Thank You for Everything
I hate the snow. I hate driving in it mostly. Depending on how much there is, I might not even be able to leave the house. The anxiety takes over, and I’m glued to my couch, responsibilities forgotten.
The snow was the writing on the wall for our trip to New York City. Actually, let me rewind. The first omen was Ellie projectile vomiting two days before our trip and being hospitalized a week prior because of a pulmonary embolism. I begged her to postpone the trip daily. She had cancer for the second time. She beat the odds when she was younger, which was a true miracle. As she got older, she settled down, got married, and had a baby girl. Miracle number two. Then her childhood cancer reappeared, and we were doing whatever it would take to create miracle number three.
Two weeks before our trip, Ellie informed me of her newest condition. Her heart was not acting up to par and there were only so many beats inside of hers left. It kept me up at night, worry plaguing my thoughts, but of course she was not taking no for an answer. She decided no matter how she felt, we would be at the Amtrak station at four in the morning to catch the train.
So, back to the snow, which was the second omen technically. It bears repeating: I hate it. We took a nap earlier in the night, determined to stay awake for the entire eight-hour train ride, but when we woke it was a winter wonderland. Ellie slept in my bed, but she needed her IV fluids and since we didn’t have her stand, we improvised. A bag of fluids dangled precariously off a clothes hanger latched onto a curtain rod. Gravity would allow it to work, right? Wrong. Defeated, we slept, we woke, and we got ready to go.
The snow, thick and heavy, came down so quickly we could hardly see her vehicle parked in my driveway. My nerves were already shot. This would be bad.
Ellie, determined as ever, grabbed the keys out of my hand and walked straight out the door, which left me carrying all the luggage to the car while trying not to throw up on the way.
My name is Bee, and this is our story.
Is this the parking lot we’re supposed to be in? How can every lot be called the same name? I dial the number on the sign, but it’s the middle of the night. No one will answer. Wrong again. I’m advised this person does not own a parking lot.
“Why is your number on the sign then?”
“I don’t know,” he replies, “leave your car, it’ll be fine.”
Ellie and I bicker on what to do. She’s driving, it’s her car, and she couldn’t care less on where to park. I, on the other hand, am nervous we’re going to come back with it missing. Towed away to some unknown location, and we’ll be stuck in Buffalo with no ride home. Ellie wins, we park the car there.
Mother nature continues to dump blankets of snow on us and I’m still carrying all the luggage. We wander the streets, struggling to find the station. We have no idea what we’re doing. In most cases, I would be laughing by now, but I'm worried about missing the train. I have little sense of humor when I’m lost, especially when running late.
At last, we make it. Perhaps us arriving is miracle number three? I bend over, clutching my knees. I'm swallowing air, begging my lungs to expand as cold air bites at my face. Not to mention, my back already hurts. We should have stayed home.
The train arrives seconds later, and we find a seat. I load the luggage overhead and inhale deeply, relieved that the first step is complete: we made it on the train. I settle back with the idea of sleeping longer and notice that Ellie has already beat me to it. How can someone fall asleep that fast? Impossible. I close my eyes but a minute later I’m alert looking around. Reassured no one is staring at us, I close my eyes once more. Again, my eyes fly open, darting in every direction. Oh boy, this is going to be the longest trip of my life. I glance over at Ellie again, still passed out. I’m jealous if I’m being honest.
I take a steadying breath and make myself as comfortable as I can in a coach seat. The chair leans back but the sense of lying in someone else’s lap keeps me upright. I curl up in a fetal position and wrap a blanket around me. The train is mostly dark with a few overhead lights turned on. It’s romantic if you’re into traveling with a bunch of strangers, I guess. I’m not one of those people though. The sense of dread is weighing heavily upon me, and even though she’s asleep, Ellie’s voice rings out in my head. “Where is your sense of adventure?” she asks. Lesson number one from Ellie: always be adventurous.
I thought eight hours would be a lengthy trip but try adding on a couple more. We stop in the middle of nowhere as a voice overhead springs to life. She sounds young, naïve. There’s a quiver in her voice as she tells passengers to stay in their seats and remain calm. What is the quickest way to get a tin can full of people to freak out? Tell them to remain calm. I’m shaking Ellie awake because I have no clue what’s going on or what’s about to happen. If we have to get off the train quickly, I need her to be conscious. She swats my hand away repeatedly, too determined to stay asleep.
“Ellie,” I hiss, “Ellie. Something is happening. Wake up.”
