Jet lag can make you lose your appetite.
A whole week off school. We had it all planned. Nana and Papa, old friends at the beach, The Brothers. We were going to ride the subway, take a taxi, see a Broadway show and eat everything we wanted: frogs legs in the East Village, tapas in the Flatiron, calamari in New Jersey. We bought special clothes. We got new haircuts. And at the culmination of this magical week, we would stay in a hotel and attend the beautiful wedding of Sam and Jess. Gus, the last cousin of 11, would be the youngest there.
Every minute of our trip was packed with the special people we were going to see, the things we were going to do and the fun we were going to have. We even sang all the New York songs – from Frank Sinatra all the way to Jay-Z. Gus the party animal was on his way to the Big Apple.
Our plane landed close to 1 in the morning. By the time we got in the rental car, it was close to 2. We drove past the city in the distance. Gus loves the Chrysler building best. He asked if anyone lives in its golden point. By the time we got to sleep it was 3 in the morning. Perfect, I remember thinking. This is the city that never sleeps.
When I first moved to New York, right out of college, I can remember every night, crawling the last block home from work. Every day was so full, every minute was so supercharged, that for the first six months I was sick with exhaustion. I would talk to my LA friends and ask what they did that day, and they would answer: Oh, I went to the dentist. Oh, I had to pick up my dry cleaning. Wimps, I reckoned.
After the first six months, I got used to it. The energy begins to feed you, it cycles back in, through your veins, instead of leaking out. It gets harder and harder to sleep. You become a vampire. Also known as a New Yorker.
I felt it again, when we came up out of the train by Herald Square last Wednesday, on our way to pizza (real pizza) and then Matilda. As soon as my foot hit the sidewalk. The New York show, where everyone poses and jockeys and preens. I put on my best game face and joined the show.
But Gus didn’t join the show, it just came at him. Nine million things at the speed of light. This sponge, this boy who needs to touch and see and feel and taste all of it, was soon overloaded. We did all the things we planned, and Gus soldiered on. But he was exhausted.
Downtown on the 1
Before, when we had been in the City, Gus was in a fog, so good at tuning out that its sirens didn’t sing to him like they do now. Now every face is interesting, every signal worth reading, every high heeled boot a wonder of engineering. Now he is capable of understanding everything, but no one is capable of that in New York.
By the time we got to the wedding party on Friday night, Gus was unable to eat the wedding cake. Even a teeny little bite. He was unable to dance with his brothers, except for a brief flash of break dancing during “We’ve Got the Moves Like Jagger” He greeted people he didn’t know with a polite but lackluster hello. He even averted his eyes just like your average pre-teen.
Many times I stopped myself from asking him to be more – well – more Gus like. His inner party animal was stranded somewhere over Ohio. We would have to pick it up on our way West Sunday morning.
As Jim says, it’s not easy being the joy that lights up a room. People count on you for too much.
I thought about asking him to try harder. But wasn’t I asking him plenty already? That night, when we finally got to back to the hotel and ready for bed, it was nearly nearly 1 am again. (It is always 1 am in New York, isn’t it?) Jim went out to join the group at the bar. I crawled into bed next to Gus. I looked him in the eye and said thank you.
Once Fred Flintstone, for some kooky reason, was not supposed to go to sleep. But he was very tired. He propped open his eye lids with toothpicks. Only the toothpicks kept breaking.
Eyes wide from hours spent past the point of no return — Gus whispered: you’re welcome.