When I first moved to New York City from Southern California, months went by before it occurred to me that I hadn’t even hugged another human in days…63 to be exact.
No matter, I thought as I turned up Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind” a little louder in my headphones and walked a little faster down the crowded city streets, filling my Instagram story with what was sure to be other people’s jealousy. Who has time for hugging when you are busy embracing a whole new life?!
Of course I missed my friends and family, but I didn’t really think I needed new ones either. Coming from a small beach town where everyone knew my name caused me to revel in the novelty of the anonymity a big city can provide. And no place does this better than New York City.
I must have especially missed both my mother and father however, because before long I began dating an emotionally unavailable alcoholic to fill the void left by their particular absence in my daily life.
One winter night after my drunk prince charming and I had been dating “exclusively” (according to me) for a few months, I snuggled up to his chest and breathed the sweet scent of his shirt, freshly laundered by his mother.
“Baby?” I said, in my own baby voice. “I don’t feel very well.”
I had a cute little tickle in my throat and felt some mild sniffles coming on.
I was secretly thrilled at this golden opportunity for him to take care of me, theoretically bringing us closer together and maybe even showing him what it would be like to think about someone other than himself, possibly for the first time in his 34 years. I envisioned him making me tea, gently bringing his lips to my forehead to palpate a fever, and stroking my hair until I fell asleep in his arms.
Instead he pulled away from me and asked if I wouldn’t mind sleeping in the spare room because he really didn’t want to get sick.
Given the fact that he was unemployed and completely financially supported by his parents, I was slightly taken aback by his reaction to my lady germs. Exactly how much risk was he taking here? Did he have a board meeting to attend in the morning that didn’t involve his bong and his newly purchased IPA? Did he suddenly need to wake up before 1pm? Who knew?
Well, I knew.
Later, as I lay shivering in the darkness in the only room in his upper east side apartment without a working heater and slightly woozy from the Nyquil I had gone out and purchased myself, I realized that I might just have the flu, or as the locals were calling it that year, “the plague of new york city.”
I had never been sick or debilitated without my community of loved ones to take care of me, and I grew concerned about not having anyone within reach who could at least boil water or call 911. I pulled the sheet (freshly laundered by his mother) on the blanket-less bed tighter around me and started to cry.
Charming must have heard me over his favorite soap opera, WWE smackdown, because he appeared in the doorway and asked if I was okay.
“I think I’m pretty sick,” I said, tossing my hair back and propping myself up with one arm on the pillow so as not to look anything less than sexually desirable while dying.
“Oh. Well, do you need anything?” he sighed.
I stifled the death rattle threating to escape my throat.
“Do you have a blanket like, anywhere in the house?”
“I have something kinda like a blanket.” He said.
It could have been my fevered delirium, but once again I found myself hopeful and even a little intrigued. What garment would my prince choose to wrap me in during my final hours on earth? A hand-sewn quilt made by his grandmother? His old baby blanket, perhaps?
When he returned and covered me with an oversized beach towel, I gave up my fantasy of his bedside manner and succumbed to my new reality. I had the flu. I was in it alone. My support system was 2400 miles away.
And, I was wrapped in a beach towel.
The next morning I went home to my apartment in Bushwick and didn’t leave my bed for a week, except to walk in a snowstorm (my first one, yay!) to the local urgent care.
“Is there someone you can call for a ride home, honey?” the nurse asked me after it was confirmed I did indeed have the flu as well as a 104.3 degree fever.
“We actually cant allow you to leave in your condition unless we know you have someone coming to get you.”
I was so weak and exhausted all I could do was stare down at my phone. I wracked my brain and came up empty; there was actually not one person I could call to pick me up and drive me the mile and a half back to my house.
“Hon? You want to call someone?”
I panicked for a second, embarrassed by her observation of my glaringly obvious inability to establish relationships with other humans.
I opened the screen on my phone and blurted out, “oh yeah, my friend Amarjeet will be here in…about 4 to 6 minutes.”
“Oh. Got it.” the nurse replied.
After I returned home to my bed and gave Amarjeet a much-deserved 5 star Uber rating and tip, I took to the task of being sick and taking care of myself for the first time ever. I measured my medicine, made myself tea, and took my own fucking temperature.
I figured out how to order groceries to be delivered, and learned that people in New York do this even when they aren’t deathly ill.
I also wanted to be healed quicker than my body would allow, so I was forced to be kind and gentle and patient with myself in a way I had probably been leaving up to other people my whole life.
At one point during a major coughing attack in the middle of the night, I flew out of bed and headed toward the bathroom to expel phlegm. I tripped on my phone charger and took a header right into the metal radiator. I started crying again as I staggered back to the bed, feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I thought about all those missing hugs and how silly I had been to think I could make it on my own in this (now god forsaken) city without them. I wished so badly someone could just wrap their arms around me and tell me it was going to be ok, but then it suddenly occurred to me I could do that exact thing for myself. I crawled under the covers and cradled my body in my own arms, and began to whisper soothingly,
“You are ok. Its ok. You are going to make it.”
I must have believed my own words, because soon I drifted off to sleep. (Or unconsciousness from my head injury, but probably sleep.)
I was amazed to find out how easy I could be on myself, and that there is so much strength in self-care combined with self-reliance. I became a fierce advocate for my well being, ready to fight for my own life instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
I learned that coming to my own rescue had a way of showing me my worth in a way that no one else could.
When my weeklong infirmed state was over, I went back into this (still wonderful) city, but I wasn’t completely alone.
This time, and for the first time, I had me.
(Of course, I’m not perfect and still female so I let Prince charming woo me for anther year with beach towels and bad behavior before finally advocating for my sanity there as well.)