It was a trip to New York organized by the middle and high school music departments. Chorus, band, and strings were all invited. I was thirteen at the time and was thrilled to see the big city. New York is known for its glamour and glitz, and what could be more exciting than seeing it with friends?
The glitz and glamour I had imagined was distorted by the reality of big city life. Panhandlers, street performers, curses, blaring horns, the smell of big business all around me. I was tightly compacted between a mass of pedestrians, grasping group members’ hands. That day we were going to be visiting the Empire State Building.
“Everyone have their tickets to see the Empire State Building, yes?”
Everyone nodded. I was nervous to go because I have a severe fear of heights. I hinted at not wanting to go up, but my friends and chaperones insisted I would be okay. We stood in line and I began to shake. Everyone still kept telling me it would be okay, and the only thing I had to fear was fear itself.
I asked if I could just stay at the bottom and wait for everyone. The chaperones said it wasn’t allowed unless another chaperone stayed with me. I knew no one was going to give up seeing a breathtaking view of New York for a jumpy, scared kid. I felt my eyes burn and my throat tighten.
The elevator ascended from the ground floor, to the fifteenth, to the fortieth, to the eighty-sixth where the observatory platform was placed. We walked off the elevator. I look out the window and only saw blue. I began to feel dizzy.
But once I got out on to the platform and could spot the easily distinguishable Chrysler Building and the State of Liberty off in the distance, I saw the true grandeur of NYC. Though moments later I looked too far down and wobbled back towards the wall. After the gift shop we returned to the ground and walked towards Time Square.
Then it struck.
I remember a time when I was younger and my family went to the beach. I held my father’s hand as we went farther and farther out to the ocean. We jumped over or moved our bodies with the current to avoid being knocked over by the waves. I briefly looked down into the water for a moment and watched as I saw something glitter. I stared at it, enchanted by its green glimmer. Not even a second later, I felt a cold, sharp sting of the ocean slap me and knocked me down. I was submerged underwater. I flailed my legs and tried to desperately find something to hold on to, some security.
In Times Square, I felt sheer terror ripping and clawing into me. That twinge of fear suddenly turned into a flood of fear that smacked my face and submerged me into a world that I can only compare to being dangled over the edge of Hell. My breathing became ragged. My arms became nub. My throat felt like someone’s hands had latched on and kept squeezing tighter and tighter. I gasped for air. I felt like I had been damned to Dante’s purgatory to pay for my sins.
I lasted for three hours during the Broadway show. Then I begged to call my parents and go home. I told them I was homesick and began bawling from the pain and from how scared I was. The next day they came and got me. In class people whispered and pointed at me, retelling the story of how I, a thirteen year old, pleaded to come home to Mommy and Daddy. Two years later, I was still ridiculed. They knew not to give me an interest paper for the next big field trip.
But being called a wuss was better than being called the freak I knew I was.