I peer out and all I can see are emergency vehicles. Too many to count. Flashing lights bounce off the windows and reflect back into my eyes. Cops, ambulances, fire trucks. All of them surrounding us. Naturally, I imagine an attack on the train, that we're in some kind of danger. Whatever it is, I assume it's bad, and my scalp tingles with the fear of each possibility.
Ellie continues to sleep as we sit there in silence. At least, I think we’re in silence? The ringing in my ears is deafening and the world around me disappears as I hold my breath, waiting for the end to come.
When the train jolts forward, my vision returns. A shudder rips through me and I pry my fingers off the armrests. We’re alive; we’re moving. I exhale and slump back, closing my eyes as I put earbuds in to drown out the noise for the rest of the journey. Whatever the tragedy, it isn't ours. Still, I'm too scared to fall asleep but too tired to keep my eyes open.
About an hour outside of the city, I force Ellie awake. She needs her antibiotics before we’re spit out onto the street. Gravity works this time, and we alternate holding the bag above our heads as bystanders watch us with a mix of curiosity and confusion. I can feel their eyes drilling holes into my back, but Ellie remains unaffected, as usual. Sometimes I admire her ability to tune the rest of the world out.
We arrive at New York Pennsylvania Station. I assemble our luggage and follow her into the terminal, slamming into her and dropping our bags before I comprehend why she stopped walking so abruptly. There are hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus. We walked out of a train and straight into The Twilight Zone.
“What in the world?” I finally ask.
“It is almost Christmas,” she points out.
“But…” I begin, laughing, “it’s two weeks away still. Why are so many people dressed like this? This can’t be an everyday thing, can it?” My country lifestyle is showing. I’m not used to big cities and how people interact in them, clearly.
She enunciates each word proudly, “This is amazing!” Her smile stretches wide across her face.
We find our way through the maze of what is Penn Station, Google Maps becoming our new best friend as we randomly choose an exit. We had this genius idea to store our luggage at a nearby hotel so we could roam the city freely. At the end of the day, we plan to pick up our luggage, find an Uber, and get a ride to a cheaper hotel out in New Jersey. It's saving us a lot of money! We're so smart.
With our luggage safely stored away, we’re free. Let the adventure begin! Another brilliant idea we had was to purchase two tickets for an unlimited hop on, hop off double-decker bus tour, allowing us to swing around the city.
We came to New York City with two goals in mind: Central Park and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. The former because I’m a writer and felt it crucial to see Central Park at least once in person, especially since I was writing a scene about it. The latter was a dream come true for both of us.
We hop on a bus, figure out what route we’re on, and swing by the 9/11 Memorial while we’re so close. One thing the bus tour forgot to mention was how far you actually have to walk. Sure, they’ll drop you somewhat close to the general area, but you still have to play the game and walk the city blocks. We’re an hour into our big adventure, and I have the sinking realization we should have brought the wheelchair. Deep breaths, everything will be fine.
The National September 11 Memorial is the most breathtaking tribute I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. We wander around the fountains and run our fingertips over the names of thousands who lost their lives. We don’t speak throughout the process, but when we stop to look at each other we both have tears streaming down our faces. Neither of us comment on this, a mutual understanding in our gaze.
We move on and take a couple pictures along the way. Our intentions are to document anything and everything, but it’s also eighteen degrees outside. Gloves or not, our fingers are freezing, and it's not worth it to constantly take our phones out of our pockets. No amount of winter layers can keep the wind at bay. We both appear fifteen pounds heavier from the amount of padding surrounding us, but it does little to nothing against the frosty air.
Ellie states she has to buy a purse from Chinatown and wants to find something for her daughter. We spend a lot of time searching only to find ourselves completely out of the city and in a neighborhood.
I point out the obvious. “Ellie, there are no shops here. These are houses.”
“One more block.”
“I don’t think Squish is old enough to realize you bought her something in New York City. We can stop at Walmart on the way home.”
“Will you calm down? Live a little.” She tosses me a glare. Lesson number two: live a little.
We walk and walk some more. My frustration is growing but I keep my mouth closed. We still have to backtrack to the bus stop, which will take at least a half hour. We’re walking far too much, and it's going to catch up to us.
We stumble across a tiny diner out of nowhere and Ellie announces she’s starving. We head in for lunch to discover it’s actually a pizza joint. The aroma of herbs, spices and grease assault my nostrils.
“You want to eat pizza from Chinatown?” I ask in disbelief.
She grins, shrugging out of her jacket. “Sure, why not?”
