I was ecstatic at the prospect of earning lots of money while honing my Chinese skills. I had studied Mandarin as a freshman and wanted to gain real life experience in the language and culture. Summer hadn’t come too soon. My first year of college was an adventure, but I was tired and needed a break, and we heard NYC paid more for summer jobs.
Only having been on one vacation in my life, I found it exhilarating taking a trip all the way to New York City. At 17 years old I was naturally boy-crazy so there was a bonus to the long road trip from the Midwest to the Big Apple. When our caravan stopped for food, gas or rest, I got to see my ‘crush’ and his trusty sidekick.
It didn’t take me long to find a job. While most of my international friends looked for jobs in hospitality, I ventured out and found a job running an autotypist (precursor of a computer) and doubling as a receptionist. This was one place where my Southern friendliness was an asset.
I loved the opportunities for culture there. I was spellbound as I watched Van Cliburn tickle the ivories. Learning the subways was adventurous and made going anywhere affordable. The bumpy ride on the elevated trains was exciting, and the ferry rides were a joy. I took pictures of the Statue of Liberty from differing viewpoints including the ground!
Not so great was my learning to avoid eye contact and other niceties of Southern living, like hello and small talk with strangers. It was mastered quickly as it was soon discovered that the friendliness of my upbringing could be misinterpreted.
Chinatown also had a magnetic draw for me. I had studied a bit of Mandarin and was choosing to confuse it with the Cantonese my traveling companions spoke. They taught me an appreciation for diversity and how very much the same we all really are.
New York City had a heartbeat I grew to love. I also cherished the lone trees here and there and spent loads of hours in the parks. I didn’t realize till later that this was the first time I ever had any time for myself.
And yes, there was violence. But since it was not personal for me, I tended to tune it out. Instead I focused on how safe I felt compared to the abuse and fear I had dealt with in my past.
But the best moments I spent in the Big Apple were spent on the rooftops. No one else seemed to be particularly interested, yet I was utterly fascinated by the views and the general feel of experiencing my world from above. Although I was by myself I did not feel alone amongst the views of a lifetime.
Sure, it may have looked kinda cruddy in daylight, but in the magic of darkness I could bask in the twinkling of both the stars and the city. It was in this fertile seedbed that I was finding my own self and my world in my writing on the rooftops.
There was just enough light for me to write, a habit I formed earlier when I was pals with my five-year diary till it filled up. Then I graduated to a mini spiral about the size of a 4 x 6 card, a perfect treasure chest to hold my heart’s desires and my soul’s strivings.
My musings were often about beauty and the loveliness of nature. This was when I began to suspect I was a writer at heart even though a career in education was pulling at my heartstrings. Another prominent theme of my writing was hope, a pulsating thing I carried with me even though my life growing up could have been termed at times distressing.
Even my year in NYC had its negative times: I fell dangerously ill and was in critical condition for quite some time, thus delaying my return to college for a semester. Friends visited and I knew no better than to make it through and be grateful to be alive.
Yet the moments I will always cherish during my year in The Big Apple were the nightlife evenings of writing on the rooftops when my pen danced over the lines of my most prized possession–my spiral notebook.
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.