Recently, I was lucky enough to have been invited on a trip to New York City along with a small group of about a dozen people from my church, St. David’s Episcopal, and a few hand-selected friends we were allowed to bring. As soon as we had checked into our opulent Midtown hotel, we wasted no time hitting the streets and seeing the sights.
I had been to NYC once before with my parents on an anniversary trip that they so generously invited my brother and me to join. It was easily one of the most memorable experiences of domestic travel, and this new trip was no exception.
First stop: St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Our friend Kris was one of the few staunch Roman Catholics on the trip, and she was to be married to her fiancé, Greg. Kris was from Austin, but Greg was Norwegian (in fact, after the terrible tragedy recently, we were all hoping this trip would help to take his mind off things). Fortunately, Greg was in high spirits as he and Kris were slated to meet with the bishop to discuss St. Patrick’s as a venue for their upcoming wedding. Greg had converted with hardly any fuss from his nominal Lutheranism to Catholicism as soon as he and Kris were engaged.
We had split into small groups at this point, so it was only Kirk and I accompanying them to the cathedral. The bishop was a nice man, cordial and extremely fond of the young couple. I sauntered around the massive church for a bit, before the bishop emerged with our friends. Giddy with excitement, Greg and Kris ran around the cathedral, already planning the big day in their minds. The bishop said he was excited for them, and said Greg was a good example of how one day, everyone would be making the Sign of the Cross in the name of Roman Catholicism. Kirk was not nearly as put off as I was after this rather arrogant and somewhat ominous declaration. I was also not too happy with the way the Church conducted itself during the gay marriage debate in New York, which thankfully already passed; a gay couple we knew were slated to marry before we flew back to Austin. As the bishop began to swing his incense below the crucifix, I quite boldly declared “Sorry, Rome, but you’ll NEVER get me.” Kirk agreed with me of course, but he didn’t want any trouble, so he ushered me out of the church. That ALWAYS happens; friends are always trying to get me out of places before I can verbally take someone down. Greg and Kris were out of earshot, so they weren’t mad in the slightest. They were still glowing about the wedding.
Mere blocks from the cathedral, we found a frozen yogurt shop and as our other group members rejoined us from their mini adventures, we got in line and ordered our treats. I had a cup of chocolate yogurt, and topped it with colored sprinkles. As soon as I took a bite, the sprinkles and yogurt reminded of me of my childhood…especially those Friday afternoons after school in South Carolina when Mom would pick me up from school and take me out for a frozen yogurt at the TCBY near my private school. I’d get chocolate with sprinkles. Those were some of my favorite days. I’d have to include that in the Yelp review.
Outside, a group of people I assumed were Jamaicans were playing dice on the sidewalk. We watched them for a bit, before they cleared out all at the same time to make room for a rather large woman who hooked up a microphone to a 90’s era boom box and began belting out show tunes. She was in very high heels, and so was her backup singer. As I finished my yogurt, I looked closer.
These weren’t women, were they? Nope—they were drag queens, and not too passable at that. The backup dancer sort of smirked when she saw the spark of recognition. No one walking past, not even the Jamaican men from before, seemed to mind any of this was occurring. We listened to her sing a song by ADELE before we headed back towards the hotel.
On the way, I begged Greg and Kris to re-think their church venue and use Trinity Church down on Wall Street. Irritated, they asked why they would want to, since neither of them was Episcopalian. I knew I was pushing it, so I dropped the subject. To get back into their good graces, I stopped in front of a jewelry store and the three of us ooh’d and ahh’d over the vast, sparkling array of watches in the window, including a featured Fendi display. I inquired if they wanted to try a few on for fun, but it was dusk and we had dinner plans.
I entered the lobby, and there was my on again off again friend JB who had been part of the group walking home, but had somehow beaten us to the hotel. He was sitting in a chair next to a large glass window. Exhausted, I plopped down next to him. Greg, Kris, and Kirk had disappeared. And then I started to feel odd. I was hungry, yes, but that wasn’t it. Tired, of course, but I would manage once I had a cocktail. My stomach started to turn and the world started to not feel right. I looked over at JB, who seemed completely unaware of what was happening. But it was starting to wash over me. He asked me what my selections were for a prix fixe dinner, and if I really meant what he heard I had said back at the church.
“J, we aren’t having dinner tonight. You know where we are,” I said.
He looked at me, and as if by telepathy, he knew what that meant. Disappointed, he dropped the backpack he was holding, put his head back on the chair, and let out a deep sigh. He knew now.
The lobby had grown darker as I could see less and less people. The buildings started to disappear and like a freight train, the recognition of the moment became louder and louder, until New York City had vanished in a flash…
…and I woke up, with drool on my pillow and that horrible sense of disappointment you feel when you realize all those ridiculously vivid thoughts, events, and emotions were just specters. For those first few moments, that feeling sits in the pit of your stomach like a stone. And then the alarm goes off, and you desperately need to pee.
The small comfort I took from my second “trip” to New York City was not the quality time spent with friends, my standing up to the bishop for religious freedom, the tasty frozen yogurt sprinkles, the unavoidable yearning for the shiny baubles in the window displaying all the materialistic treasures of this earth.
No, it was none of those. My comfort was that even in my dream…I was still me.