It’s surreal that four weeks have passed and my writing program in New York has finished. It feels like I just moved everything in, still wondering if I’d be able to handle living in the city. I came into the program with no expectations. I tried not to picture what my room would look like, how much classwork I’d have, what my professors would be like, and I certainly didn’t think about making friends. I had such a hard time making friends at college during the fall and spring semesters that I hadn’t anticipated making any here. I thought I’d make a few acquaintances—a “hello” here and a “how was your weekend?” there—but nothing more than that. I came here because I wanted to become a better writer. I never expected that I’d meet some of the greatest people and make some of the best friends.
The first girl I met was at a luncheon right before our first class. She introduced herself as Ly (pronounced “Lee”) and we got to talking about the schools we went to and our writing. She came from Brooklyn and said she went to Columbia. She was Asian so this didn’t really surprise me—of course she was going to be intelligent. She said she’d only been writing for a couple years but that she’d been working on a memoir. I asked what section she was in for the program—“fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction?”—and to my surprise she said fiction.
By my third day in Creative Nonfiction, she had transferred into my class. Some might say it was fate or destiny, but this was the best decision she could have made. She sent our professor the chapters of her memoir. He said he couldn’t read it but for some reason, he must have gotten a free moment one night. He loved it so much he sent it to his agent. Can you tell where this story is going? Now, Ly’s getting ready to sign a contract for her memoir. Her dream is coming true.
At first, it was easy to feel jealous—hey, I’m a good writer too! Why aren’t I getting a book deal?— but I quickly realized that it’s just not my time yet. I’ve got to work on my own writing. I don’t have a memoir started. Just because my friend is on her way to being published doesn’t mean she’s taken my spot. Rather than be jealous or intimidated by her success, I’m inspired. Someone I know is going to have her dream come true. If she can do it, so can I.
The second girl I became close to looked like your All-American sweetheart on the first day of class. She introduced herself as Kelsey and was small with long light brown hair, a cute face, and a cute personality to match. I had noticed she wore an emergency tag bracelet on her right wrist but of course wasn’t going to ask what it was for.
One night after we had gone to a reading uptown, we went out to a diner. She called a friend and said something about “CHOP.” When she hung up, I asked her what “CHOP” was—stupidly thinking it was a motorcycle/tattoo parlor. She put her elbow on the table and shook her bracelet around. She told me she had dysautonomia. “What?” I asked her. I’d never even heard the word before. I wasn’t even sure it was English. She explained that she had gotten the mono virus her junior year of high school but didn’t know it so she continued doing all of her usual activities, namely being the coxswain of her crew. The coxswain steers the boat and coordinates and motivates the rowers. She gets to be the least fit of all the other members of her team because she doesn’t have to row—I loved this detail because it gave me hope that in a future life when I’m still unathletic maybe I’ll be a coxswain too—but she has to focus incredibly hard on each of her teammates to make sure that nothing goes wrong. She even told me that in her last race, her steering thingamajig broke and she threw half her body into the water to direct the boat. Her team made it to the finals.
She told me that dysautonomia is a nervous system disease that is unique for each person living with it. For her, she got it as the result of having mono. She explained that her blood pressure is low, making her heart work twice as hard as that of a healthy person. Her symptoms vary and can include fatigue and an irritable gut. Other people with the same disease can have symptoms such as fainting, as well as a slew of other broad symptoms like dizziness and headaches. Luckily, Kelsey is doing really well now. You would have never known she had a disability.
The coolest part about her story is that she’s going to try out for the U.S. national crew team. If she makes it, she hopes to go to the Olympics and bring awareness to her disease. Afterwards, she’d like to write a book about it. And when you all read her book you can say you read about her first here!
Another girl I became close to was the Colombian bombshell that I’ve mentioned before named Matilde. She has straight blonde hair with the face and body of a model. When I first met her, I was completely intimidated by her beauty. Her accent made her sound so sophisticated and I felt extremely awkward and dorky standing next to her. She even shared in class how her cousin had been studying film and decided to make a movie. She had asked Matilde if they could shoot the film on her farm and if Matilde would act in it. She agreed, thinking it would be a fun summer project. Turns out, it was much more than that. The film made it all the way to the Cannes Festival this year. *
But after class last week, I went with her and Ly to what Matilde calls her “second home” in New York: the Apple store. Her laptop kept breaking and she kept returning to the store hoping they would fix it, only to come back a few days later. We waited an hour until Ly finally had to leave. I stayed with Matilde, until she was guaranteed that she’d never have to return to the store again. (She had to go back two days later.) She asked if I would go with her to purchase some doorknobs and of course I agreed. But wait, really? Doorknobs? You don’t want to go to Saks Fifth Ave and buy mink coats?
We went to Anthropologie, where all the clothes are exactly what I’d love to wear if they were a third of the price. We went straight for the baskets of doorknobs and while sorting through them to find ones that matched the floor at her new house in Colombia I learned that both of her parents had passed away. For someone who was always so happy, I couldn’t believe she had been through such tragedy. I listened to her speak Spanish to her sister over the phone much faster than I will ever speak English and after purchasing more doorknobs than I have in my own house, we headed out into the street—which was now dark and raining—and into the Chelsea market for fruit. Matilde was curious about everything, asking me what apples were my favorites and if I had ever tried a lychee before—I hadn’t, so we shared one. She told me all the fruits that grew on her farm as a girl and when she found two miniature pineapples, instead of wondering what they tasted like first, she insisted we take a picture with them.
A few days later, I got a text from her that began, “Beautiful sweet Abbey” and ended with “Kisses!” Even though she returns to Colombia today, I hope we can stay in touch and one day meet up in New York after she too, has become a famous writer.
As I head home today, it’s bittersweet. I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of my summer without any homework but am sad that I am leaving these friends behind. It’s amazing how quickly I became attached to these people. Even the friends I haven’t written about here have helped to make this experience more than just becoming a better writer, they’ve made me a better person.
*Here’s the link to the trailer of the movie Matilde is in. It’s called “La Petite Tristesse” http://vimeo.com/65468746