Manhattan

From the Other Side

Erica.

It was 11pm on a Thursday night and Allison and I were at Target—our first escapade since she had picked me up from the airport. As we talked for the first time in months, I quickly remembered how loudly she often spoke, and attempted to match my volume to hers, consistent with the competitive nature of our friendship. It not only resulted in me miserably failing to keep up, but also in a blaring, unnecessary projection of our opinions on the University of Michigan and Cornell—and every other college we were considering going to—to the poor shoppers three aisles down.

Between breaths I could see out of the corner of my eye the glances from everyone around us. Some were curious, others bemused, and others abhorrent from the idea that two teenage girls were at a Target buying Peeps and Goldfish on a Thursday night when we should be at home studying. What were we doing? Why were we talking so loud? Where were our parents? No one would ever know.

And so that was our spring break—interrupting the peace of a subway car with our overly-loud laughs and stupid jokes and cringe-worthy puns and conversations about Omnibus and Physics and college, peppered with Allison’s “yikes” and my “fight me” and Veronica’s sighs and words of wisdom (she’s a good one).

Maybe one guy went home and told his wife about the three teenagers on the subway who were laughing too loud and interrupting his audiobook. Maybe the old couple next to us laughed and told their Bingo friends about the three lame teenage girls who were fervently working on a crossword puzzle all throughout the one-hour commute. Maybe the girl sitting next to us on that bench in front of Shake Shack told her friends about how we were telling the worst jokes and laughing about how our school was so ethnically nondiverse.

But ultimately, it didn’t matter how memorable we were; no matter what impression we made on the people around us, we were still simply quick, split-second observations in strangers’ minds. A flash. A tidbit. Fifteen minutes of sitting next to someone on the subway is a mere blink when compared to an entire lifetime.

It seems weird to think about how we are only tidbits in another person’s life. We are just as insignificant in their lives as they are in ours, holding as small of a spot in their memories as they do in ours. The person sitting beside me has her own dreams, her own aspirations, her own past and future, her own quirks and her own story that are completely unknown to me. And somewhere within her big, complex, entwined life story, there I am making a guest appearance.

Allison, Veronica, and I are simply snapshots and small memories; our stories are completely lost when looked upon from the outside. No one would have known that this was the first time the three of us had been in the same room for nine months. No one knew our stories.

It was our week, our adventure. Here we were in the midst of Manhattan, tired and battered from senior year, but ready to live. It was the spring break that we had counted down to ever since the End of the Year Gathering ended in June, since Allison and Veronica left California in August and September; it was the spring break we had furiously planned during our weekly Skype calls and ever flowing texts. We Veritas students thrived on countdowns and Skypes, painfully awaiting that time when we’d see each other again, and that time was now.

But how miniscule our story seemed in the grand scheme of things.

When the conversation lulls I take the time to glance at my surroundings. I saw it so vividly then, but now I don’t remember their faces.  There was that man from India at the subway station, a woman chasing her toddler around the ferry, two businessmen sitting behind us at Chipotle, but if I had to ever pick their faces out of a crowd, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Perhaps the woman I sat next to on the subway was in the midst of her own grand adventure, her own happy moment. Perhaps the guy I accidentally ran into while trying not to lose Allison was on his way to stage a huge proposal to the love of his life. Perhaps the volunteer at the Bronx Zoo who took the time to give us a personal tour of the Madagascar exhibit had four PhDs and had already traveled the world, lived her life, and was now relaxing peacefully by helping out at the zoo on weekdays.

We will never know.

But with each glance, with each observation, with each small appreciation of another human being, we can begin to scratch the surface of this innate complexity of the raw humanity that exists in day-to-day life. As Veronica, Allison, and I walked into that museum, sat in that subway, and laughed in that park, not only our story existed but so too those of the people around us. And there, in that moment, was an abundance of complex life stories swirling around, interacting for that brief, instantaneous moment in time, and separating, never to converge in that distinctive combination again.

EVA

Allison, one third of the corny friendship formed by EVA.

