New York Me


Jillian Koval (’24) in New York City.

Jillian Koval, Contributor

I could hear the trains zooming beneath me from the grates on the street, the wind blowing up and creating a mini tornado for some poor lady to get stuck in. As my aunt walked and I jogged, the bustle of the city seemed to have followed me. Like if I slowed down, the city would too. If I ran through the streets, every Christmas-decorated storefront would follow me, making sure I took a glance at it before moving on. I owned the city. It was all me. 

I didn’t believe I was there, not at first. The eight-hour bus ride was taunting. The only things my eyes focused on were the numerous highway signs that counted down every mile until I got there: New York City. I was surprised my parents even let me go, but at the same time, I feel like I would have been surprised if they didn’t. I had been talking about this trip for ages, planning out the train rides and costs, making a dream board of all the things I wanted to do. 

The first time I went to New York City, I was 5 or 6, and I was touring the Intrepid, an old Navy ship from WWII, with my brothers and their Cub Scout troop. But I barely remembered anything about the city, except that we got on TV when we went to the “Today Show” set. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to go back, visit New York City and remember it. And what better time than the week of my birthday and New Year’s Eve? 

My aunt Deb and I had walked well over ten miles in just that day–visiting almost all of the famous museums and NYC relics that entice people to visit, and we still had the rest of the week ahead of us. In other words: I was in no mood for running through the streets. But with the lights slowly charging my energy and the wind from the subway grates pushing me forward, I’m sure I could have. Ran, I mean. 

We had been to the Rockefeller Center and seen the massive, lit-up tree that is always on TV through November and December, though it wasn’t as pretty during the day, which was a bummer. We went to the Central Park ice rink and watched little kids slide around on dinosaur seats being pushed by the parent behind them; my aunt and I found it hilarious. And let me just say, there were probably more people waiting to skate there than people in Times Square at the New Year’s celebration. The people were determined to get to skate, and they would. Two months from now. These are my kind of people, was all I could think. This was my kind of city. 

I wanted to save Times Square for dark so that all the lights would beam down on us and every individual in the perimeter. So that I could finally end the day of walking through the greatest city in the U.S. with a memory that, among the rest, would forever live rent-free in my mind. 

Standing in the middle of the bright, flashing lights of Times Square, I felt a strong sense of belonging. Butterflies were racing in my stomach, in sync with the bustle of the city and the fluorescent billboards, ready to overflow out of my mouth, but they didn’t. They didn’t make me feel sick and want to leave. They empowered me, made me feel alive. 

“Step up on that block so I can get a picture! We can send it to your parents!” My aunt was exuberant. She was just as excited to have me there as I was to be there, if not more. 

I slung my crossbody purse from my left shoulder to my right, making sure it would stay in place as I mounted the concrete pedestal.

The world stopped. The noise seemed to die down and the pedestrians grew slower and slower, eventually coming to a halt. It was a smooth transition, like a slow-motion video of a pebble being dropped in water–each and every ripple expanding from the center. From me. 

It was at this moment that I felt the entirety of the city. All of its restaurants making foods from burgers to Mexican, to sushi to fancy steak dinners. All of the lights on the Empire State Building, flashing red and green on its tip. This is where I belong. This is my city. 

This is the time I will remember everything. I may not have gotten on TV, but I found something greater than national exposure. I found my dream.