An Unfortunate Breakup Letter with Buffalo
Driving on a never-ending, congested D.C. highway, I’m surrounded by families restlessly grasping their wheel guiding their two tons of metal through the gate after gate. Some are on their way to pick up those that they love; others are whisking them away with tightly gripped hugs and tearful goodbyes. It may only be a short time away, but they will continue Xing out the days on the calendar until the heartbreak is all over. For me, this is my first time returning to the place I used to call home, leaving the place that is now my home.
The blinding neon lights advertising hotels and other temporary stays reflect off of my glasses as I begin to recognize the fact that in mere hours, I am going to be nothing more than a tourist in the place I used to call home. Every former local hollow will soon be populated with unfamiliar passengers who’ve made a residence in the place that I wasn’t able to. The street lights will burn just as bright as before I left, but they are no longer my street lights. They belong to all of the others who have been able to live out their dreams and fantasies in the Queen City. The cracks in the pavement, the same cracks that I used to walk over, the same cracks that identified my way home, the same cracks I thought I owned, are now controlled by an entirely foreign generation of hopeless dreamers like I once was. Filing in a single file line in order to gain adoration from the Queen, I want to cut the line and announce to the crowd through a megaphone that there is so much more out there in the world and that if we keep spending our time trying to find love here, we’re going to miss out on the millions of other stories we could be hearing at this very moment.
Let me be honest—it’s not that I no longer love Buffalo. I do. As much as I like to complain about my time here, there will always be a special place in my heart for the snow that gently falls atop the steps at Albright Knox, the soft kisses once shared in the Japanese Garden, the hand held walking through Chestnut Ridge Park trying to find the eternal flame. Unlike the flame, though, my love for this city just doesn’t scorch my skin like it used to. It’s hard to love some place when you recognize that it doesn’t love you back, a one-sided relationship that we both eventually realized was going nowhere.
There she was at a time, the flashbulbs bursting with light, reflecting in all of her prominent historicism. Give her a drink and she’ll begin sharing all of the dirty details of her past flings with such famous men as Twain, Turnball, and Fitzgerald. Like all of the men in her life, they left her broken and bruised longing for past glories as quickly as they entered. Being unable to let it go and move on, she was never able to recover after those swift relationships ended. For all of the strobe streams of light that were lit aflame atop Shea’s Performing Arts Center and adorned with all of the gaudy decorations Daisy Buchanan ever desired, many men would come to her doorstep asking for her hand in marriage. They’d be willing to spend their days out in the heat covered in sweat and dirt on the canal and their nights dancing through Central Terminal in the hopes that they could one day fulfill their American dreams. It could never mask her past heartbreaks. No dreamer was ever good enough for her—she had an insatiable taste for the glitz and glamour that would leave her always feeling unsatisfied.
Time never stopped for her, though. Soon her outdated clothing fixtures would make her unable to fit in with the new group of model types. The once brilliant beams that would illuminate the heavens faded into a dark, depressing, decrepit skyline. The gentlemen who once fancied her now fancied someone else, someone with new clothes, new experiences, new hopes. Heartbroken and down on her luck, piece by piece, she shut herself down. The trains that would speed through the city lay empty on the tracks. The canal that was her lifeblood has now run dry. By the time I had my chance with her, she was a shell of what she used to be.
On occasion, she would give me a glimpse into the life she wanted to offer me, a life filled with rejuvenated vigor. A waterfront that would provide everyone with optimism for the future. A new main street that would display to the world her courage while showcasing her previous achievements. But that was just it. All that was there was just glimpses of what she could be, never what she was going to be.
My problem was that I spent so much time in the city trying to save her, trying to fix her from what I thought would make it all better. No amount of work I put in, though, would be able to restore her, make her a destination for all of the other dreamers, writers, and artists out there like me. But maybe she didn’t need to be saved. Maybe she saw that there was nothing wrong with her. She could look in the mirror and hold her head up high knowing that she was proud of who she was. I couldn’t look at her the same way, so I left.
I packed my bags and drove 400 miles to Northern Virginia. I am on the edge of a city that is growing; that is passionate. I left for a city filled with love and romance. I left to find all of those things that my old desire was lacking. All of the sparks that were missing amongst the never-ending blustery Lake Effect snow storms now spread like wildfire throughout my veins. It didn’t take long for D.C. to win my heart. I remember riding in a metro car into the city surrounded by hundreds of new acquaintances, and I felt like I was truly at peace, at home.
I recognized then that I am a storyteller, and the people standing alongside me are the stories that are grabbing my hand and leading me into voyages that will take me to the unknown. These are the friends I will soon meet and begin writing new tales about. I am the willing reporter for all of our lives.
