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New York City, 2001

“Sometimes a pain feels familiar even as it hits you for the first time. Certain conditions seem to speak out of some collective history of pain. You know the experience from others who had had it…joined to the past, to some bloodline of intimate and renewable pain.”

– Don de Lillo

I’ve carried that quote around with me for years.

I was first drawn to it because it reminded me of how I feel when I bleed every month, literally experiencing the same thing all women have been experiencing for years, connected, across time and place.

Then I kept carrying it around because it made me feel less alone to know that whatever I was feeling at any given time had been felt, suffered through, and survived by at least one other person at least one other time.

Funny to think we spend our lives trying to show how we are different when all we really want is to feel like we are the same.

* *

It was one of those nights that never feels particularly memorable at the time, but when you look back on it, you wonder how different everything would have been if that night hadn’t happened.

I do believe in destiny, and that when things are meant to happen, they do, but would it have happened this way?  If I hadn’t dressed like a Catholic school girl gone awry, if JP hadn’t turned up, if I hadn’t decided to go to Berlin?

But my band was playing a gig at Niagara Bar in NYC, and my guitar teacher, JP, showed up, and he told me I should go to Berlin. “They’ll never get you here,” he said, “but they’ll love you over there.”

I asked my band if they wanted to play some shows in Berlin, and they said yes, so I got to work setting it all up. Once I did, I came back to them with specifics, and they said they had changed their minds.

My band didn’t want to go, so why did I? I was broke, unemployed, living a life in New York structured around things like walking the dog, going to the gym, and wondering when the unemployment would run out and what would I do when it did – so what would I possibly do in Berlin?  What could Berlin possibly do for me?

I had to figure out how I was paying my exorbitant New York rent for September, but somehow that didn’t deter me. My band said no thanks, but that didn’t deter me, either.  I’d booked a week’s worth of gigs, so even though they had changed their minds, I felt like i couldn’t. I would go and I would perform solo. I’d bring their music on backing tracks, and I’d just do it all, by myself. I’d be alone on a stage for the first time. I was terrified, but I felt like I had to do it.

I’d already come to terms with the enormous amount to be charged on my credit card.  I’d already sat on Suzanne’s couch and asked her if I was being an idiot.  Travel, she said, is never idiotic.  Feeding the brain is essential.  And some other stuff, too, that I don’t remember, but whatever she said, was enough.  So I paid for my ticket and went, alone.

Even sitting in JFK airport, waiting for my flight, I couldn’t really explain to myself why I was going.  It was like time had disappeared between deciding to go and actually going, folded into an envelope of a black hole, and somehow I’d been dumped here with tickets in my hand.

Not that it mattered.

So I went, and I fell in love with a city whose language I didn’t understand. I played five shows, I met countless people, and my life, who I was, changed in fundamental ways. JP was right. They did love me over there.

And I loved every part of Berlin so much that I came back to New York confused, unfocused, and depressed.

I felt laden with an apartment I didn’t want.  I had bills I couldn’t pay.  I had a band that didn’t like what I was trying to do.  I didn’t have a job and I couldn’t think of one I wanted to have.  I felt trapped in a city that wasn’t worth the struggle I had to make in order to stay.

Berlin, on the other hand, felt like a paradise.  It felt a brilliant, beautiful, vibrant city with people that were larger than life, interesting, fascinating, creative – but here I was, back in a city where people didn’t have time to do more than coffee, where the parks had fences so you couldn’t walk on the grass, and where nightclubs were being closed down for allowing people to dance.

I knew I was miserable where I was, but I didn’t know how to get out.

My first day back, I ran into my friend Johnny.  How was your trip, he asked. I gave him the breakdown – on the trip, and on my present situation.

“Ditch the apartment,” he said.

It seemed so simple when he said it like that, so I did. I devised a plan. I had to figure out if Berlin was really all it had made claims to being.  So, to afford it, I sublet my apartment. My plan was to give up my place in the East Village, go back to Berlin for two weeks, visit my mother in Israel until the end of October, come back to New York, spend a month couch-surfing, and then move into a new cheaper apartment in December – having saved three months rent. Three months rent in New York City is a lot of money to save.

Then I’d split time between Berlin and New York until I figured out where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I’d almost run out of money.  I had to do something.  I had to make a change.  Everything was in flux.  Everything was uncertain and frightening as hell, but at least I had the semblance of a plan.  Most importantly, I was going back to Berlin. I’d figure everything else out later.

It is incredible how quickly things can change, how quickly things turn upside down, and you’re left with nothing to hold onto except a dream.

But you’ve still got to take the ride, because once you know what you’ve been missing, there’s no turning back.