For any other couple, drinking Four Loko on a park bench would be a low point, rather than a bonding experience.

It was around the point where we were asked to leave the Church of Scientology’s downtown New York headquarters that we realised things were not looking good for our heroes. I’ve always heard it said that taking a trip with a loved one is a big test of the relationship, because it’s in moments where you’re outside the comfortable bubble you’ve blown together that things can burst. Dealing with different wants, intentions and coping strategies really shows the points at which the strain converges. It’s becoming apparent that it’s not about the fact that conflict arises, but how you resolve the conflict while respecting the other’s wants, intentions and coping strategies of your partner in order to find resolution.

Enough vaguebooking. At some point this morning, dealing with numbing exhaustion and the 3rd night of fitful, unfulfilling rest in a row, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t quite getting what I wanted out of this trip. I was experiencing life as a tourist, rather than cutting a slice of local life. The bulk of the trip at this stage had been spent in the downtown core, around the bright lights of the big city. As someone who loves large cities for the clusters of culture, the idea of inhabiting a space built around the whitewashed absence of individuality was starkly depressing. I repeat, I love big cities, but Auckland, Toronto and New York all have this in common: The city centre blows. Up to this point, despite our enduring enthusiasm for adventure and play, to find opportunities for both in any context, I felt like I wasn’t meeting either goal. The areas I wanted to see: Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Williamsburg, Bushwick, somehow they’d evaded our path in deference to habitats with larger buildings. Not ideal, Neil. Not in the slightest.

It’s hard too, because I’ve seen this shit before. I visited for 11 days and got all of the touristy crap out of the way. This trip isn’t about me though, it’s about us. It’s about finding the compromise between those wants and intentions, to meet as many of them as we could for both of us. In realising that committing the day to waiting for Broadway standing room tickets because of financial constraint, I felt the pangs of loss. I knew that 5 days wasn’t enough to accomplish all that I wanted. In giving up effectively the next 6 hours to this, it meant that I was sacrificing one or two of those areas I’d intended to inhabit, as if grasping some modicum of life as a local. It brought into view my lack of preparation, how thinking and planning ahead would’ve drastically improved something I’d waited and worked hard for. This was nothing more than my own fault and having nowhere to move that negative energy to, nobody else to blame, caused it to bottle up within. Travelling with one other person, someone you love, you have no desire to push your negativity onto them. What is gained by bringing someone else down, let alone somebody whose happiness is your goal? Going into Matilda, a play I very much wanted to see, with such negativity meant it was hard to sweep my dour mood to the side and enjoy what was in front of me. So I didn’t.

For a while anyway. After 20 minutes or so I took a few deep breaths, realised that there were many elements outside of my control and that knowing my helplessness over a bunch of them meant I was still able to prioritise and accomplish the things that meant most to me. The tightness in my shoulders abated and I gave myself to the performance. It gave back. Amply. The scale was something very different from what I’d ever experienced. Spectacular is the right word. Everything from the music/lyrics (Tim Minchin), choreography and blocking, set design and divergent storyline from the movie made it utterly engrossing and emotionally affecting. This is one of my favourite childhood tales. A story where a special child gets to rise above adversity and realise the life she’d never been given. A tale with great representation for all types of kids. One where there’s even a fat kid who’s not castigated for his weight, where he proves himself with diligence and dedication. Even if it’s just to eating a huge cake, Bruce Bogtrotter was someone I could live vicariously through. Matilda was someone I could live vicariously through. The production was something that brought out a sense of wonder I often have trouble seeing through my own haze of disaffected cynicism. Like being a child again.

Upon leaving, I had one stipulation: We needed to be out of the downtown core and not return for the remainder of our trip. We needed to go somewhere where people lived and we could revel on others’ normalcy. We consulted the Reddit FAQ we’d bookmarked earlier. Going down to Chinatown to pick up dumplings (4 for $1) and a can of fruit punch flavoured Four Loko (still 12% in the US), we sat in a park and took time to breathe, to think about where we’d come and all the places we could go. Mostly we laughed at the absurdity of it all. We thought about how lucky we were to have this time away from everything, how fortunate we were to have each other to lean on and that just because things hadn’t been perfect up to this point, that was no reason they couldn’t get so much better.

Lying in bed with my girlfriend skin to skin, we’re both drinking and writing before heading out for more adventure. I wonder if 6 months ago when we planned this trip, I really could’ve imagined anything this excellent. It almost surprises me that the feeling in my gut says it’ll get better still.

I mean, hell. They asked us to leave the Church of Scientology for Xenu’s sake.

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