New Yorkers do not have the luxury of privacy. Frankly, it’s a choice, because if we wanted privacy, we would not have moved to the most populated city in the United States where everyone is crammed on top of one another. That’s why people live in the suburbs and Los Angeles (among other things like having a pool and needing to be more orange than a Dorito. But I still like you and your city a lot, Angelenos). Or the Midwest. Or anywhere else, really. You don’t move to New York for solitude, you move because it’s a hub of activity. You move to New York because you crave excitement and opportunities. The cost of that choice is a loss of privacy. Thin apartment walls, crowded subway trains, the sound of cab horns honking at all hours. If you’re lucky, you can find a quiet, deserted spot in Central Park, but I guarantee that someone will inevitably find your spot ten minutes later and camp down only a few feet from your little oasis (I would tell you my favorite quiet spot in CP, but I don’t want anyone bothering me, sorry.). Privacy is a rare, precious gift in this city.
And that is never truer than when you are overcome with emotions and need to just weep and cry and let everything out. I’ve never really been much of a crier, but admittedly, I have become much more of one in the last two years; I’m not sure if that’s because of living here or just that I am less self-conscious about sharing my emotions with others. It’s probably both. And while there is a hilarious, semi-helpful Tumblr that lists great places for a cry in New York, it isn’t uncommon to see people having breakdowns in the middle of the street, on the subway, etc. New Yorkers ignore anything that causes a scene, so you tend to be able to just cry if you need to and you’ll be given about as much attention as those annoying “showtime” kids on the subways aka zero.
I say that, and yet, every single time I’ve found myself losing it in a public space, I have had not one but multiple people ask me if I’m okay or if there’s anything they can do. For as supposedly indifferent New Yorkers are, many actually have good hearts and even better intentions (oh sure, there are still plenty of creeps out there). I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that most New Yorkers move from elsewhere. We tend to view each other here as bodies that just exist in our own little world, but we fail to realize these are real people who feel things too, whose hearts break and dreams get crushed just like everyone else. And so I don’t know why I’m so surprised when one of those bodies, those strangers suddenly becomes my Clarence, my guardian angel, when I’m feeling low.
Take, for example, one night last week. I found myself quite audibly weeping outside a bar (could I be any more clichéd?) on 29th Street, having excused myself from a party by pretending to have gotten a phone call. The truth was I could feel hot tears welling up in my eye sockets the longer I stood there in his presence, hearing him talk excitedly about the next few months of his new job and life that didn’t include me anymore (at least, not in the way it used to). I had been doing so well; we’d had a few drinks and had some decent if slightly awkward conversation. It was altogether a very different experience than the last time I saw him in person just over five months ago where we could barely speak to one another without all the hurt ramrodding its way into every word and look. But memories often seep through no matter how deeply we bury them, and as I stood there taking him in and letting my mind wander to all those memories, I felt myself withdrawing, and my urge to cry rising. I had to get out, so I pretended to get a phone call and quietly slipped outside where the geyser opened up.
As I stood against the cold, metal door of the wholesale fabric retailer next door and buried my face in my hands, a young-ish woman in glasses approached me and asked, “Is everything okay?” I nodded because I was too upset to speak. “Are you sure? I’d be happy to stay if you need to talk to someone,” she offered warmly. I managed to get out a polite thank you and a tear-strewn smile, “I’ll be okay, but thank you for your kindness.” And she smiled and continued walking down the street. I kept trying, to no avail, to choke back my sobs, when a silver fox of a man walked outside the bar, lit up a cigarette, and upon hearing me asked, “Are you alright, miss? Do you want to talk about it? If you need a cigarette, you can have one.” I replied, “I’ll be better in a few minutes, I think, but thank you.” He turned away from me and went about smoking his cigarette, but kept an eye on me anyway like a concerned parent. Eventually, I regained my composure and went back inside, but I was grateful that even though I felt so alone in my grief, here were strangers willing to share it for a few minutes with no other motive than simply to offer kindness.
Things didn’t get any better on the subway (apparently one of my go-to places to cry) ride home. He and I had said a complicated goodbye, you see, full of loaded silences and questionable body language and unresolved feelings. And after we parted, I cried all the way home. I was met with sympathetic looks and respectful nods (mainly from women in a “I feel you, girl” sort of way). I recall another time I cried on the subway and a guy gave up his seat for me, “Please sit. You need it more than I do right now,” he said with a little bow. Another Clarence talking me back from my proverbial “ledge.”
These little acts of kindness from strangers can be easily overlooked when you’re going through a rough time in this City, but I think they’re reassurances from the universe or God that help will always be given to those who need it (like at Hogwarts). So yeah, I moved here and lost my privacy, but what a blessing it is in my darkest moments to have others there to help so I’m NOT alone. Blanche DuBois would say, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” and as long as I’m here in this place and my life is messy, I’ll keep depending on that kindness too.