I eye the different pizzas all topped with various ingredients. My stomach rumbles as I question whether or not I should go for it. I choose a buffalo chicken slice and try not to think about it as I chew. By the time we’re heading back to the bus stop, the heartburn begins.
We have to wait twenty minutes before a bus comes rolling up. It’s going in the opposite direction, but our options are slim, so we get on. Mentally I’m already kissing Central Park goodbye, sealing the fate we won’t make it there today since the tour hours are nearly over.
I study the map as Ellie leans her head on my shoulder and falls asleep. Either the Chinatown pizza or my anxiety is churning my stomach, and I’m convinced we should head back to the hotel to grab our luggage. She’ll be wrecked by the time we make it to New Jersey. I shake her awake to voice my suggestion, and she's instantly back to her demanding self.
“No. Absolutely not. You didn’t get to see Central Park, but we will see the Christmas Tree.”
She rips the map out of my hand and counts how many stops to go before we’re there.
We’ll make it; it’ll be the last stop of the night before the tour closes. She settles back on my shoulder and is asleep once more, as I struggle to remain as still as possible with the bus jostling us around. Out the window, the buildings blur as we wiz by, endless people all oblivious to each other. It's fascinating.
During a quiet moment like this, I’m thankful for coming here. I take a mental step back to acknowledge it’s not every day I’m on a double-decker bus in the middle of a city that houses millions of people. Unfortunately, I snap out of my state of awe and mysticism when I notice we're heading in the wrong direction. We’re not heading towards the Rockefeller Center at all.
“Ellie!” I yell, “Ellie, wake up!”
The surrounding passengers are questioning each other, all of us equally confused on where we’re going. A man stands up and demands to be let off since the bus driver has gone rogue. Do we get off with him? I panic. Ellie is hardly responsive; I can’t make this decision alone, but the bus is already pulling away from the curb, as another passenger starts an argument with the driver.
“No tree today,” the driver snaps. “Sit down. No tree today. Behind the line.” Over and over, he argues.
Where is he taking us? To the bus garage? By the time Ellie is fully alert, I’m ready to cry.
“Calm down,” she tells me. Lesson number three: calm down. “We’ll see where we are when we get there.” She is calm, cool, and collected.
I’m about to burst at the seams.
The bus driver kicks us out at Times Square. The door closes behind us and he pulls away, leaving us clueless on the sidewalk. Directly above us is a bright neon sign flashing, “Liquor Store.” We buy two bottles of wine, one dry, one sweet, and stuff them into our backpacks. At the corner, we indulge in some hot chocolate to help gain the feeling back into our hands. While studying the map, I notice our options are slim. Three thousand feet to the Christmas tree or three thousand feet back to the hotel with our luggage. Opposite directions.
“Let’s get our stuff,” I say, defeated. This trip is not turning out as planned and all I want to do is crawl into a bed.
“What? Are you crazy? We’re in Times Square!” Ellie spins in circles, arms outstretched, taking in the luxury of it all.
The sun is already beginning to set, and I glance around to judge for myself. I’m an ant. The buildings tower above me. I spin in circles with her, eyes wide in amazement. The lights are mesmerizing, and I can’t help but wonder when the last time someone here has seen the moon. The stars are nowhere to be found, replaced by mile long billboards. How much electricity does it take to run them? I’m grinning by the time we’re done spinning.
Ellie gasps. “Bee! Are you smiling right now? I think that’s the first time you’ve smiled in twenty-four hours!”
We both burst out laughing and I relax from the craziness of it all. We are in New York City. How amazing is this? Ellie convinces me we need to see the Christmas tree, no matter the cost.
The amount of people in Times Square is nothing compared to the amount of people at this Christmas tree. People are jammed between concrete barricades which, I assume is to keep vehicles away from the crowd. I can’t even estimate how many people there are. Thousands seem like too many, but hundreds doesn’t feel adequate enough. We take one selfie in front of the tree and get out of there.
Oddly enough, this is the one place where I feel calm and in control. We make our way back towards the barricades, we’re being funneled into tight spots and it reminds me of mosh pits at concerts. People are pushing, feet are being stepped on, but I’m a natural at this. No need to panic; I’ve been here plenty of times before. Ellie is behind me, holding onto my backpack so we don’t get separated. I turn to check on her from time to time to make sure she’s still there. On my last glance, she tells me she needs to get out of there. There's panic in her eyes. My heart drops and I fight my way through the crowd dragging her along.
