It was early November when her sister asked.
For the first time in months, Mary was talking to Hannah over the phone. They texted each other, and there were emails here and there. But phone calls in the past few years, not so much.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hannah said, “I’m having a party on New Year’s Eve. You should come!”
Mary’s heart sank. Her sister loved to throw parties and her parties were great. The two of them badly needed more quality time — actual, IRL, face time — and going to Hannah’s New Year’s Eve party would show her sister just how much Mary loved her, how she was willing to make the effort for the relationship.
But it would mean she would have to go to New York City for New Year’s Eve. It meant she’d have to go to New York City in winter. It meant she’d have to go to New York City, period.
“I’m in,” Mary said, “absolutely.” She rubbed her eyes and logged onto Southwest.com.
As the taxi inched its way toward the hotel, Mary’s friend Nick pressed his face up to the window, steaming it with his breath, then wiping off the condensation so as to clear his view. This was his first time in the city and it was nice to see him take it all in. The best way to be in New York City is to be there the first time ever or to have been there for over 10 years. Anywhere in between, Mary thought, and it’s too hard.
She would know; she tried living in New York City once. Love and curiosity were her reasons for trying it on. But when love went all wrong and she realized she had no feeling for the impossible, endless city, living in New York was excruciating. The cards were stacked against her from the start, though; a person shouldn’t move to New York at age 36. It’s a young man’s town.
“It looks like Chicago,” Nick said. “I mean, I see a lot of similarities.”
“That true, there are,” Mary said, and glanced out the window herself. “But it’s nearly dark out. It’ll look different to you in the daytime, I bet.”
As Nick took in the scene and laughed at just how close the taxi was coming to the delivery trucks and the pedestrians, Mary pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and pressed her back into the seat. She let her head fall back a little, though she would be careful not to let Nick see her so weary. When the man you’re dating is a decade your junior, you’re forced to remain peppy and energized at all times. It’s a good thing, on balance — and most of the time, Mary didn’t need to fake it — but New York took it out of her.
Young man’s town.
In the morning, she crept out of bed so as not to disturb Nick, angelic and gorgeous nestled under the down comforter and hotel linen. The outrageously expensive Peninsula for two nights was her Christmas gift to the two of them and she forced herself to forget just how much she spent. When the credit card bill arrived, she would not look. Standing on the heated floor in the generous bathroom, though, as she gave her hair a quick brush, Mary knew the room was worth every penny. All 96 billion of them.
She pulled on a jumpsuit and threw a sweater around her shoulders. Flip-flops would be fine; she was only after coffee and some writing time down in the lounge. Without turning on any more lights, she grabbed her briefcase and her phone and slipped out the door. Nick hadn’t even stirred.
Down in the lounge, she was alone and so, so glad. It would be the only time all day — and all night — that would happen.
She felt sad. It’s hard to know so much, hard to have failures and be reminded of them. The New York chapter, and Washington D.C. after that, was tough. No doubt about that, now, looking back. Oh, she kept her chin up through it all. And there were small victories. But overall, it cost her dearly in energy and innocence. It was death by a thousand papercuts, that era.
Mary looked out the tall window at the dusting of snow on the street. The news said tonight would be New York’s coldest New Year’s Eve since the 1960s. The dress and heels she brought were more suited for a spring night, even if she stayed inside the party most of the evening. Mary sighed and decided she’d have to go in search of a jacket before tonight. As usual, New York would insist she spend more money before she left.
It was getting late. She needed to pack up and get up to the room so that she and Nick could get a reasonable start to the day. He wanted to see Central Park and there was a quilt exhibit at the Folk Art Museum for her, thank God. Quilts would surely help.
A loud group entered the lounge, laughing and talking about work. Mary gathered her things, grateful again for the peace she was afforded this morning. She smiled at the group as she left, and as she threw her coffee cup in the trash near the bar, two more couples came in.
It’s so hard to be in place where you know you don’t belong, she thought, especially when the place is considered the center of the world. Guess I don’t belong in the center of the world, Mary thought, and made her way to the elevators.
[Maybe to be continued? I don’t know. I don’t write fiction.]