, and no one will look twice at you.

I’m glad I came to New York. As homesick as I am for people I love and places I miss, it feels right to be here. Even the fact that it’s lonely feels – somehow – right. Maybe, paradoxically, the “loneliest place on earth,” is exactly where I need to be to feel less alone. Because in a city of eight million people, my worries and problems and fears seem less significant. In New York, I can be as odd and as quirky and as real as I want and all it means is that someone may pause for a minute, shake their head at me, and then go on about their day.

If my parents hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be here. And here is a place where I’m learning that maybe, I don’t have to avert my eyes. Here is a place where everything feels acceptable, which also makes anything seem possible. Here is a place where my writing is growing riskier and more honest and more dangerous, and I like that. Here is a place where I’m finally giving myself permission to be who I am and say what I feel.

Here may be the loneliest place on earth. But here – at least, for now – might be the only place for me to be.

Until next time, friends.

6 thoughts on “The loneliest place.

  1. Lol’ Having never shaken my separation anxiety from my childhood for growing up severer Latch Key, where I would all but grab the Kitchen rubbish sack in my teeth and drag it spilling the contents all through the house and across their king sized bed. After my divorce in Northern Idaho ‘1982’, I was relapsed and dating did and cohabitating did not cure me and heal my busted heart, as I was once deemed ‘Just a Desperado’ upon a respectable break up,. I am pretty sure residing in New York would put me in the nut house. I am not a big city / way too many ‘people person’. Besides all of that shoveling of heavy thick winter snows would not be ok with me.

    ‘You have to be who you were born to be Sarah’. We all do’, or we move through nine plus decades and 11 months and in the end, wish we had lived.’

    ‘It was decades after my sister sherry’s death before one day I just broke, then I teared up all the time missing her, Violins, Kazoos, F’M’ radios playing Brian Wilsons ‘Shannon’ and I would fall shit’, I laid in my bed for what seemed like days missing Sherry for so badly. She was six, I was four back in 1963’. Now she is a little angle at the top of my every Christmas Tree…

    ‘Hay, Sarah’ have your windows steamed up yet? Have drawn hearts and left messages in the condensation? I never say upon a Piano, probably would look anything as you did. Subways! Oh man, I am ‘cluster phobebatic’, and the very thought of rubbing elbow with anyone but for my dear wife’ gives me the hebee Jebees. :O

    Read you later Sarah. 🙂

  2. I felt the same way when I moved to New York. The anonymity – while a bit lonely sometimes – was just what I needed during a time of reinvention and self discovery. It will always have a special place in my heart.

  3. ‘Rings EDM’s purple starfish phone upon her table. EDM picks it up and there is static…

    ‘Then upon the window overlooking the City, an invisible index digit writes: ‘Sarah it’s going to be all ok, and the Helen Keller Quote: ~ Lawyers instead of Lab Rats. Best Quote ever. ~ “Reminds me of the old story about the research lab that was going to stop using rats, and start using lawyers… Their reasoning was that there was much less chance of the lab workers growing attached to the lawyers and that there are some things that even rats won’t do.” (Unknown Author).

    ops’ Oh wait’ that was not it, silly me Umpff.

    ‘This is it: ~ ‘Although the World is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming of it.’ – Helen Keller –

    …forms two hands into a?

    🙂

  4. Eh. For what it’s worth I’ve asked people who were crying if they were ok and they all waved me off. The city is a splendid place to be alone. Very nice to meet you at the Toast!

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