“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers…”

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.

Shhh...take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

Shhh…take your obnoxious phone calls, Candy Crush playing, and domestic disputes elsewhere

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.

Frank Capra's angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

Clarence: Frank Capra’s angels are all so friendly and well-dressed.

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.”

...as long as that "kindness" doesn't mean shipping me off to an asylum, we're good.

…as long as that “kindness” doesn’t mean shipping me off to an asylum, we’re good.

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.

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First Crush

Spring is in the air here in the City and with it comes the inevitable coupling up of animals and humans (though I myself am politely declining any and all close encounters of the male romantic kind until such time as my heart has fully recovered from the last).  So that got me thinking back…way, WAY back to the 90s…to when my heart felt its first flutters of love, or at least, deep like.  Enjoy…

My first crush was named Paul.  We were in the same kindergarten class, and I thought he was adorable.  Of course, at the time, I didn’t really understand what a boyfriend or love was beyond what I saw depicted in the Disney movies I so frequently watched.  Paul was gentle and sweet, sometimes shy, but always friendly and polite.  And the best part was that he had a crush on me back.

Crushes come and go, naturally, and my crush on Paul was no different. For a while in third grade, there was Robbie, who was blonde and played soccer and had just moved from Kansas City.  He had that new kid in town mysterious quality, a mischievous grin, and never was without a little twinkle in his eye.  I was smitten.

McIntire Elementary School: where many an early crush was had

McIntire Elementary School: where many an early crush was had

But it turns out I wasn’t the only girl at McIntire Elementary who felt that way; apparently every other girl in the third grade had taken note of Robbie and was secretly plotting ways of winning him over.  Realizing he was more into my friend Joanna, I quietly withdrew my heart from the competition and turned my attention back to multiplication tables and my Book-It booklist (which I think we can all agree was one of the best reading incentives ever: read books, get free pizza), and not long after that, Paul too.

Read books, get pizza. I wish the adult world was like that.

Read books, get pizza. I wish the adult world was like that.

Sure, he was a little too into Pokemon by that point for my taste, but we both loved music class and I had never forgotten the heated discussion we’d had over which Power Ranger was the best.  It seemed like a good match (if only it was THAT easy now).

In fourth grade, we started switching classrooms for science, history, and math, so even though Paul and I were in different classes, we could still communicate via notes we left in each other’s desks.  He left me a carefully folded note one day after science class, asking if I’d be his girlfriend, and naturally, I left one back accepting.  I marked the occasion by making note of it in my Lisa Frank polar bear diary

My actual Lisa Frank polar bear diary from 1997. Please note my favorite color was "cerulean." #pretentious

My actual Lisa Frank polar bear diary from 1997. Please note my favorite color was “cerulean.” #pretentious

that I kept under lock and key, saying we had “a complicated relationship.”  As if I had any idea what that actually meant, but it sounded good and adult at the time.  For Valentine’s Day, he got me a TY Beanie Baby keychain, which I still have somewhere in my closet at home in Missouri.  For a girl in the 90s, getting a beanie baby on Valentine’s Day was even better than flowers or candy, and I knew I had picked my boyfriend correctly.  I think I got him a pack of Pokemon cards, probably as a peace offering to say “I don’t understand this obsession, but I accept that it’s important to you.”  This would prove an important lesson for later relationships: you don’t always understand your significant other’s interests, but you must support them anyway.

Frosted tips, unlike Frosted Flakes, are NOT "grrrreat!"

Frosted tips, unlike Frosted Flakes, are NOT “grrrreat!”

Things changed in middle school because suddenly, we joined with all the kids from the other two elementary schools, and frosted tips and lots of hair gel became a thing.  An UNFORTUNATE thing, but a thing, no less.  Not only was there more homework, but now I had to worry about bras and school dances and figuring out how to do my own makeup (which in middle school in my day meant lots of eye shadow, Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers, and maybe a hint of mascara; SO natural…NOT).  And there were more boys.  So many more boys I had seen around town but didn’t really know.  I joined band and was in choir, and Paul was too, so we saw each other still in our music classes, but became friends instead.

I definitely believe in the whole When Harry Met Sally scenario that men and women can only be friends after they’ve gotten physical contact and/or those pesky romantic attractions out of the way (at least, most of the time).  That’s what happened to Paul and me.  After our brief 4th grade romance (with NO physical contact, mind you), we settled comfortably into a good friendship, which we have maintained up until now.  In high school, I used to go over to his house a lot after school with some of the other guys from band, and we’d play video games for a while and drink Route 44 drinks from Sonic.

The one thing I really miss about the Midwest: easy access to Sonic Happy Hour

The one thing I really miss about the Midwest: easy access to Sonic Happy Hour

A few times, I’d catch Paul looking at me, and I’d wonder if perhaps he had rekindled some of those old feelings for me.  If he did, he never acted on them again, and we graduated with our friendship intact.

I ran into him two summers ago at a friend’s wedding, and it felt weird but also like old times.  He introduced me to his girlfriend (who’s cute as a button and who he’s still with now).  We shared some laughs.  Once in awhile we send something to each other over Facebook, but we’ve gone in different directions in our lives, and have fewer things in common.  He works with computers in St. Louis, and I’m here creating stuff, living a semi-bohemian life.  I catch myself thinking about those strange childhood years sometimes, and Paul always enters my mind when I do.  He represents a time gone by, a different version of myself, and, in a way, the men who would follow him; the ones I gravitated (and perhaps still DO gravitate) towards.

I think we all are trying to recapture the magic of our first crush in our later relationships in many ways; the youthfulness and innocence, the butterflies in the stomach, the longing.  You only get one first crush; only one person gets to be the first to awaken those feelings in you for better or worse.  I don’t mean to sound all starry-eyed and nostalgic, but  it’s one of those moments you really DO carry with you for the rest of your life.  We always hope that the next person we fall for will stir up all of that, make us feel like we’re back in the throws of young, exuberant 4th grade love.  Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.

I’ll always think fondly of Paul no matter how much life separates us, because that relationship has become oddly preserved just as it was, untainted by whatever else has happened to us in our individual romantic lives.  It is just as sweet now as it was then, and for that, I’m grateful.  I could use more sweetness in my life.

And for the record, I still know nothing about Pokemon (but THIS is pretty adorable).  Sorry, Paul.