Reaching over to turn on my phone, the glowing screen informs me that it is nearly two a.m. and my sore body echoes this notion. Despite my headache and bleary eyes, I cannot will myself to sleep. Erica is throwing a pillow across the bed at me and Veronica’s laughter seems to fly across the small room with the pillow. Our conversation floats between the serious and insignificant; Veronica’s colleges acceptances mingle with Erica’s jokes about being a qualified medical professional because of her position as a file clerk in a dental office. Though none of us have seen each other in months, our inside jokes feel perfectly natural and our conversation flows without awkward silences filling the space between us.

In this darkness, an hour and half after we had turned off the lights and set our alarms to wake up at some ungodly hour before even the sun dared to rise, I feel happier than I have in months. Something about our laughter, our ease of friendship, our mutual recognition that this night, this very moment, is sacred, fills me with a sense of awe. It is easy to forget what close friendship feels like when the people you love most are communicated with over text messages and intermittent Skype calls. When you haven’t seen someone’s face but through a Snapchat in the past seven months, it is remarkably difficult to remember why their friendship is so special. When life becomes filled with midterms and college decisions and there is barely enough time to sleep, it is easy to forget why making friends with people who live across the country ever seemed like a good idea. But now, our voices mixing together as we speak too loudly, our laughter creating a symphony of joy, I remember. I remember why I call these girls my best friends. I remember why we celebrate birthdays on three way phone calls and send long handwritten cards to each other. I remember why friendship is so special, why relationships are so precious. And so, wrapped in a blanket, vaguely worried that our raucous laughter will wake my parents, I feel satisfied. Emotions grow inside of me that I cannot name, but I treasure their existence. I wonder how I could have forgotten this sense of happiness. How could I have let myself lose this contentment that reaches into every part of my being? I cannot see much in the darkness, but I am certain the air would sparkle if the sun were to shine in the room. For a brief moment, I find myself quiet; the point in time I am inhabiting has become an eternity that I dream will not end.

The next day, each moment passes with a dreamlike quality. A man on a subway platform who has just moved from India and does not know what train to take asks Veronica where he should go. Between a few questions exchanged about commuting and education, we stand in a small circle for a brief moment, four students connected by their need to reach downtown Manhattan. When a woman drops her phone on the concrete and I bend down to reach it, we touch hands. I help a young boy and his father navigate the subway turnstiles; I swipe a metro card for a confused elderly man. I do not normally think of the strangers I speak to or the things I say in passing, but with Erica and Veronica, everything seems consequential. The startling beauty of human interactions entrance me as I romp through Manhattan with Erica and Veronica by my side. To find another person, even briefly, experiencing the same emotions and willing to extend themselves is a wonderful experience. But we move too quickly to notice these beautiful sparks of raw humanity. I spend hours thinking about the man who sang in the train as he slammed on his bongos; when I smiled at him, I was not angry that he complimented my smile, he did not make me uncomfortable, instead, I was relieved. He too noticed the beauty of the subway car, filled with strangers listening to his erratic music, bonded by the lurching train and rickety tracks.

I have friends who live near me, people I see almost every day or week, people who live a fifteen minute drive away. I love them dearly. But those relationships can be easy; those relationships are formed by two complacent people not constantly reminded of the tenuous nature of their bond. With Erica and Veronica, we have plane tickets with dates marked for the end of the week reminding us that in one hundred and forty four hours we will find ourselves separated by state lines and time zones. Each moment we spend together has a stopwatch held to it, the hour hand of a clock threatening each memory we form. I don’t love spending my friendships this way, wondering if I’ll ever have the time to go back to Lancaster for a week or the money to fly out to California, but there is something irreplaceable in these friendships. There is something worthy of staying up until two a.m. to witness the beauty of humanity, caught between sunset and sunrise, trapped amongst trains racing for downtown Manhattan, and mingled in the laughter of friends.



Our dear friend Veronica runs her own blog and its actually incredibly more put together than ours. Oh, and she’s been published in WSJ. So you know, just normal people things. Go read her stuff. http://thestreetheart.blogspot.com