There is something about a cup of courage, a new coffeeshop, and the music they choose for the ambience that works together to immediately open the gates of my writer’s block. This is my third time here in the span of a week, which means I’m starting to grow fond of this place. One wall is exposed brick, which is an aesthetic I completely vibe with, and all the tables are made from polished wood. There are vintage-styled bronze chandeliers hanging and plants decorating every corner — Pothos in mason jars, in cups, in metal tins. Since I’ve last been here they’ve added autumn decorations around the espresso machine — pumpkins, corn, squash. Today is the first of October and we’re welcoming Autumn.
When I moved into my first apartment, my mom gifted me two Pothos. When I moved to my second, they were long enough to wrap around a bookcase. Now I’m living in my third apartment, an airplane away, where I had to pack all of my life’s belongings into two check-ins and a carry on. I took only what I absolutely needed, a balance of clothes, essential hijabs, and books. I don’t have my mother’s Pothos anymore. She is no longer a car ride away. We talked, right before I sat down here to get work done, of meeting new people, of classes. Our conversations sound different now, as if the echo of distance reverberates in our voices. Ending with I miss you is more painful than it was before, but she has blessed this chapter the way any mother blesses journeys that are meant to be.
Here I am, Pothos in a mason jar, my waffle, my coffee, and The Wounded Storyteller with the soft light of afternoon sun peeking through. It is chilly, so I have a light sweater on. This is welcomed — for the last couple of weeks it’s been gloomy, overcast, and rainy here in New York City. Normally this affects my mood, but I think the energy of this city is too electric to rely on whether the sun is shining or not. Thinking of how this will be the first time I’m experiencing real Fall. The colors of the trees have yet changed, but I’m embracing the oranges, and the reds, and the browns that are popping around me.
This writer block is lifting because as I settled into this spot, and opened up The Wounded Storyteller, highlighter in hand ready to embrace the stories of illness before me, I took a second to center myself and breathe in the moment. That’s when it hit me that today is the day that marks one month since I’ve moved here.
I left Houston, homeless. I was leaving the only place I ever knew and lived in, opening myself up to new people, and new experiences, and new air, and the same sun shining in new ways, and a new, unplanned, adventure. I was also, quite literally, homeless. The place my roommate and I picked out fell through days prior, for reasons we still do not know. My mother says not to force things — maktoub is maktoub. When I landed in New York City, with my life in tow, before I even stepped off the plane, I received a text that the second place we had picked out — one in Harlem, one in which I would walk streets with history of protest, activism, art, one now being gentrified — became our home. This neighborhood is much more me. It is also far away from any medical school. Perhaps this was God’s way of removing me from my comfort zone, to remind me that I am here to explore who I am, the art around me, far away from any identity I use to claim. There is no other place to inspire me and guide my aspirations.
The first days here, however, while I was trying to sort out the fiasco that was apartment hunting, I was living in an Airbnb in the medical center. It was disconcerting to me, at first, walking around the Presbyterian hospitals without having a hospital badge of my own, seeing doctors and medical students in scrubs knowing that I would not be wearing those scrubs, would not have a stethoscope worn around my neck, would not be speaking the medical jargon I have learned to become fluent in these past three years. I wouldn’t be listening to lub dubs of hearts, or the breaths of lungs, or hear stories of remarkable resilience. I wouldn’t be waking up early in the morning to go to bedsides, and check up on people, or spend hours just listening to their silence.
I had an identity crisis because all that I knew, all that I was, all that I thought I am, I had to let go. Thinking of all I left behind, even if it was temporary, made me existentially scream what have I done. That was my moment of doubt.
After my first night in a new city, I woke up at 5am. I put in earphones and the first song that played was SICKO MODE. I had a brand new pair of running shoes and black running tights, and a black hoodie, and a black turban, and I just ran. I ran, and ran, and ran. I ran passed the medical center, onto Riverside park, paused when I hit a bridge that overlooked the Hudson River. I danced down stairs where no one was watching, fully letting my body make art of space and movement, and sprinted across trails on the river bank. I sat on a bench to catch my breath and watched as the rising sun danced on the water. I was in disbelief. Here I was, bursting with light and joy, embracing the soft warm glow of early morning fogging the horizon, letting my feet slam on concrete and erase everything of who I was and what I knew to make room of who I have always meant to be. All this because I dared to deviate on the path I had planned. I took the chance I never take. I said the goodbyes I’ve never been able to let go of. I stopped making excuses for why I was where I was and took command of what I knew I needed. I listened, to my mind, to my heart, to my body, to my spirit, for the first time, and it led me to the banks of promise, and inspiration, and possibility.
All my life I’ve played in boxes, always had the next three steps calculated and set, was too afraid to really, truly put the pieces of myself out there. I’ve always been the person holding me back. Now, here, I was the person pushing me forward, to be whoever I wanted to be in a city that had no idea who I was, nonetheless that I was even here. It was liberating to take the world I had made so small in Houston, and start to expand it infinitely in a city that knew no limits.
