By Gila Lyons.
A plastic palm tree spurting water, a dried peach pit on the concrete sidewalk, white- capped waves, a man jogging in an orange Speedo, a woman in white scarves setting a flower boat out to sea, a man photographing his girlfriend drawing, a barge moving slowly on the ocean, a girl wrapped in a towel eating cheese fries, a hip-hop performance by eight-year-old Romanian Americans, Shoot the Freak, Snake Girl, a four-foot rat, blue cotton candy in a clear plastic bag, a boardwalk dance party, an empty bag of Bamba, a man pulling a suitcase on wheels across the sand, an American flag blowing in the wind, planes taking off, planes landing, seagulls diving.
I was living in New York City, pursuing and MFA in creative writing. A sensitive, tightly-wound, quiet-seeking creature, I was an unlikely candidate for life in the city, but I felt ravenous for New York’s flash and pop. I thrilled at the exotic dinginess of the subway, the soft hiss of its doors, its smells of burned rubber and re-circulated air. I lavished in colors of each neighborhood – Chelsea, Chinatown, Soho, Tribeca – their very names like sugar on my tongue. That was the first year.
The second year my mental health crumbled like the apartment across the hall from mine, gutted from the inside out, plaster and fiberglass swirling the air. A life-long anxiety disorder flared and surged through me, leaving me sweating, shaking, breathless, and terrified during class, while teaching, at restaurants, in my own bed. I felt claustrophobic in Manhattan, carving out my path through packed sidewalks. The streetlights and late-night revelers kept me awake all night, even through earplugs and a sleeping mask.