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New York, New York
I found an ID card in my wallet.
I received it maybe two months ago. It is a simple ID card, nothing fancy really. It has my name, my picture, the card’s expiration date: 6/26/2016, the card number, emergency phone numbers, and a black bar code. Okay. Maybe it is not so simple after all.
For a long time I keep staring at the card, feeling that I could look through it, penetrate it, and break it so that the barrier between the me in the present and the other me in the past could disappear, so the two of us can reunite, so we can be one again, so I can be whole. For I always believe that part of me was lost forever, and that lost piece of me forever stays at where I lost it.
It is a Columbia University ID card. I was there in New York two months ago attending its summer program. The program was 21-days long. I received the ID card on the very first day that I arrived.
I miss New York. Those 21 days in New York feel so dreamlike to me now. The memory has become so distant and foreign that I feel I no longer own it anymore. It has become an uncertainty to me; I really cannot be sure if those 21 days in New York even existed. I feel so powerless when I think back to it. For one of the very few times of my life, I feel that part of me is out of control. I have always believed that I am sort of a control freak, and feeling not under control has nearly driven me mad. This uncertain and gloomy, but not empty, feeling is so alien to me. I guess my brain system has been working extremely hard to decipher it. But maybe, maybe deep down in my brain, I deliberately want to keep it unsolved. I have learned a lot of things about myself lately, and one of the most important and pragmatic things that I learned is that I do not want to be a black-and-white person. I like gray areas. Gray areas make things safe.
I miss New York. Those 21 days in New York feel so dreamlike to me now.
Whenever I stare at the Columbia ID card, I feel I could transcend time and space, just like Walt Whitman.
I hate that ID card.
I have not always been the biggest fan of movies.
My passion for movies has started to appear after I came to America, and this passion seemed to be coming from nowhere. But anyways, I enjoy watching movies, and I take watching movies as a serious matter. By “serious” I mean, I don’t usually watch a movie really for fun; I either watch movies when I am upset or when I need something deep, or I merely want to get my mind occupied.
Right now, three movie tickets lie in front of me. They are tickets of Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Horrible Bosses, and Transformers 3. I am not particularly fond of either one of them. Well, Horrible Bosses was at least funny.
I do not have a habit of collecting used movie tickets, though I have always wanted to keep a habit like that. Because it makes you a cool person when you say to others that you collect every single ticket of every single movie that you have ever watched in a movie theater. But I am not a persistent person. So every time I save a movie ticket, I would either end up losing it accidentally or throwing it away intentionally.
God knows how these three movie tickets would end up being saved by me. God knows why they are lying right here being written by me.
Oh my sweet, sweet movie tickets.
I do not hate flights. I do not like flights.
I hold nearly no emotions towards them; I see them as necessary means of transportation. Well, I have not always felt this about flights. I used to like the feeling of being in one of those gigantic flying iron birds when I was little. I guess it’s just that I have been spending so much time in a plane that I no longer find it attractive or mysterious at all. That’s really sad.
I find a flight ticket in my wallet. The flight was on July 18, 2011. It was a Monday. It was from Cleveland to New York City. It departed at 7: 30 in the morning, and it arrived at 8: 55 in the same morning. It was at Gate C18. My seat was 10F.
I wonder if I really got on that plane. I cannot remember.
But I must have gotten on that plane. Or I would not have gone to New York City, then to Beijing, then home, then to Beijing, to New York City, and finally back in Cleveland. So me flying to New York City that morning must be a necessary condition, or an unquestionable assumption, for if this did not happen, none of the things after that could have happened. It feels like butterfly effect. How cool is that.
If I had never gotten on that plane, I would not have met and spoken with an old friend who I had not spoken with for nearly four years. I would not have watched two movies in the movie theater with my mom. I would not have been fighting with my little brother all the time who is only five years old. I would not have had hot pot with my old friend. I would not have gotten up at four o’clock in the morning to climb some mountains with my mom. I would not have missed my days in America, and it really amazed me that I would miss the days in America. I would not have stayed up so late playing video game on my PC computer at home. I would not have gotten half-drunk with my best friend in probably the smallest bar in the whole world in Beijing.
If I have not gotten on that plane in the first place, all of the above would not have happened at all, and all of the above would be some weird and totally crazy fantasies of a maniac.
Thus, I decide: in order to not be a maniac, I will convince myself that I have gotten on that plane from Cleveland to New York City after all.
Please. I have no other options.
The 21 days in New York were bittersweet.
I was extremely lonely. I did not bring any friends with me to attend that program. I did not believe I could fit in because everybody else seemed to have so many friends already. I had a hole in my chest. I desperately wanted to fill it and yet I could not. This hole was eating me up bite by bite. I am the kind of person who cannot endure loneliness. I need to surround myself with people. I need to feel loved and touched and cared. And in New York, I had none.
That was when I decided to name New York City the loneliest city in the whole world.
During the day I had classes. The classes lasted from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Then there was free time. Endless. Freaking. Free time. I hated free time. Yes, free time gave you personal space. But I needed people. People. I needed friends.
Still. I chose not to lock myself up in that pathetic little room all the time. I went up and down Broadway to look for stuff to stuff the hole in my chest.
I rode subways.
I went to places by subways.
I fell in love with the subways.
I became an expert on riding subways and reading subway maps.
I wore weird clothes.
I rode subways.
I went to Starbucks after the classes ended and sat there for the entire evening writing journals.
I sat on the bench outside of Starbucks and talked to a 42-year-old Indian man who is still a student of Columbia.
I went to MoMA and took a bunch of pictures.
I went to the Met, had one cup of hot chocolate and one chocolate cupcake right outside of it.
I rode subways.
I ate at California Pizza Kitchen.
I went to Dylan’s Candy Bar.
I went kayaking on the Bronx River.
I went biking from Wall Street to Times Square, and from Times Square back to Wall Street.
I rode subways.
I wrote and wrote and wrote.
I thought and thought and thought.
I starved myself and I stuffed myself.
I was writing about the paradoxes in New York City.
I was the biggest living paradox in New York City.
I did so many things. And I still felt empty. And I still felt lonely. And my hole was still there. And my hole was growing larger and larger everyday.
I love watching movies alone.
I watched both Transformers 3 and Horrible Bosses alone in the theater. I cannot explain how a person like me who is so scared of being lonely could enjoy watching movies in the theater all by myself. I guess, maybe, sometimes I need some space, and sometimes I need some people. I cannot live without either one of them.
I just love the feeling of sitting in the dark, eating popcorn, staring at the huge screen with strangers, laughing with strangers, crying with strangers, screaming with strangers and having no one by your side bugging you from the beginning to the end.
God it feels so good.
I like doing work on flights. By “work”, I mean doing homework, reading books, writing random stuff, and watching movies. I do not like sleeping at all.
My days in New York were miserable.
My days in New York were brilliant.
My days in New York were close at hand like that ID card.
My days in New York were so very far, far away.
My days in New York were unreal and dreamy.
My days in New York were tangible and warm.
It was bittersweet.
I love you, New York.