NYC #5


She and I had been dating at work. When I quit, we stopped getting along too. So I told her that I needed to not hang out. It feels awful to prolong, to spend time with someone where both of you scramble to figure out what is wrong. We never knew why we couldn't get along. But I never meant to drop the whole thing, so after a little while I figured we could be friends, and I called her. Let's go see a movie or something."

It was The Last Picture Show. The perfect scenery to describe the feelings of expansive wasteland I had inside. By the end of the film, my need to escape anything and everything was great and urgent. Did she feel the same way? Regardless, a pattern had begun.

"I hung out with this woman the other night."


"She was weird."

"How weird?"

Um, I don't know. She's kind of cold. Like she's hard to get to, or conservative or something. She owns her own business, and lives in Chelsea, and it seems like you'd have to be rich and have a lot of money, or... I just feel like she might be too different from me because of superficial stuff. But enough to make us very separate."

"So, this woman, do you think she has a lot of money or something?"

"Yeeeess... well, that's kind of what I just said. Right?"

"I guess. You know, I feel like we're not communicating right now."

And so that's how it went. Over and over we got to this truly strange break in conversation. It would be me talking, then she would dead-on repeat what I'd just said but in question form. Then I'd think to myself, was she dumb or just not really listening, and there would be this obvious tension. Who knows what or why. But that night, in a rain so slick on the black streets with the yellow cab lights flashing by, there was a filmic drama in the air that neither of us could control. We fought not like casual fuck-buddies who'd fallen onto each other for the summer, but as if there were years of hurt feelings and betrayals between us. Even as it happened, tears streaming down my face as she pulled me towards her and I pushed away, I almost laughed. Why was I getting so silly? I barely know this woman and really could go on as if it never happened.

Romance is its own animal. All we have to do is give it something to eat.

The same goes for anger, which I discovered less than a half-hour later. The woman and I had said our goodnights, and I walked morosely into Friday night traffic pondering my fate. I never seemed to get along with anyone for very long. I felt untouchable, like it was my fault. Then I began to worry that it was all part of the terrible plan of self-denial I had mapped out for myself long ago. Isolation as a defense, pretending not to need companionship because I didn't want to step on toes or deal with painful conflicts... but was it better? Was loneliness preferable to struggle and hate? I was in my own world at the stoplight, staring blankly at ripped and drenched flyers hanging off the pole by strings of clear tape. I didn't see him come up behind me. It took a moment to sink in, and with a delay I eventually turned and yelled: "hey!" I could still feel it. The man had grabbed what felt like a huge chunk of my ass, as if my body were a fruit bowl and he was just picking up an apple. "Hey!"

"That's it, you fucker, I said turn around!" Dropping the umbrella, I grabbed him from behind, my arm around his neck in a headlock that came much more easily than I would have expected, had I thought at all about what I was doing. He shuddered, and went stiff in surprise, then finally slithered out of my hold to turn and face me. "What's your problem baby? Whassa matter with you?" Oh, God. The sheer volume of liquor this man had consumed- it wafted out of him and into my face like car exhaust. I shoved him hard so he almost fell back. "You don't grab me, you don't grab my fucking ass! Goddammit what's wrong with you!" Then I stomped a foot into the concrete, dropped my fighting stance, and just stood there. There were a lot of people watching, and some of them were getting closer.

He was black. I was white. He was a man. I was a young-looking girl. Did I want people to see this? Part of me doesn't care about race in these situations. I just want to tell the fucker off, make him pay, force him to look at the kind of hurt these things cause to me, make him feel my pain when he finally understands that it happens everyday, everywhere, like a curse. I want to be the one woman who breaks through the silent subway ride by just telling the guy not to leer. It's got to be transformed from this big secret suffering into... what? Into what it should be: conversation, talked about, out loud. Where is abuse going to hide then? But I couldn't help thinking how it changes things when there's this one homeless black man, old and drunk and pissy, with a white girl yelling "he touched me," and a crowd of white faces slowly circling. If it had been the fifties... but it's not. But it IS.

I was afraid for a different reason this time. Worried that taking on this enemy, people wouldn't see the same enemy I saw. They'd see something that wasn't there, that shouldn't even be a thought. I don't feel preyed upon by black men, but I know I'm supposed to. According to all the movies and news reports, THAT's who is out to get me, right? But I know that's just a weird cover for white men's abuse and an excuse to put black men away. In other words, who aren't we preyed upon? But people see race and color before they see everything else. If only we were blind. It's so damn complicated. I can't even call a guy out for grabbing my ass because it's so complicated. But hell, I did it anyway, because it was New York. People just stop and listen and then they move on- nobody was going to take on my battle. Although this one guy came up and said he saw me get grabbed, which was nice to say I guess, like offering support, and he happened to be black too.

I decided to walk away from the whole thing. I left the drunk standing in the rain in his pathetic soaked sweatshirt with his pathetic pleads of "whassa matter baby?" I crossed the street dodging the cars that came too close as usual. Everything had come too close tonight. The other people who had stood watching my confrontation were close, heading for the same subway station next to the little park on Houston. I swerved, and walked in the opposite direction. Fuck going home. I'm going to write tonight.

- Mary Xmas