This weekend we are going to New York City for mother’s day. This is possibly a funny destination for a mother who doesn’t really like the city, yet I’m the one who picked it so maybe it’s growing on me. No homemade pencil holder and fussy brunch for this mother. I’ll take a heaping dose of street Elmos and a knish, plus whatever else I couldn’t possibly see coming, thank you.
I’ve never had an easy relationship with the city, and here are some early memories to prove it.
I am 7 years old and it’s sweltering summer. This is the same summer I collected a bunch of those brown and white vertically striped caterpillars you see everywhere for a brief period. They were literally falling out of the trees across the street, and being an animal lover, I couldn’t help but see them as furry pets I could keep in a cardboard box on the front porch. I scooped them up in soft, wiggly handfuls and lined the box with plenty of shiny green leaves and got the worst (but far from only) case of poison ivy in my life. No amount of cortisone shots or oatmeal soaks could undue the elephantine swelling of my face, so when we went to NYC and my parents gave the fare collector our tokens for the subway, he took one look at me and whispered “she can ride free.”
The other trip that stands out is a drama club trip in 12th grade to see a boring musical about a hotel. I think it was called Hotel. I slept through most of it, exhausted from not much sleep the night before in a Hoboken hotel. I wish I could say I’d stayed up all night having a makeout party in the bathtub like another girl in our group, but instead I’d laid awake in terror because I had to share a room with Betsy Carr, a bulldog of a girl who hated me for reasons I never understood.
Earlier that day, Betsy had taken the tray of McDonald’s food I’d ordered and paid for. It took me awhile to figure out and then a bit longer to shakily accuse her and ask for it back. She’d probably eaten a good many fries and maybe licked my cheeseburger too by then. She gave a sheepish smirk and slid the tray back over to me, but made sure I suffered that night in our shared hotel room. She called me and the German foreign exchange student names – dork, loser, lezbo – and threatened to beat us up when we laughed at her anger. I laid in bed that night wishing I were home and wondering why she hated me so much when I went through life trying to go mostly unnoticed.
There have been more recent odd, unpleasant NYC memories, like the one from the month before I quit drinking. I’d recently started on an antidepressant that made my jaw clench up involuntarily and sped up my brain about 20 miles per hour, but not in any helpful way. I drank more to slow it down, but it just made me have to pee more. I stood in the forever-long line for the tiny but surprisingly clean bathroom at Bryant Park and found myself in an uncomfortably intimate and dark conversation with two strange women about cancer and sex. I had the thought “what am I doing? what’s wrong with me?”
None of these uncomfortable city memories had anything to do with the city. In all three, I had brought my baggage from home. You can get away from it all, but rarely from yourself.
Last mother’s day we went to the city and it was a bit of a white knuckle trip. I was just shy of a year sober and being in an old stressful place without the old comforts sparked a lot of cravings. I do not expect that will be the case this time, but expectations are tricky bitches and so I’d rather leave mine at home, at least as much a possible.
Still, I am excited and what I am most excited about is the company. I’m going with my husband and daughters and I’m in the middle of a second or third or twelfth honeymoon period with these beautiful people that I’m so lucky to have in my life. I’m not a believer in forgetting the painful stuff, but I’ll leave the caterpillars and bullies and drunk talk behind and hopefully just take it all in.