I still find it odd that being trapped in a steel cylinder bordered by strangers is one of the places that can make me feel so free from the limitations of my everyday life, but it’s true. Standing by them, sharing grips on the handrails, I can visualize that I am no longer stuck. I see that the possibilities for my life are truly endless here. In this city, I will fall in love amongst the forestry that fortifies the walls of this city. In this city, I have been given the chance I always wanted. In this city, you have the chance you always wanted.
From Philadelphia to Europe, to the open seas of the Caribbean, my social passport is slowly gaining the stamps that are making me seem worldly. I’m meeting people from all over the world, people who are willingly sharing their unique perspectives about everything that is important to me. Around them, I am growing, whereas, in Buffalo, I forever remained stunted. Every step I take out into the world on my own, I am gaining knowledge about life, love, happiness, the emotions that were once so intricate. But I am now slowly deconstructing and figuring out how they all work together inside of me.
My networks of friends, with their unique accents, open up their hearts to me, sharing their past, helping me understand what makes them who they are. I don’t just listen, but they become the characters in my story. The story of a 26-year-old young man trying to understand the complexities of the world. We converse, we laugh, we connect, yet at some point, they always ask me when I am going home. A few times when I was still unpacking my boxes, I would say I wasn’t sure. Now, I tell them the same thing I’ve been telling myself for the past few months. I am home, and these are the stories I want to tell.
Buffalo is no longer my home, even though there was nothing more I wanted in my life than for us to work out. It just seemed like there were too many issues between us that we were never going to be able to get over if we wanted to become serious with each other. It was probably never more obvious than as I walked through the security clearance in Dulles. I was already feeling uncomfortable with the entire process when the man at the front counter asked me where I was going. When I informed him I was going to Buffalo, completely uninformed about the current temperatures, he told me, “Ahh, Buffalo, the only place where it is warmer than it is here.”
A year ago, I would have worked myself into a shaking fit of rage over his misconceptions about the city, but I just nodded my head because I hold no allegiance to her anymore. Every time someone would wish me an enjoyable flight, it took everything in me to respond with some wise crack about looking forward to my flight back home on Sunday. I don’t want to go back to my old town to revisit shattered dreams and heartbreaks. I want to stay here and start new traditions. I want to stay here and be inspired. Once I go back, I know she will do everything she can to keep me there. She doesn’t know I’ve become a brave young man, a fighter who has fallen in love with the shapes and colors of D.C. The pale gray tone overlooking Buffalo just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
On a flight that took only 52 minutes, I tried my best to figure out why the people sharing the cold altitude were going back to Buffalo. There was the young woman from San Antonio who was rushing to get home in time for some pre-Thanksgiving, alcohol-fueled festivities. With her tall brown boots on, she swiftly got off the plane into the arms of a scruffed young man I believe to have been longing for this moment all along. There was the couple celebrating their first holiday together as a married twosome. They were going back to visit his parents, to display the beginning of what was hopeful to be a long, worthwhile future filled with millions of these shared moments. There was the girl in the glasses with the MacBook. I imagined she was spending her pre-flight timing typing away trying to illustrate her thoughts onto the screen the same way I was in the lobby. Finally, there was the burly man with the mutton chops who, when told our flight was going to be delayed an hour, flared his nostrils in my direction, and informed me, “This is all bullshit.” Upon having a very serious inner dialogue over that statement, I looked back at him and said, “I agree, this is bullshit.” I couldn’t help but agree. I mean, we were going back to Buffalo for goodness sake.
I took it upon myself to keep my shade open and looked longingly until Northern Virginia’s well-lit structures faded into clouds into darkness. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye at that moment. Just like when we landed, I didn’t open my shade to see the snow covered ground guide our aircraft onto the runway. I didn’t want to say hello again. I didn’t have a choice, though, so I looked around and tried to see if anyone was with me in trying just to hide aboard the carry-on and go back to wherever the flight came from. Of course, I don’t know how airplane routes work, which means I doubt anyone would’ve been willing to go along with my plan. That left me with one option. I grabbed my bags and walked off the small flying storage container.
My ears beat red from the change in temperatures; I began to walk through the aisle way. Carrying my overloaded backpack through Gate 10, I caught a glimpse of my mother, tears welling up in her eyes as she scanned across the airport for the young boy who selfishly left her life a few months ago. She would ultimately be disappointed if that was all she wanted because all she would find is the young man standing in front of her trying to find the words that will narrate his life. For this moment, though, it didn’t matter to her as she buried her head into my jacket. And as the shoulders of my coat got damp, I felt an urge to look at my watch.
86 hours until I go home.