Chapter 74: “Gone in a New York Minute”
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Luckily, the year wasn’t all low points. Up until this point, I had never traveled in any direction past where I visited my sister and her family: Plymouth, Connecticut. I’d been down there only twice: one for her wedding and once for my Aunt Marie’s Birthday the year prior, but I’d desired to go beyond this state. As a matter of fact, New York City had always been a dream of mine, and I had come close to applying to the New York Film Academy’s one-year Director’s Program before my Leukemia reared its ugly head. But I still knew that one day I would travel there and see the sights. I just didn’t know it would be so soon.
One night – while we partied with Ritchie and Sierra – Kyle asked me if I had wanted to go on a family vacation with him and his parents. They went every year to somewhere new, and he was able to bring a friend along each time, as it was actually cheaper for a family of four than three. I worried about the money involved due to my mounting financial woes, but Kyle said as long as I had money for whatever I wanted to buy then I’m good. Little did he know I just wanted to buy food.
I made sure to pack my camera and computer to download each day’s photo haul. I was confident that I would be taking hundreds of photos before each night was out.
Kyle mentioned that we would stay a night at his Aunts’ house in upstate New York the night before the trip and I instead thought to use this opportunity to get another night with my family by asking if I could instead stay the night at my sister’s in Plymouth. They were more than happy to accommodate my request.
In honor of my visit, Kevin’s parents hosted us for dinner, and we had some of the best spaghetti and meatballs that I had ever tasted. After Kevin’s parents and my niece and nephew went to bed, Kylie, Kevin, and I stayed up. I had a beer with Kevin and Kylie had her usual glass of wine. I was getting used to the taste of beer, but it was weird for me to be drinking with my family. Kevin had to work early, so he hit the hay, but Kylie and I continued to indulge in our newfound communal vice.
I once again asked how Mitch was doing. Mitch was the friend of hers who had come to visit me while I was in the hospital. If you remember back in Chapter Three, he too had undergone treatment for Leukemia. My sister bit her lip and paused. She took a swig off of her glass then looked up at me. I knew something was up.
She couldn’t hold back her tears as she blurted the news. “I’m going to be honest with you, Jamie. Mitch’s cancer came back.”
“Okay, so how is he now?”
“He didn’t follow the doctors’ orders and died a year after you finished treatment.” Kylie continued before I could say anything. “I didn’t want you to find out this way, but I just couldn’t keep lying to you anymore.”
I took a moment to process this startling information. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I didn’t want you to feel discouraged. I was afraid your spirits might be diminished if you had found out. Please don’t be mad.”
“Mad? How could I be? I knew he didn’t follow the doctors’ protocols and it’s apparently because of that that his body couldn’t fight off the disease.”
“Us friends get together every year on his birthday to celebrate his memory and life.”
My sister felt terrible, but all I could feel was empathy. To withhold that information every single time I asked about Mitch would undoubtedly have been a burden on Kylie.
And Mitch… How could he ignore the pleas of his medical staff and continue his partying ways amidst the battle of his life?
We shared a hug and a toast to Mitch and went to bed. I tried not to let this shocking revelation ruin my vacation, but I couldn’t help but tuck this newsflash firmly at the back of my mind.
The next day Kylie drove me down to meet Kyle and his family at his Aunts’ house. I said goodbye to my sister, hopped in with the family, and we headed to the train station in Brewster.
It wasn’t that far of a drive and this train would bring us right into Grand Central Station. I was super excited to finally be visiting the city where they shot Saturday Night Live, the majority of the late night talk shows, and of course, the second biggest place for film productions.
My excitement was apparent by the fact that when we arrived at the station’s long-term parking area, I quickly threw my door open and the hill we were on did the rest slamming it into the car nearby. I feared the repercussions of the damage. Kyle’s Dad would have to leave his insurance information on the car, and it would end up costing them several hundreds of dollars for damage and much more for the increase in premiums. All of the expenses for the trip would be on me, and I’d be forced to do nothing except sit in the hotel room all day.
Then in the split second after all of these thoughts, Kyle’s Mom burst out laughing followed by her husband and then Kyle himself. I think they saw my face – one of pure terror – and they couldn’t help but smile. I fully expected them to worry about the other guy going after their insurance or at the VERY least moving the car but there wasn’t any damage, and we were all having too much fun to really care. It became the thing that one of us would think of during the trip causing an impromptu guffaw. What a way to start a vacation.
The train ride was roughly an hour and a half down through the state of New York. We arrived at Grand Central in the early afternoon and walked the four blocks to the hotel carrying the entirety of our luggage. Thankfully, I didn’t pack a lot, just my duffel bag and my backpack for my computer. Unfortunately, the baggage felt more massive thanks to this horrid heat wave that New York had that week.
The first day I did more walking in any single day than I had ever experienced before. We began the day with a walk of Fifth Avenue before quickly catching a game at the classic Yankees Stadium. They played the KC Royals and defeated them handily.
