New York, New York

By Marianne Abbott ’15. Art by Samantha Steiner ’16.

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I was sitting on the subway on my way home and I had the feeling that I did not belong. I was reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I had the feeling I was an impostor, sitting in someone else’s seat. I kept waiting for someone to come up to me to tell me that they knew that even though I always kept a book to read and a small black moleskin to write in my backpack, that they knew I did not belong there. They would tell me please get off on the next stop because you are only pretending to read and you do not belong on this subway.

The first thing I bought when I moved to New York was my black backpack where I keep my black moleskin. I had never worn a backpack while I attended Brown University, I always wore big bags that fit my laptop. But they weren’t comfortable and I felt uncomfortable enough as it was in New York. The second thing I bought was a pair of white sneakers. I bought both things with $200 my aunt from Guatemala sent me along with a bouquet of flowers as graduation presents. I was surprised to see that she had sent me flowers all the way to New York but my mother told me there’s a website for sending flowers anywhere in the world. I suppose I already knew about that website and was only surprised that my aunt knew about it.

I took the black moleskin from work, it was a prop for the television show I work on. The director had 5 different styles of moleskin, all in black, to choose from. He chose a big one with lined paper, I took a small one with blank pages and an elastic strap. I often take things from work because the things that we have, we have in abundance. I found a big box of tampons under the sink and I took a handful home. Cupcakes are also in abundance because it is always someone’s birthday. For Halloween we had cupcakes with orange frosting two days in a row. The second day there were five leftover. I didn’t want them to go to waste so I took them with me thinking I would run into homeless people who would be grateful and think I was very kind for bringing them cupcakes with orange frosting. I didn’t find any homeless people on my way home so my roommate ate one of the cupcakes and I threw out the rest. I live in a low income Hispanic and black neighborhood in Brooklyn. I had never noticed but that night I learned that there are very few homeless people in low income neighborhoods. All the homeless people are in nice neighborhoods in Manhattan. I was in Manhattan when I ran into a homeless person sitting on the subway stairs. She was loudly asking for money or food. I walked right by her until I remembered I had a pack of Chips Ahoy in my backpack I had taken from work. I turned back around, down the stairs and gave her the blue pack of cookies. She held it very close to her eyes and read the label. I stood there waiting for her to say thank you until she did.I didn’t feel very kind, I felt naive.

Sometimes when I walk in my neighborhood black men say things to me. They usually say “good evening” or “good morning,” depending on the time of day, and sometimes they say kind things like “smile, you are almost home.” One time a black man said to me “looking good, vanilla,” but I was not offended. It might have been because I felt like he was saying it in the way a father tells his daughter that she is beautiful. But most likely it was because I felt safe with a small metal gate and at least 10 feet of separation between him and me. I usually respond politely when strangers say things to me with “thank you” or “good evening” depending on what they say. On the subway a white man asked me for directions. I gave him directions but he kept talking to me. I got the sense that he was flirting with me so I sat down far away from him. The separation I tried to establish between us in the crowded train didn’t stop him from coming up to me as he was getting off of the train to say “thank you darling” and touch my face. I was offended.

People on the subway speak Spanish sometimes. I once met a young man from Mexico who was very surprised to hear I had taken an airplane when I moved from Guatemala to the US. He worked in construction and he hadn’t taken an airplane to the US. He had walked across a desert for many days and everyone else he knew had done the same. At work a young woman was very rude to a delivery guy who did not speak English very well. I wanted to ask her if she knew that that man had walked across a desert for many days to become a delivery guy in New York City, but I didn’t. I just tried to be as polite as I could to that man and hoped that he would think I was kind.

I was sitting on the subway on my way home and I had the feeling that I did not belong. I kept waiting for someone to come up to me to tell me that they knew that I had not walked across a desert for many days. They would tell me please get off on the next stop because you are only pretending to be here and you do not belong.

I once watched a film that told me New York was a magical place and I believed that it was true. These anecdotes lead nowhere but at least nowhere is in New York.