Today was the most bizarre day I’ve experienced in a really long time. The same day consisted of me holding the newborn boy of a girl I consider a cousin as well as punching myself in the face on Coney Island’s Cyclone.
This pseudo cousin gave birth to her first child deep into Saturday night. This afternoon I was on the Southern State to see and hold the closest thing I have to a blood nephew (I say that with all due respect to my nephews-in-law).
This was the first newborn in my adult life that I actually cared about before meeting it. I walked in the room to find my pseudo family wiped out with exhaustion, and my friend handed me the baby boy, a tiny package of 6 pounds and some ounces. He was absolutely beautiful, and if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, well, I had a lot to behold. New(!) mother also looked amazing; as her sister – the closest thing I’ve ever had to a sister – told me about the birth, I couldn’t stop being so utterly proud of this little girl I used to play mattress-stairs with.
This experience just totally winded me; I didn’t know what to expect but felt so comfortable with it each second I was steeped in it. Family; new members of family. I’ve never witnessed it – or been a part of it to that degree – firsthand.
After I tore myself away from the family, I headed towards Coney Island to meet two college friends of mine. We strolled along the boardwalk and then figured, we’re already here, why not take a spin on the Cyclone? The Cyclone is a rickety decades-old roller coaster that is a rite of passage for New Yorkers born and bred. I’ve ridden the Cyclone; my father has ridden the Cyclone, my father’s father… that’s the kind of legend it is. It stands (and dips and dives) for the youth of the Brooklyn-bred.
The experience was everything the baby-beholding was not. Adrenaline pumping as we climbed into the car, profanities flying as we ricketed up the first curve. Somewhere around the second drop, my glasses came off. I realized it and quickly grabbed for them, getting myself stuck in a position of holding the seat bar instead of sitting back. Somewhere in that mess, I managed to punch myself in the nose, smell my own blood, hit my head and severely strain my neck. When the ride ended, I found myself speckled in red with my nose pulling a Pinocchio.
How had I gotten from holding a one-day old baby and being so moved I could barely talk, to icing my nose and not being able to move my head sideways? Or maybe the question should be reversed – when does this youth ride come to an end? When do you realize you’re pathetic for trying?
I feel young, and I know from family history I will feel young for a long time to come. But this is a different kind of young – it’s a youth based on a different kind of curiosity, not the kind pumped by adrenaline and profanities. This youth is not as bold, not as daring, not as stupid, but it is a journey of satisfying many of the questions I’ve held and learning the new questions to be asking. This youthfulness might not be any smarter than the past one, but it’s definitely not stupider.
Or maybe I have it all wrong; maybe I’ve been out of New York for too long and missed the message altogether. Maybe New York was asking me if I really feel up to being here. Maybe she has something to say for those of us who leave her.
Maybe Brooklyn was giving me a beating, showing me what it really means to come back.