When I was 28 I flew to New York City with my daughter, then 4 years old, for a short break. I was newly divorced, had just finished my first degree in American History and had absolutely no idea who I was or where my life was going. As the cab approached Manhattan from JFK Airport and I saw the skyline for the first time, grey and imposing against the freezing January sun, I cried. No place on earth has ever affected me in the way that New York did during those four days that I spent trudging around in sub-zero temperatures with my little girl on my shoulders, bundled up in a pink coat and white furry Russian hat.
We did the usual tourist stuff; Statue of Liberty, Empire State, Chrysler Building and Greenwich Village, and we also visited the Bronx Zoo (I think we were the only ones silly enough to brave the cold that day, and virtually had the whole place to ourselves), after which we missed the bus back to Manhattan and had to sit for an hour by the roadside on the edge of the Bronx, feeling more than a little apprehensive about our surroundings, if I’m brutally honest.
New York City felt like home to me, as soon as I arrived. I had no qualms about getting up and out of the hotel on 5th Avenue as soon as the sun came up (major jetlag), bundled up in hats and big coats to ward off the cold, mingling amongst rushing commuters as they made their way to the office and we made ours to a cosy diner we discovered that served great coffee and mammoth croissants. (I gave up asking for a four-year-old-girl-sized portion of anything after the first day – such a thing didn’t exist and so we bought one of everything and shared).
The New Yorkers we met loved my little girl and fussed her no end. We visited a shoe shop close by the Empire State and bought her some Timberland boots and thick socks in order to fight the winter cold a little more zealously than we had originally managed with a pair of totally inadequate wellington boots. The three men who staffed the shop were, upon first impressions, a bunch of rude boys, collectively weighing in at around 1400 lbs and dressed in football shirts and massive, baggy jeans. They thought my daughter was the cutest thing they had ever seen, however, and tended to her every need with all the care and attention of her own grandma. The friendliness they displayed was reflected all over the city, in every shop and restaurant and public space we went. It was a magical few days, and just as I had cried when I arrived, I shed a few tears on the plane home as well, high above the Atlantic Ocean whilst my little girl slept peacefully next to me.
I am a different person now to the risk-taker I was back then. I wonder if, in some way, how I used to be was connected to my heavy drinking; the characteristics displayed by a person who is willing to risk their health and the security of their world by constantly getting drunk and exposing themselves to dangerous situations, are perhaps the same characteristics that led me to flying to NYC on a whim with my little daughter, or to doing a skydive a couple of years later. During those years, I also packed in a secure job in order to start a business (thankfully it didn’t flop), and then later sold that business to go back to university to do a law degree (again, the risk paid off and I got a 2:1 – thank god). Prior to my daughter being born, I decided, again whimsically, to switch my university degree course (the first one) from Sheffield Hallam to East London University, to enable me to move in with my boyfriend of the time and his mates in Archway, North London. Then I fell in love, in much of a hurry, with my eldest daughter’s father and moved back up to Sheffield to be with him, had a baby and got married.
Perhaps I didn’t take the time to know myself sufficiently to find out what it was that would have made me happy in life. Pouring alcohol down my neck each time I was happy, or sad, or stressed, or celebrating – I never got in touch with the real me, and consequently every life decision I made was based on something of a guess, like rolling a dice and just going with an arbitrary outcome, trusting my life to some passing fancy. In many ways, I am grateful for the way that I was (not the boozy bit, but the associated decisions that I made in my life). For every negative I encountered as a result of drinking too much, I am lucky enough to have found myself in numerous situations that were amazing, fantastic life experiences; experiences that I would not have encountered if it weren’t for the fact that I was a bit of a risk-taker. And, of course, being the way I was resulted in my wonderful first daughter being born.
Having said that, I wouldn’t go back there today – I was lucky that the chances I took didn’t backfire and bite me on the arse, and ultimately, they were about short term gratification and not ensuring a secure future for me or my daughter. I am a very different kettle of fish today; the way that I act and the decisions I take are based upon the consideration of what is best for all of us, me and my family (now doubled in size), and the implications – financial, emotional and personal – are debated before committing to anything of any importance. In order to ensure any longevity of happiness, I believe that is the only way to live.
Of all the crazy stuff I got up to in my wayward, drink-fuelled days, however, visiting New York City remains one of my most treasured memories.