Get Well

Self & the City: Northbound on Houston

by Jessa Chargois

Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to hannah@chillhouse.com. 

I believe the most refreshing breaths are taken after midnight. Surrounded by the soft glow of neon lights, the dull roar of forgotten conversations, and the unforeseen fateful connections, one can find strength, inspiration, and resolution. By creating a space in which one can solely exist without judgement, preconceived expectations, or cultural bias, I propose we all can be a little bit more gentle with our intimate moments.

On a voyage down countless blocks, the silence fades as one nears the heart of downtown Manhattan. The defying quiet of Gramercy at 2:30 am is pierced only by the occasional car horn, interrupting the rhythmic clicks of heels and soles on the well-traveled sidewalks. Instinctively navigating south, I found myself arm in arm with one of my closest male friends, our laughs echoing through the night. As we drifted into the Lower East Side, a neighborhood we both call home, we said our goodbyes for the night, one filled with mutual appreciation, liquid courage, and shared confessions. Darting through traffic, he turned to wave affectionately, promising we would see one another soon. Shivering, I plunged my hands in my deep overcoat pockets, simultaneously popping my wireless headphones in. Pressing shuffle, I navigated through the disorderly crowds spilling out of the bars. With the clock nearing 3:00 am, the neighborhood was aglow with fellow passerby’s, wayward on their travels home. Watching from a road median, the crossing signal flashed red as cars sped past, carrying unidentified passengers to their countless unknown destinations. While I was navigating towards my empty bed, one couldn’t help but imagine the infinite beds these strangers are hurdling forty miles an hour towards. 

Like a whirlwind slideshow partially hidden behind the buses and trucks, I caught a glimpse of a couple on the opposite side of throughway of traffic. I found myself drawn to the affection clearly demonstrated between the two. Just as the crosswalk light flicked white, indicating a safe path, he pulled her into an embrace, passionately kissing his significantly shorter partner. Unlike other displays of affection, theirs was tender, gentle, and filled with a sense of security. While the Lower East Side is no stranger to drunken exchanges of lust, this couple was visibly infatuated with one another beyond their temporary intoxication. Passing in the night, I carried on south, and the two, hand-in-hand, crossed the street north on Houston. Days later, the imagine of this couple and their tender embrace continued to flash through my mind. 

Often, I walk myself home in the wee hours of twilight. Silently weaving my way through the avenues, it is a chance to peer into the countless worlds New York has to offer, many of which are not visible throughout the daylight. Often wrapped up in the relentless speed of the city, my midnight strolls help ground my creativity and my anxiety. By reconnecting to the sources of my motivation and drive, I utilized these long walks as a weekly atonement, salvation in solitary moments for the week’s missteps. On these walks, I am nameless, without expectations. Simply, I am passing through, forgotten and able to exist without judgement, a voyeur in the night. 

While I will not claim that midnight walks are the solution for everyone, I have found a space in time that I can exist without preconceived notions. It has become a ritual that I treasure. Regardless of what this space may look like for you, I have become acutely aware of the powerful and restorative nature taking time for myself to move has had on my mental health. Allowing myself to feel and to absorb the beauty and grace that is this immense city has been a challenge, often leaving me overwhelmed. Rather than attempt to grasp its vastness all at once, I have found strength in cherishing the intimate moments, moments such as the tender embrace of this northbound couple. 

This anecdote is merely meant to remind us all that small moments can have just as big of an impact on our lives as those we would pre-conceive as monumental. Be gentle with your thoughts and the experiences you have. In the past, I have been harsh, setting unrealistic goals for myself in every facet of my life. While I am still a bit too high strung, I am slowly working on allowing a permanent space for my emotions in my life. While my midnight walks are soothing, I have also found a new energy in my daily life by creating similar spaces throughout my routine. Establishing boundaries for myself, limiting screen time and time spent at bars has dramatically increased my sense of identity, along with allowing for quiet moments alone. Waking up early to work on the crossword before work, spending nights in yoga and pilates studios finding my inner sense of strength, and defining dedicated hours to work on my writing have helped rejuvenate my creativity and confidence. While I still spend almost every night with friends, I am working on carving out more time to connect with my inner thoughts and desires. I am practicing more self-forgiveness, along with self-discovery. I have begun to take elective educational classes, read more novels outside of my usual library shelves, smile more often at strangers on the subway, and even started a strict budget to create a healthier financial well-being. Attempting to redefine my relationship with self-care, formulating new routines and practices with my emotional, intellectual and creative interests have led to a new lens on the previous ways I have spent my time. 

While it may seem asinine, the embrace shared between the northbound couple reminded me to treat my own self with said love and tenderness. Without expectations, a preconceived persona, or a cultural bias, what defines you? As a voyeur in the night, how do you identify? If you strip away your job, family, education, friends, and your hobbies, what is left? I’m not sure I have my own answer, but in the time I spend alone, I am working to formulate my own resolution between the avenues of New York. 

When was the last time you took yourself for a walk? If you can’t answer that, go for a midnight stroll. You may just find your own lesson within a couple’s embrace northbound on Houston.

Feature Image via Jessica Golightly

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