I wasn’t much of a fan of baseball (and certainly not of Red Sox Nation [sorry, not sorry]) but I grew enamored with the history of the Yankees in their memorial section and the game was pretty fun to watch live. We had fairly positioned seats and the energy in the crowd was electric.
After the game, Kyle and I broke off again and had to try the famed restaurant of one of our favorite movies of the past few years. The movie? Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. We didn’t have any in Maine (that we knew of) and we had to see how good these mini burgers were considering they made a whole movie about getting to them.
We got lost on the way there and ran into a kick-ass homeless man in Times Square that totally didn’t seem homeless. He was chill and had a swagger about him. I mean, come on; his name was JoJo. Then I HAD TO take a picture with the famed Naked Cowgirl of Times Square.
After what seemed like our own hour and a half adventure to find the elusive restaurant, we arrived. It was a small hole in the wall off of a creepy ass street in an odd part of New York. We walked in and contemplated ordering forty hamburgers but instead ordered eight each. I decided to change it up and bought some chicken variations and some beef patties topped with some (disturbingly) round pieces of bacon.
The burgers were pretty bad– not terrible, but not that good either. Oh well, at least we could say that we had them finally. Something our other friends couldn’t say.
We eventually found our way back through Times Square (our hotel was nearby) and headed back upstairs. We were pretty beat and we had two more full days just like this left. We briefly attempted going out again and instead just bought some beer at a Duane Reede and receded back to the Hilton to get drunk. “The City That Never Sleeps” was never truer than this. Then it hit me. The term “Sleep” reminded me of death and of Mitch. I had a hard time shaking the news even amidst all of the fun we were having.
The second day we did a lot more exciting things (at least for me). First, we began the day early by checking out the Yankees Clubhouse before grabbing some food at the nearby Applebee’s. Yeah, you read that right. We were in one of the best places to eat food in the United States and we hit the most middle-of-the-road chain out there.
We made up for it by heading to the nearby Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. This place was amazing. Most of the wax sculptures were dead ringers for their celebrity counterparts while others scraped through the Uncanny Valley and competed for most nightmarish “Face” ever.
Then Kyle and I broke off again, this time heading to Rockefeller Center, Trump Tower, and the Sony building before landing at my Primo non-historical location of the entire trip: The Nintendo World Store. This place had it all: current games, retro gear, a DS download station where you could sync up a demo on your DS, and some nifty little pieces in their pseudo-museum.
Then we reconvened with Kyle’s parents and they tell us we have to make a ferry at 4 PM. It was our last day and their family friend, Billy, wanted to show us some sights. Unfortunately for my portly ass, that meant we had to book it several blocks to make it on time. I broke away from the pack and felt my childhood asthma resurface to say hello. Meanwhile, Kyle’s Dad briskly jogged past my slowing lumpy body. We made it to the dock with less than a minute to spare. We boarded the ferry and grabbed a bottle of water. I was still panting, desperately trying to catch my breath. In the end, it was all worth it because the sights were amazing:
Later in the day, Billy brought us to a restaurant comprised of only three locations in the country: Los Angeles, Chicago, and NYC. The place, Carmine’s, is an Italian joint with only a dozen things on the menu. Each dish costs roughly $18-25 a piece but they’re family portions. Our party of five (after waiting almost two hours at the bar) sat down at 10:30pm and ordered only three dishes. By the end of the meal we still had leftovers.
Upon returning to the hotel, we chugged a few beers and attempted another late night run of Times Square. We made it a few more blocks and called it a night. After everyone else fell asleep, I lied wide-awake on the floor and stared at the ceiling. I must have been delirious because I saw a floating ball of energy above me. I followed it for a few seconds as it disappeared into nothingness. Huh, did I just see a ghost?
The final full day in New York began with a trip up to The Rock at Rockefeller Center. Billy said it was the best way to see the New York skyline that included the Empire State Building. So up we went and he wasn’t kidding.
After leaving The Rock, we took a long trip down to the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. As we viewed the countless names from the terrorist attacks I couldn’t help but to think of Mitch and the “Wall of Sadness” featuring all of those kids who’d lost their battles. I cursed Mitch for not following the doctors’ orders and paid my respects to not only the 9/11 victims but to him and all of those fallen kids forever smiling on the walls of a pediatric oncology clinic in Bangor, ME.
We headed back up near the hotel and on a whim, got tickets to The Lion King on Broadway. OUR FIRST Broadway show! The performance was thrilling and it was amazing to see the fully functioning animal heads the performers would wear as they ran by us in the aisles to the stage. What a marvel.
Upon exiting the play, we grabbed a pie of Ray’s Famous Pizza and headed back to the hotel to munch down. Finally! We got to eat the very definition of New York Pizza!
The next day we left on the train northbound to Brewster and then drove the eight-plus hours back to Bangor. My first time in New York was special not only because it was the furthest point from home f(or me) but also because I was fortunate enough to take the trip at all. I thoroughly thanked Kyle’s parents for the opportunity and internally, I thanked Mitch for giving me the motivation to get out of the hospital healthy and rewired to appreciate every moment I was awarded.
This chapter’s for you, Mitch.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.
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