I somehow missed the memo that Banned Books Week was here until yesterday (oops), but today I’m taking a moment to appreciate what it represents. According to its website, “Banned Books Week is the annual celebration of the freedom to read.” I read a lot of banned books as a kid, but this is one that stands out in memory.Continue reading “The Banned Book That Destroyed Me (Temporarily) as a Kid”
I was walking to meet up with some friends in Bushwick when I passed by a man in a black hoodie, smoking a cigarette outside of an apartment building. Another man walked up the sidewalk towards me, carrying a 12-pack of Tecate in one hand. I watched as he glanced up at the man with the cigarette, slowed down and approached him. He asked to bum one.
“I’ll give you a beer for a cigarette,” he said. “A friendly Bushwick barter…”
The man quickly agreed. He pulled a fresh cigarette out as the second man ripped open the cardboard box and, just like that, a conversation was born. They began to swap stories of their past spontaneous street trades. As their voices faded away behind me, I realized that I’d witnessed one of those fantastic interactions that make Bushwick so special. Two strangers meeting unexpectedly and sharing a moment. Three, if you count my observation.
I glanced back one last time and saw a different, more familiar, tableau – two old friends taking a quick smoking break on a brisk evening – and I smiled.
Photo via Flickr
After an excruciatingly long and hot day filled with work and errands, I dragged myself onto the third subway of the evening, the final leg of my commute home. I grabbed a seat towards the end of the car, facing inwards. I plugged my headphones in and did what every NYC resident does to cope – I turned my music up and tuned the world out. Then I glanced up and something caught my eye. The woman sitting directly across from me was crying.
It was the kind of crying that anyone who has lived here for any length of time has done before. Eyes red and staring into space, hands brushing away tears, body heaving ever so slightly. It was the silent cry. A cry reserved for the worst of life’s offenses, the kinds of things you can’t ignore, push down, or hold in; they are made of family illnesses and breakups and financial crises.
I saw this woman and I knew. I saw the embarrassment, shame, loneliness, vulnerability and all the pain. I recognized it on her face, that feeling that the world is collapsing around you but you can’t escape. The battle to keep going, keep working, keep moving rips you apart slowly until you are sitting on the subway at 6PM and you just can’t do it anymore. It overflows and there are tears on your fingers and ringing in your ears and stinging in your eyes and every part of your body hurts.
All the while, you can feel people watching.
There is nothing quite like having to cry in public. And in the city that never sleeps, admitting your humanity is the ultimate sacrifice.
It is a dangerous game, wearing your
vulnerability on the outside.
I saw this woman crying and I wanted so desperately to get up, to tell her, “It’s impossible to understand how now, but it will pass. Someday you will look back and you will realize that you don’t hurt anymore, not like this. You are a woman, you are unbreakable and you are loved. I believe in you because I believe in me. When we stick together, when we love and support one another, we are invincible. We women are stronger than we can ever know.”
I wanted to be the one to hug her, in case there was no one else who would. I wanted to remind her that she is not alone.
I did nothing. I regretted it.
NYC subway via Flickr