We eventually make it back to Times Square. I’m keeping a hold of her arm, reassuring her that we only need to get back to the hotel and then everything will be fine.
“I can’t walk anymore,” she says with no hint of kidding or exaggeration.
“You can’t what anymore?” I ask, even though I heard her the first time.
She sits down against the window of a TGI Friday's and closes her eyes. I hold my breath, dumbfounded. Time stands still as I wait for her to laugh and joke about the look on my face. My heart begins to thump louder the longer she stays still. It can’t end this way; I won’t let it. I’m close enough to hear her whisper she’s sorry, though it’s barely audible over the city traffic.
“Don’t be.” I let go of the breath I’ve been holding, relieved she’s still talking. “I’m the one who should be sorry.”
Panic is creeping in. My chest is caving in on itself and I’m about to hyperventilate. My lips are tingling, and I can no longer feel my arms. I sob right there in the middle of a New York City sidewalk. The dam can no longer hold the emotional rollercoaster that is today.
Do you want to know what the worst but also the most amazing thing about this city is? No one cares. The amount of people who walk by, past my complete and utter meltdown, astounds me. Maybe this happens daily, who knows?
I’m spinning in circles, hands on my head. The lights are blurring together, and I might throw up. What do I do? What do I do? I leave her perched against the restaurant and sprint to the nearest corner to see which intersection we’re at. Why? I have no idea. I blink at the street signs. Are the numbers going up or down? Does that mean north or south? Is that even how this works? I don’t know!
I need an adult. I need an adult. I need an adult. Do I call the cops? What are the cops going to do? What do I do? I race back to Ellie and she’s still there resting, as if nothing has happened. For the first time in my life, even at age twenty-six, the realization dawns on me that I am the adult. I force a steadying breath. A sob racks my body and I have to start over. I swallow another breath and then another. Feeling is returning to my arms. I’m dragging myself back together stitch by stitch. Uber. We need transportation. I pull out my cell phone and order a car. Two minutes until arrival, perfect.
Two minutes pass, then five. Closing in on ten when I get a text message through the Uber app: “Where R U?” The tingling begins to return which results in me yelling aloud at my phone. “What? Where are you? We haven’t left TGI Friday’s!” I’m tempted to throw my phone before another message comes in: “Black car. Behind BIG BUS. Come now.” I peer up and down the street. Every vehicle is a taxi, a black car, or a BIG BUS. I begin my search for his license plate as horns blare from every direction. After finding a match, I coax Ellie from the side of the restaurant. We’re in the back of his car, we made it, we’re safe. Safe until he presses on the gas pedal, at least. I keep my eyes closed for the entire ride to our luggage because I’m sure we’re going to die in a car accident.
I drop Ellie onto the couch in the hotel lounge before I approach the front desk to claim our luggage. Remember our previous genius idea? That’s right. We still have to make it to New Jersey tonight; a hotel room is already paid for and waiting for us.
By the time the attendant arrives with our things, Ellie is curled up on the hotel couch, out cold. On a whim, I ask if there are any rooms open for the night. Of course not. They’re sold out. I glance anxiously at Ellie. There’s no way we can make it to New Jersey tonight. I ask the man if I can keep my friend and luggage there until I find another hotel room. He offers a melancholy smile before obliging. He says he’ll keep an eye out for me and offers a few hotel suggestions. His kindness almost breaks me again. I stifle back tears as I thank him and head out into the New York City streets alone.
Four hotels and five hundred dollars later, I find a room. I hand over my credit card, no questions asked. It’s worth every penny if I can get off the street and be somewhere safe. I run back to collect Ellie and our luggage. Before saying goodbye, I express my gratitude ten more times to the clerk. He’s as relieved as I am that I’ve found a room. The decency he’s shown us restores my faith in humanity.
I’m ushering her down the street when I pass another crowd of people dressed as Santa Claus. For curiosity’s sake, I finally ask the question. “What’s going on?” Ah, the annual Santa Con. A mystery solved at least.
We enter the hotel room, and Ellie immediately climbs into bed and falls back asleep. I can’t believe it’s only nine at night. My one day in New York City has felt like ten lifetimes. I try to make her as comfortable as possible, but she doesn’t wake when I strip off her jacket and boots. I plug in her nearly dead cell phone and text her husband and parents, letting them know we’re in for the night. I don’t want them to worry. I have enough doubts filling my own head; I don’t want to cause concern for anyone else.
