BY OLIVIA SPRING
When I ride the subway I become so many ages, I carry so many different years, and they appear in layers inside of me in a way I wish I could erase. They are built like a pyramid in my body. I wish I could just be who I am now, but the subway takes that all away from me. Disease has consumed me and sometimes it feels like it controls me, no matter how strong and powerful I am. There are so many things I used to love. I had all these dreams and visions, and then illness walked into my life.
When my illness started to unravel inside of me, so much of myself was erased. I was no longer the girl who loved the city, and I was no longer the girl who loved taking the subway to Union Square with her best friend. My illness could take such simple things away from me.
My illness gave birth to depression and then anxiety and there was this new Olivia inside the body of the old Olivia. It felt like every year that passed I lost more control of my body. It was drifting further and further away from me until I could no longer recognise it. I could no longer describe it. I could no longer know what life would have been like. I used to take the subway but now I couldn’t go anywhere on my own. I still hold onto so much guilt, erupting like a volcano that I am trying to run away from, but I'm never fast enough.
I had countless panic attacks on the subway, especially on my way to school, especially in Grand Central station. When the platform was so crowded you had to stand on the stairs, I would run out and up and up until I could reach the world. It felt like I was drowning 50 feet below the sea and I was swimming up and up and up and I couldn't even see the top and I couldn't hold my breath any longer and I am about to open my mouth and drown.
I hate everyone on the subway. I hate the gross men who stare at you without shame, being as obvious as they could possibly be, as if they could kill me with their stare. I hate all the men who have their briefcases in the seat next to them. I hate the people who stand at the doors and refuse to move. I hate the people who lean their entire upper body against the pole so no one else can touch it. I hate the people who jam themselves between the closing doors when the car is so clearly full and force contact on my body for too long. I think these are all normal things to hate.
Now I live in London and I love the tube. I ride it and it reminds me of the sadness the subway carried, and how far away I am from that now. Miles and rivers and oceans and continents between me and that sadness. This is why I moved here. The cushioned seats. The reds and the blues and the orange overground. It feels more efficient, it feels like I am in a realer world. I walk these new streets and I am so full of power, I am reminded that I didn’t let New York consume me. I didn’t want to be that girl anymore and the only way I could be free was to go so far away.
When years pass and I return to New York I feel the same fear of the subway and I feel like the same girl I used to be. Suddenly, I am not a woman. New York shakes it right out of me. Everything is still there, right in my face, screaming for me to remember. The walk from my apartment to the subway is so fucking distinct it eats me alive even if I am halfway across the world. The slight incline of the concrete, the puddles under that bridge and all the ugly pigeons, the stop sign that everyone rolls through and that slight turn on the corner. Every time I make that turn I am slammed with people coming from the other direction. They are all staring at me. They are all judging me. They see the music I am listening to on my phone and they laugh at me. I wish I could disappear.
New York can never be any different than what it is. I carry the memories of the subway with me every new place I go. In so many ways I am grateful for the pain and fear and the becoming of who I am meant to be. But I remember the tears and the panic and the men that touched me as if I was theirs to touch. The city represents trauma and the trauma represents my illness. Do you understand? All of this is a half of me that can never be silenced or pushed down below and it will keep rising until I have nowhere else to put it.
Olivia Spring is a writer and journalist based in London. Her creative writing is reflective of her battle with chronic Lyme disease.