Sunday, June 14, 2009

To Leave, and Not Be Left Behind

In pretty much every case except for my parents’ house, I’ve always had a hard time leaving. I’m likely the last one left at a party, bagging up the leftover food and collecting empty bottles and cans for recycling. I predictably walk out of the Marshall Stack ladies’ room around 4:15 a.m. to find all the lights on and the bartenders flipping the stools up on the bar. I stay and watch the credits in the movie theater not just to catch the names of the songs I heard during the movie, but just in case there’s some funny bit that I might miss otherwise if I left, like at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

In 1995, I left Nicki’s family and my first boyfriend behind to spend a semester in London. I sobbed on the Amtrak to Terry’s house as I tried to lift my four months’ worth of baggage onto the rack above. I came back a little more world-weary, with dirty nostrils and a taste for hard cider.

In 1997, I wasn’t entirely sure I would even leave Syracuse to move to NYC. I was really happy in my job at Media Play, and with the potential of moving up the ranks possibly to management, I imagined myself staying local after graduating from Colgate, getting an apartment somewhere and having a blast every day working with Chrissy, Tyler, Nyki, James, the whole gang.

Ultimately I followed my calling to NYC. It wasn’t easy. At the end of my senior year, Maria helped me pack just enough belongings to cram into the NYU Third North dorm room I was moving into for the summer, and I rented and drove a truck down the day after graduation. Tim even took on the adventure of driving down to NYC with me, an inexperienced (though licensed) driver who’d never operated a ten-foot truck before. I kept swerving over onto the rumble strips on 81S and assuring Tim, “I have complete control of the vehicle.”

Along Route 17 through New Jersey – having taken the route suggested by my father, aided by a road atlas I “borrowed” from Jon – we stopped in Paramus for McDonald’s and a bathroom break. As we nibbled nervously on our fries, the weather worsened and the approaching night signaled our need to take our impending trip through the Lincoln Tunnel as soon as we could. I got too scared and handed the driving duties over to Tim, who obliged with a bit of reckless abandon, an embrace of the unknown perils under the Hudson River, and beyond.

Through lightning and pouring rain, we careened through the tunnel and down 42nd Street to Third Avenue, the most seemingly direct route but probably the most perilous for New York City newbies who had no business being behind that wheel.

We rolled my stuff from the truck to the dorm in those big gray rubber bins, with casters that rumbled against the sidewalk in harmony with the thundering sky above. We were soaked and cursing ourselves for bringing so much stuff, as little as it was. Tim wiped the storm from his shaved head and flicked it off his hand onto the dry dorm carpet below, and slept on a bed with no sheets, no blanket and, as I recall, no pillow.

I put him on a Greyhound back to Syracuse the next day and suddenly I was alone.

Lucky for me, I ended up with a great roommate with great friends, so I wasn’t alone for long. And I knew that Daria would follow me to NYU within a month, and that Terry lived close enough upstate to come down and visit and look for apartments for us while I started my career in the music biz.

Nobody’s coming with me to California, though. Can I spend weeks alone? Will there be a courtyard where I can meet other people my age, as I did at Third North? Will I find boys to buy me beers and make out with me in bars?

Will I want to come back? Too soon or not at all?

I’m trying not to focus on what I’ll miss while I’m away, because most of what New York City has to offer will still be here when I come back. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making up for lost time and getting to do the things I’ve always wanted to do, so I have to keep telling myself that there’s nothing I could miss that I wouldn’t eventually get the chance to do. In reality, there aren’t that many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. A retreat in Joshua Tree is something that may only come around once for me. For most people, never.

The lights are about to turn on for me. The truck is waiting and the bags are packed. I know what I’m leaving behind. Nobody can ever say I didn’t give New York City my best effort.

And in the end, I'd rather be the one to leave, than be the one who's left behind.