Trusting the Journey

I still can’t believe I ended up in New York.

When my internship hunt began last fall I wanted to stay in the Boston area, where I am comfortable and where I feel safe. Boston is familiar; it is a constant. It is an anchor in my otherwise change-filled, stormy existence. As a result, I never seriously entertained the thought of moving to another city for a job, especially a city as large as New York. I have nothing against the Big Apple, however it takes a special person to thrive amidst the hustle and bustle. New York is not for the faint of heart – it is big and fast and uncompromising. It is the type of place that will eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful. You have to keep your head on a swivel and your focus sharp otherwise you will get overwhelmed by its unrelenting pace. Some people thrive in New York; others wilt under the pressure.

I distinctly remember having trouble adjusting years ago when I visited the city, a time when I was far more mobile. Every time I’d come down to visit I’d end up with a massive headache, whether it was from the adrenaline rush or from sensual overload. I never felt comfortable in New York. Fast forward to last November. New York was still not a credible option. Even if I found a job in the city, I thought, the logistics would be a nightmare, or at the very least a hassle I didn’t need to endure. Fate apparently had other ideas. One night at the last moment I decided to attend a company information session, and came away impressed. I felt I had nothing to lose in applying. Next thing I know I was booking a train down to New York in the dead of winter. Shortly thereafter, I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So naturally, where am I writing this from? New York. As I’ve learned by now, life doesn’t follow a script. It’s funny how it all played out. I remember telling myself at each stage of the interview process that I wasn’t going to go through with it, but a voice deep within kept telling me it was a risk worth taking. Every time I wanted to stop the process and withdraw my name from consideration, I said yes when I was convinced I was going to say no. At the end of the day, it was the right opportunity, at the right company, at the right time in my life. This chance may never come along again. The hourglass of my mobility is slowly, steadily, draining towards empty. If I didn’t move to New York now, would I ever get this chance again, while I can still walk on my own two feet?

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When you can’t walk the streets, find a rooftop.

I am three weeks in, and am happy to report that I have acclimated myself quite well. Thanks to the support of my parents and my fellow BC’er who I’m interning with, the logistics have worked. I am happy with my decision, especially since it is only for a summer and it provides a perfect test run of the city and of the job. I have adjusted about as well as I can reasonably expect. However, the adjustment has not been without frustration. When is it ever?

I used to love walking down streets and getting lost in my surroundings. New York has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and a variety of neighborhoods with varying degrees of grit and charm. Each street is famous and unique in its own way. Going for walks was always a favorite activity of mine. Exploring neighborhoods always added context to my life. To have my ability to walk slowly taken from me, as you can imagine, has been excruciating. I don’t mind not being able to run and I can live without climbing stairs, but walking freely has been the toughest ability to lose. Since New York is so big and so many of the subway stops are only accessible by stairs, I have to be driven everywhere. I can’t tell you how many buildings I’ve passed by that I want to see in greater detail, or restaurants I want to wander into and eat everything on the menu.

In Boston I have been able to distract myself from what I’ve lost by focusing on schoolwork and spending my time with friends. I know which places I can go to and which to avoid due to inaccessibility. Here in New York, it has been quite the learning curve. It has taken me a while to build up comfort with the city, and believe that there are actually places I can go to that are accessible. Right now whenever I hear about a cool place I check Google Street View and Yelp, only to find out more often than not that I can’t get in. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet I still often feel like an afterthought in an able-bodied society that values “historic preservation” over inclusion. I can’t even imagine what it was like 25 years ago.

But none of this is new to me, nor is it unexpected. The most difficult adjustment has been in answering questions about my disability. Since I am in a new city, in a new place of employment, I am surrounded constantly by new people. Inevitably, I am getting a lot of questions such as “Did you injure yourself?” or “What happened to your leg?” as I fill up my cup of water or while I’m being driven to work. Some people have asked where I live, and when I tell them it’s only three blocks away, they say “Oh nice, it’s not a bad walk then.” For that answer, it’s best to nod.

It’s not a fun spot to be in. On one hand, when someone asks about my crutches I could say “Actually, it’s not an injury, I am disabled” and watch as the person’s face contorts in horror. On the other hand, I could outright lie and say “I injured my back”. I don’t like either extreme, so the best answer is usually somewhere in between; a half-truth if you will. “Yeah, I’m having leg problems” or something like that. The fewer words the better. Usually when they realize you are not willing to talk about it they drop the subject. When they ask where I live and assume I can walk three blocks, I know they mean nothing by it.

These questions hurt. They force me to have to answer about why I am different (my crutches and how I walk), yet deep down I know that the person is sincere and wants to feel empathy for me, so I have to answer respectfully. If I answer “Yeah, I can walk it under extreme duress”, they become humiliated, I become humiliated, and no one leaves that conversation feeling good about themselves.

This is why I like to tell everyone – especially if I am in a new group of people – as soon as possible about my condition. Although I don’t like bringing it up, it’s like pulling off a band-aid: it is better to get the pain over with as soon as possible.

You are probably thinking by now that I’m having a terrible time down here, but I assure you that is not the case. Improbably, despite these bumps in the road – and that’s what they are, small speed bumps in the grand scheme of things – I have adapted to my surroundings. You see, a city like New York shows you quickly what you are made of. Although I’ve encountered the inevitable ups and downs, there is nothing this city can throw at me that can compare to what I’ve been through.

New York has thrown me out of my comfort zone, but then again I can’t remember the last time I was in my comfort zone. Playing it safe won’t get me to where I want to be. At this point in my life, I have come to believe that there is something greater at work, and I have to let it play out. The dots are connecting. Whether I am actually on the journey towards the cure for my disease, or I have merely tricked myself into believing it, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I am not satisfied. Until I can say that I can walk those three blocks home without lying through my teeth, until I can say yes to going somewhere without dwelling about accessibility, until my body doesn’t feel like a prison anymore, I will not be satisfied. I will put up with every disappointment, every frustration, every question, every societal injustice I have to if it makes it worthwhile in the end.

I still can’t believe I ended up in New York. Then again, I’m right where I need to be.

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My favorite building in New York, the Flatiron building.

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