I reassured myself and buried those doubts. On the contrary, I had done something incredible. I needed to be proud that my growth in the last couple of years brought me here.
When I first moved into my new apartment I only had a towel and a backpack stuffed with clothes. My furniture hadn’t come in yet, or rather I hadn’t purchased it yet because I didn’t have a shipping address in the limbo that was my transitioning homelessness. I could’ve stayed with a friend, or spend another night in an Airbnb, but I opted for this instead: to sleep my first night in my third apartment, in a place away from home that I now had to learn to make home. I told myself it would make a far more interesting story for my future children, to tell them of night one in my own apartment in New York City, sleeping on the floor on top of a towel using a backpack stuffed with clothes for a pillow. Of how bold I was, to take a break from medicine to become a “starving artist”, and deviate from a path that I was once so stringently navigating. I have more of a room now. A mattress that unfurled from a box, gray sheets with a yellow throw for a pop of color, a white chair, a gray fur rug I used to decorate the chair, a full length mirror, and a ladder bookshelf where I’m storing the library I bought with books I will finish by the end of the year. I have a M (for Mabizari) decoration block my dearest friends gifted me after throwing a surprise goodbye dinner, and an NYC candle they gave me for my birthday. I still have yet to buy my own Pothos, but that is on the list of things I need to make this place a home.
There are small things I have to get used to. Like not having a car to do a grocery or shopping run, which makes me a much more picky shopper. Before I put anything in my cart I consider “Is this worth taking the Uptown A train 5 stops, with the possibility that it may be unreasonably packed, and then walking two blocks and six flight of stairs? Will the shopping bag I have be able to carry its weight without spilling all the contents into the street like that one time? What is the most essential ingredient to cook this meal? Which meal can I cook with the least amount of ingredients?”. Like not having my own washer and dryer, which means I have to make a conscious effort to have laundry days in which I hunt out the nearest laundromat and fight for a washer, then a dryer, then lug what is at least 10lb of laundry back to my apartment. Like coffeeshops that close early, because I guess caffeine here is only for people to drink in the morning, the city that never sleeps doesn’t need caffeine past 7pm. Like places that don’t really have outlets because they don’t want people lingering in their shops. Like making sure you have headphones in when you’re walking in the street. Not loud enough to the point where you’re unaware of your surroundings, but loud enough to make you forget the fact that some men are absolutely disgusting. These are minor in the grand scheme of things, but adjustments nonetheless, from a person who has never really needed to adjust much. I’m finding humor in this as well, turning them into their own little stories tucked away for reminiscing in my old age.
I am here because I’m pursuing a Masters of Science in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. I am here because I want to become a better physician. I want to take the writing I have found solace in, and the desire I have to tell stories, and pour that into my lifetime work. I want to take my passion for medicine, and how I experience life through art, and unify them because I have learned that I am complex; I am not just a scientist, I am not just a writer, I’m a weird conglomeration of the two trying to convince myself I’m one or the other without realizing that it’s okay to be those two things. I am constantly learning to not put myself in boxes, that I’m not meant to be a two-dimensional character.
I am here because I’ve forgotten what it means to take care of myself. To appreciate all that I am and all that I am growing into. Because I have listened too long to who and what others think I am, and I have defined my worth in performance measures, and I needed to remember why it is I took the Hippocratic oath three years ago. I am here, to remember what it means to be on the other side of the white coat. To stroll, instead of run, through my checkpoints. To finally be the person in a coffeeshop reading novels and cherishing the worlds discovered in between those pages. To spend hours in art museums and cry over the truths they share, to go to open mics and surround myself with creativity so that I can, too, share my truths. To take my camera and finally learn how to show the world the beauty I see. To try and understand a little of a life I am so naive of and so inexperienced at.
I know now that twenty-five is too young to claim you can heal the spirit. It is too young to pretend to understand the lives that move before us. To some this doesn’t matter. To me, I want to be like Virgil leading through the inferno, pointing the sights as we go. I am here, seeking a better version of myself, a version that will know what it is to sit at a bedside with a long white coat and match life with brimming life.
I am sorry this post is so long, but when I started typing I could not stop. This past month I’ve been taking everything in, the sights, the sounds, the movement. I’ve been running, running, running, since the moment I’ve touched this ground. I haven’t given myself the room to sit and document. Reflection needs space, and silence, and writing only comes after you have steeped yourself in your thoughts. I’ve been waiting to explain everything that has happened since my plane landed, and even this post cannot contain the memories that flow out like a cascading waterfall.
There are moments where I’m off auto-pilot for a brief second and I realize that I am still in disbelief that I am really here. But I’m trying to find a piece of me wherever I go, to take every second I am blessed to be here and turn it into a story, memories, and growth. I am here building upwards — the empires I constantly speak of.
Welcome to the new floor.