Englishman in New York

The title of today’s blog seemed like almost too much of a cliché to use, but since I might never get to use it again, I thought I would be daring. The title is, of course, referring to where I was this week. I’d dreamed of going to the Big Apple for at least three years, since Ugly Betty became my favourite ever TV show, and now I’ve been there, for a week long break. The week got off to a stressful start, as I prepared myself to be sent back to England right until the very minute I reached the border guards at JFK airport. The idea that something unknown to me might be on my records and cause the customs official to stop me at the gate was strong in my mind, especially when I saw them taking away several people from the queue in front of me, presumably for questioning in a room somewhere. Some poor old English lady was one of these people being taken away – I felt so sorry for her, she looked absolutely bewildered.

When it finally got to my turn, I was extremely unconfident. As it turned out, my passing through the border was very smooth. He didn’t seem interested in causing any trouble with me. I think he just wanted his job to be as easy as possible by that point – it was getting pretty late.

Once inside the American border the fact that I was finally in New York after years spent dreaming about it hit me, and I nearly cried with joy. The friend putting me up for the week, Cole, was there waiting for me in the terminal building and we excitedly jumped onto the train straight away, headed for West Brooklyn where Cole lives. Our conversation on the first night was very easy; we chatted like old friends reunited. My wonder and awe at being on the New York subway was something to behold. Everything seemed so big and bright and American. When you get what you’ve always wanted, I guess everything will seem that way, at least to begin with.

Back at Cole’s house I dumped my suitcases before realising that I was hungry. I’d been fed well on the plane over, but obviously not well enough, and it was still early enough to do some exploring in the city. We went to a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn where the prices were reasonable and the plates were big. Just the fact of eating my dinner in Brooklyn took some getting used to. I came to realise that when people say the Americans know how to eat, it’s true. Portions really are much bigger here than they are in England. I would barely be able to finish any meals last week, the sizes were just not what I’m used to.

After dinner in spite of the creeping sensation of tiredness I was desperate to see some of Manhattan, so we agreed to walk over the Williamsburg bridge, taking in some spectacular views on the way, and walked around midtown Manhattan for a while. It was a warm night, if a little damp. Seeing the big buildings finally convinced me that I was there, that it wasn’t all just a dream.

Later that night I got into bed with Cole, feeling like it would be the right thing to rekindle the romance we started back in London over a year ago. I’ve always liked Cole; at times I have been incredibly attracted to him. I don’t really know how to describe what I find attractive in him as he is not my usual type at all. Apart from the age difference I think he is quite similar to me as a person, and normally I can’t stand people who are like me in relationships. With Cole there has always been something else going on. I can only really describe it as spiritual.

So we spent the first couple of nights together there, and it was great. We were getting on so well, the sex was nice and relaxed. It felt like the relationship was truly blossoming.

Unfortunately things were to go disastrously wrong on Saturday morning. In the past I have been slightly irritated by Cole’s tendency to question nearly everything I say; on Saturday I think it was starting to really bug me. When he’s questioning me it’s usually because he has a point. By Saturday I was starting to get fed up of feeling wrong all the time, of feeling like I need to justify all my opinions. It’s not like things suddenly changed on Saturday from being so good up until Friday night – the petty disagreements and conversational impasses were there the first couple of days too, but I suppose my huge excitement at being in New York was enough to override any potential resentment.

Things quickly plummeted downhill on Saturday after I suggested going out early at 11am. I didn’t realise at the time that Cole had a song playing on the radio which he really wanted me to hear, that he was planning to go out with me as soon as the song was over anyway. My timing couldn’t have been worse, and I knew this when Cole turned to look at me as if I’d shot him in the back. Obviously I had ruined the moment – the look on his face caused me not just to feel guilt, there was also terror at the idea that I had really hurt his feelings.

It was one disagreement too many, and things wouldn’t really be the same for us after that. The incident was discussed at length that day, and after a good few hours of debate I think we simply agreed to disagree on whether I had been selfish to suggest going out while Cole was playing his song on the radio. We expressed how upset we had both been by the incident, and it seemed to be over for a short while. However, things were to go wrong again that night, after a long day of sightseeing and AA meetings, when I felt like being on my own for a while. Cole was obviously upset at my desire to leave him – his upset caused me to get upset and I ended up leaving rather abruptly in a bad mood.

I went to the cinema to escape in the fantasy world of Tim Burton’s new movie for a few hours. After that I had to return to Cole’s house, in spite of the fear of there being an atmosphere, knowing I was exhausted and needed to get some sleep. Still being in a mood from earlier in the day, I thought the best thing for both of us would be for me to take the sofa. My decision to sleep alone didn’t appear to go down well with Cole, who asked me quite bluntly why I wanted to take the sofa when his bed would be much more comfortable. I was far too tired to explain myself so I didn’t really try, which left Cole in even more of a mood with me. I knew I had probably led Cole on for the past couple of days and this made me feel extra awful that night. I wasn’t offered a blanket for the sofa, so I would have to sleep in my clothes, all of which meant I would hardly get any sleep whatsoever that night.

