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I spent most of my 20s and half of my 30s living in New York City, the years of my life I now refer to as the “before”.  Before I met my husband and had quite a few children in rapid succession and basically live the diametrically opposed life I have now.  But I come back to The City (as locals call it) frequently for work and when I do I am generally alone.  Which always puts me in a strange state of mind.  It is as if the moment I step outside JFK airport I am my former self.  A woman with no ties, who only needs to take care of her needs.  Which might seem like an invitation to break a vow or a promise…

but it isn’t.  Laying in a bed and ordering room service and eating all of it, without interruption, is indulgent and sinful enough.  My most recent trip was even more strange.  Just as I stepped outside the terminal and was crossing over the vortex from one lifetime to the previous, the work I came to do was delayed.  Not long enough to head back but just enough to leave me with a few days to myself.  Days with nothing on my schedule at all.  Days without any children or money to chase.

 

Which all seemed to beg one question.  Who am I without those drives?

 

The blank slate of a big city, the beautiful silence of a hotel room and the miracle of time to think was… overwhelming.  Paralyzing is more like it as I barely got out of bed the first day.  Unable to find an answer in any of those 24 hours – or unwilling to sit with one thought long enough to let it come – I started walking on day two.

 

I began in the neighborhood of my hotel, which happened to be where I lived immediately after college.  Passing by the building which housed the one bedroom I shared with three recently-minted grown ups, brought back fond and struggle-filled memories.  The restaurants we worked, ate and drank in – mostly in that order – were all gone but as I took in each city block my old haunts played out before me like a naturally occurring acid trip.

 

Even more vivid were the people I frequented them with.  Particularly the people I brought home from said places and woke up with in the mornings.  The somewhat random but always “informative” people I learned about life from after the safety of my childhood home and dorm life was done.

 

Over the next two days I walked all the areas of the city I ever lived in.  Block by block I felt as though I had become the main character from Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece.  I was rolling up avenues and down remembering both good times and chaos in what now felt like a desperate, somewhat unending search.  Every neighborhood was primed with memories of people that I knew so intimately, before I understood what real intimacy was – but was searching for it voraciously.

 

For just a moment I could feel that love or like I had for someone then.  I could feel it in my chest so completely that when it passed, it felt as if they were dead.  Or lost.  Lost in the war of my youth and their ghost had just moved through me.  There were many I wanted to thank.  For their kindnesses that I didn’t understand or value yet.  For what they gave that I could not match.  Along with the occasional memory of the dark, torturous storms I barely escaped.

 

I could also feel my own ghost.  The ghost of the girl who thought she was so tough, and probably did seem so then – but now felt soft and unfinished and incredibly susceptible.  Who all the while thought she was the one getting away with the pot of gold.

 

The lifeless buildings I was standing before as these feelings rushed me began to feel like the temples where my life’s work had taken place.  I felt an affection for them as I imagine someone would who grew up near a mountain or a river or an ocean. Each concrete giant seemed to still be standing there, in stoic silence, just to prove they believed in me all along.

 

None of which gave me an answer to who I am now, or who I will be going forward, aside from my work and family but it reminded me that what drove me into life as I know it today was the need for love.  Which I now have in spades, in many ways because of those ghosts.



  1. Dan Mackey on Monday 28, 2014

    Thanks for writing this so eloquently Diane. With the passing of my dad several weeks ago I found myself alone back in Southern Wisconsin leaving the giant family in Summerville for the week. I had several days to vist the communities where I lived, studied and worked. It was a time to reflect in much the same way as you on your trip. The rest of the time involved taking care of details and seeing my dad for the last time and spending the remainder of the week with my mom at the assisted living center where she and my dad have been for the last three years. I did leave thankful for how the people, places, struggles and opportunities over the years helped prepare me for the real love and life that has finally come my way. Thanks again.

  2. Radka on Monday 28, 2014

    Thank you that you wrote this excellent story. You inspire me. Thank you again.

  3. Diane Farr on Monday 28, 2014

    so sorry to hear about your Dad, thank you for your kind comments df

  4. Diane Farr on Monday 28, 2014

    thank you Rakha df

  5. kate on Monday 28, 2014

    stunning that no matter how far away we seem to move from our shamanic roots, life always finds a way . . . you went on walkabout . . . on a vision quest . . . did you crave and eat certain food? partially fast? did animals, people, plants give you messages? if you strip out the veneer of woo woo from the last couple of questions and look objectively, there’s still something you haven’t put together yet from that spontaneous, unconsciously willed pilgrimage . . . usually a precursor . . . to big change coming . . . emptying out, making room, so that the bigger symbols moving in can be seen . . . beyond the woo is the architecture :)

  6. larry love you long time on Monday 28, 2014

    This piece is exactly what I feel every time I go home to Chicago where I went to school. The places the people the weather. It all takes me back to a time gone by. You put the words together just perfectly. I hope you could put all those ghosts to bed when you got home to your beautiful family. Thank you

  7. jkc on Monday 28, 2014

    This article reads like a poem. About loss and the end of a search. Thank you so much for writing it.

  8. adam ant on Monday 28, 2014

    I saw on twitter that you referenced Same Old Lang Syne (thanks for the correct spelling too.) I remember that song from Christmas time growing up on the east coast. This story really did have that same feeling where you want to cry because there is so much emotion. I wonder if you could put it to music also. Now I will have to see if I can down load the song. And perhaps find the meaning of the title.

  9. karin on Monday 28, 2014

    Your writing gets better always. Do you have another book coming out soon? I have read Kissing Outside the Lines and loved it. I hope you are still married, I wasn’t sure by the piece here.

  10. kiki loveline on Monday 28, 2014

    I am not from New York but this made me want to go there.

  11. Diane Farr on Monday 28, 2014

    hello karin, thanks for the kind words on writing. my next book won’t be out for a while yet, I’m afraid you will have to find me here until then. and yes, I am very much still married. df

  12. Diane Farr on Monday 28, 2014

    New York is a great place to live or visit I highly recommend a trip.

  13. Diane Farr on Monday 28, 2014

    thank you so much for the kind words on the writing. I like this piece also. df

  14. katie c. on Monday 28, 2014

    i found this article serendipitously last night while i was (not) sleeping. i just wanted to say thank you for this, you have wonderfully articulated something that i am currently facing with my past and present worlds colliding, and having no choice but to face those old ghosts, especially the self-ghosts.
    thank you again!