I grab my backpack and creep into the bathroom. Instead of changing, I end up crying on the floor for the next hour with the faucet on to drown out my sorrows. I’m grieving, but I don’t know what for. Is it for the loss of innocence today confirming that I’m no longer a child? The reality of Ellie’s condition? Or am I purely crying from the relief of sitting here rather than at a hospital right now? I’m alone in my suffering, and I don’t know who to call.
I lift myself off the ground when the steam has covered the mirror. I dry my eyes and tuck my feelings away. In a sudden swing of emotions, I begin hysterically laughing when I open my bag. I change into pajamas and drink the forgotten wine straight from the bottle.
Ellie is sleeping sideways when I re-emerge into the main room. I flip on the television and sit at the end of the bed, drinking while watching Pitch Perfect. Every once in a while, she squirms and kicks me in the back. I shake my head, purely defeated by today’s events. Exhaustion eventually takes over, and I struggle to move her so I can lie down too.
Ellie wakes up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She turns on all the lights in the hotel room as I groan out loud, covering my eyes and begging to be unconscious. She cracks open the second bottle of wine and scolds me for going to bed at eleven o’clock. I think I might hit her? I peek out from under my elbow to see her standing over me, laughing. A smile slowly appears, and I laugh too. Lesson number four: laugh it off.
We spend the rest of the evening talking and going over how terrible today's been, though neither of us regrets it. This trip needed to happen. We gossip about back home; we talk about my future writing career. She wants to be my manager someday so she can experience it all with me. I tell her I’ll allow it. We lie there in silence for a while once the laughing has quieted. It’s a quality we’ve always shared. We enjoy the silence, and there’s no need to fill it all the time.
“I’m sorry we never saw Central Park,” she eventually says.
“S’okay,” I reply honestly.
I have a lifetime of memories to write about now, so many scenes that will emerge from this trip. Who needs a park anymore? We both fall asleep with alarms set early in the morning so we can head back to Penn Station. The trip is coming to an end, and I’m relieved. The whiplash of emotions has left me utterly spent, and I’m anxious to return home to my mundane life.
I’m antsy and keep checking the time, waiting for her to pack her belongings. We’ll be late. We’ll miss the train. We’ll be stuck in this city forever. I’ve never missed home so much before. Can’t she see that? I could scream in frustration, but I try not to rush her. She had a long weekend too.
We stop at Starbucks to buy coffees and breakfast sandwiches against my will. There are places to eat in Penn Station, but we have to stop beforehand because Ellie insists. I tap my fingers on the table as I watch her eat. It’s a breakfast sandwich, why can’t we eat and walk at the same time?
She looks across the table at me and starts laughing. “You hate me right now, don’t you?”
"No," I lie. "Maybe a little," I add with a smirk. She knows me too well to say anything but the truth.
We finally head out towards the train that’s waiting to send us back home. When I reach the entrance, I can feel that Ellie's no longer beside me and I whip around, suddenly afraid. She’s hanging back with a wistful appearance.
“I’m not coming back with you,” she states.
“What?” I’m taken off guard. “Of course, you are.”
She slowly shakes her head. “My family is meeting me here, I called them last night after you fell asleep. I don’t have time to make it home.”
I set down the bags and head towards her with what I'm sure is confusion written all over my face.
She tosses me her car keys. “Get home safe, all right?”
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out at first. “I don’t understand,” I admit.
She kicks at the ground before responding. “You know as well as I do about what’s going to happen, be honest with yourself.” Lesson number five: always be honest with yourself.
Realization dawns on me. I shake my head no, attempting to refuse the inevitable. “That’s why you wouldn’t let go of this trip.” I know this because it’s been true all along, I’ve only been too afraid of what it would mean.
She lifts her shoulders to her ears, hands stuffed deep into her winter coat. “I ran out of heartbeats,” she states matter-of-factly. “Life is funny like that sometimes, isn’t it?” She smiles even though I can see the sadness behind it.
Guilt pulsates through me. I can’t break eye contact as I relive all our moments, remembering our past, all the lessons I’ve learned along the way. We were kindred spirits connected from the start. My heart slowly breaks as she accepts her fate with no hesitation. I think someone knows what their destiny may be, even if they refuse to admit it. This is a moment I need to accept as well. No matter how painful it may be, I need to embrace it.
We're lost in our own private world, only the two of us remain, the surrounding people are forgotten. I struggle to speak as a knot forms in my throat. What do you say to someone when you know it’s goodbye? I kiss her on the cheek one last time.
“Thank you for everything,” I say.
To this, she does not reply.