I spent most of Sunday exploring the city on my own. Part of me would have liked to spend some of the time with Cole, more for the reassurance that he didn’t hate me than anything else, but it might have been a very awkward day for us if we had continued to spend the whole time together like before. I spent three hours taking photos in Central Park. The weather was awful, I couldn’t get over the hideous turn of events with Cole at home and so I didn’t really enjoy myself much on Sunday. In the evening when I saw Cole back at the house not much was said. I went to sleep on the sofa thinking, much to my horror, that it was like Montreal all over again. Four years ago I went to Montreal with someone I had accidentally gotten into a relationship with, and it turned into a pretty ghastly experience, one I never wanted to repeat.

The circumstances were quite different this time: for one, I actually like and know Cole quite well. But the atmosphere that had settled upon us by Sunday morning was too similar to the atmosphere that made my life a living hell in Montreal four years ago. Cole and I would have to have some sort of conversation to sort things out. Things couldn’t carry on that way. I wasn’t enjoying New York nearly as much as I should be. Unfortunately I had no idea how to instigate the necessary kind of conversation; I had no idea what I wanted to say. Whenever I would try and practise the necessary conversation in my head I would only come up with bitter words and hurt sentiments.

Luckily Cole also felt that there needed to be a conversation, and finally addressed the situation with me that morning before I was about to go out for the day. He explained why he had been hurt by my behaviour that weekend and how he hoped to resolve things with me. I explained my feelings honestly and gently, remembering that day’s daily reflection from the Hazelden book: to be kind and gentle at all times, regardless of how I might feel. After that conversation it felt like we had resolved things as much as we could, and we agreed to spend the rest of the week as just friends. There were no more arguments, though the petty resentments did crop up from time to time, especially at Cole’s continuing tendency to question everything (I don’t think he does it deliberately, I’m just not used to it). By the end of the week, the friendship seemed to be just about back on track, though I’m not sure Cole would want me staying with him for a week again. I know I can be difficult to live with at the best of times. Part of me thinks I’d be better off staying in a hotel next time.

In spite of the emotional turbulence at Cole’s flat, I would still say I had an amazing week. New York is now possibly, after London, my favourite city in the world. In many aspects it is better than London: everything is open 24 hours, for a start; the weather is better, prices are cheaper. Before I even got there the idea that I might one day want to live there was crossing my mind quite a lot. Now that I’m back home, I’m almost certain that I could never live anywhere other than London. New York will always be an incredible city, but it has its down sides too: the people can be nice but not all that polite, and the scale of the city can get a bit much. After a week Manhattan felt like one street after another of oversized buildings, every street the same crowded, noisy metropolitan mess. It’s so much bigger and bolder than London, which has a certain gentle, old charm about it. More than anything, London is home to me, my oldest friend. I didn’t choose London – London chose me. Until last week I fantasized that New York had chosen me, but I guess not.

One of the highlights of the holiday was standing at the top of the Empire State Building. Another highlight was the AA meeting that I attended on my final night there. I specifically sought out the 46th Street AA clubhouse, having heard that it was like the home of the Manhattan fellowship. At the top of the building I found a gay and lesbian meeting in the appropriately named Rainbow Room, full of beautiful men and women with cheery, welcoming smiles on their faces. The meeting was incredible for me, mainly because of the speech I managed to give about how grateful I was to be there. Not the first time, the feeling of being in a surreal, wonderful dream washed over me. After the meeting a group was going out for fellowship in Hell’s Kitchen, and I was invited along as the guest of honour. I didn’t just meeting great people that night, I made friends, something you wouldn’t think possible in a large city thousands of miles from home. I enjoyed a ginormous blueberry muffin, allowing myself to feel only slight guilty, as I talked about London and bonded with my fellow alcoholics. When it was all over it really was like waking up from a nice dream. I guess it will be a long while before I get to see those people again, if I get to see them again. At least I know what’s possible in New York, and I do plan to go again, hopefully before too long.

Now I’m back in London, and the weather is its usual dreary self. While in New York they enjoy enjoy unbroken sunshine and 70 degrees, we have to put up with clouds, rain and chilling rain. But, perhaps for the first time, it’s not getting me down today. I love this city, and I love my life today. I’ve been able to say that a few times this week, which is amazing. I don’t even mind that I have to go back to work next week. If I can finance a trip to New York by myself, I can do anything.


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