Friday, January 30, 2009

The Black Knights of Brooklyn

Your move to New York City was a big, fat silent scream. After living in the lush hills of San Francisco, New York was a resounding bitch slap. Overpriced, dirty, yelling. The dot-com days had passed and cities like New York seem impossible on your razor-thin budget. The neighborhoods you live in seedy (yet expensive) and your social life sparse (going out costs money).

During your final phase in the city, you move in with your ex-boyfriend (well hello, mistake #1) because you thought enough time had passed since your messy break-up 10 years before. No romantic feelings. Hard feelings, behind you both. Besides, there wasn't much of a choice. New York City can make strange bedfellows of us all.

Your savings dry up like a dirty raindrop on Brooklyn cement. Sporadic and strange jobs barely keep your head above water. You return from a dreary day to a home in a noisy and dangerous Jamaican neighborhood. You make a modest meal, drink cheap wine and wonder how much longer you can take this.

You’ve tried, Beth. Several years. This place sucks and you need to get the hell out.

Later that night, you meet up with a good friend at a bar. She’s one of the reasons you moved here, but like other friends in New York, you rarely see them. Maybe you’re secretly mad at her for not being around. Or maybe you’re just drunk. The two of you get in a squabble about something stupid. You leave the bar late at night and run home. (This is both for catharsis and safety.)

Arriving home, you see your ex and are relieved he’s there, even though he can be notoriously cold comfort. He sees your tears and says, “What is it this time?”

You try to overlook the stinging rudeness of his tone and tell him that you argued with your good friend. And you’ve hit a limit. Your soul feels flattened. Your nervous system rattled. You’re worried about yourself, that you might

He responds by walking toward his bedroom, with an “I don’t know what to say anymore. You’re just a constant complaint.” You stand at his bedroom doorway, shocked and hurt. He closes the door.

There may be nothing worse, you wonder, then the feeling a door being closed on you. The game “Don’t Spill the Beans” comes to mind. That door shutting was that last bean.

You pick up your witch’s broom (because you fancy yourself a neo-pagan of some sort) and begin to trash the living room. You’ve never done anything like this before. You watch yourself from a distance as you slam your stereo, a vase, the little glass doll your grandmother gave you when you were 8.

You head toward the kitchen and smash dishes and glasses in the dishrack. You hear the cat furiously digging its claws into the wooden floor, racing to find a hiding place.

Screaming at the top of your lungs, you say, “What does it take to get some fucking kindness around here?” You hear your ex yelling from the bedroom. He’s calling the police. “Call ‘em, you fucking jerk! Maybe they’ll give a shit!” Smash, crash, bang.

You flash back to the early years with this man, how he’d have similar tirades and just trash the joint. And how scared you used to be. How dutifully you picked up the pieces afterwards. How stupid you were to stay.

“Hey, asshole! You used to do this shit all the time, remember? How’s it feel now? You pick up the pieces for once!” (Apparently, it looks like you haven’t let go of all the hard feelings.)

Something is unraveling and it’s both freeing and truly terrifying. It’s like your psyche is projectile vomiting. You have no doubt that this is what lands people in loony bins but you don’t care. You pick a sharp piece of glass from the floor and stare at it for too long, imagining the things it could do.

A loud knock at the door breaks your trance. You know it’s the cops. You really don’t care. And you should.

You open the door and before you stands a vision you’ll never forget: two of the largest, most imposing cops you’ve laid eyes on. One man, one woman, both pitch black in skin color. Jamaican. Both easily standing 6”6. Shoulder-to-shoulder wall of cop. The ultimate crazy girl stopper.

You drop the shard of glass and look into their eyes, as broken as the vandalized pay phone on the corner.

You fall slightly forward and the male cop catches you, picks you up like a rag doll and takes you to the couch, where both sit on either side of you. Their massive arms encircle you like truck tires. You let out a cry that you never knew existed in you. It’s more of a howl, like a trapped animal. Or an unwanted baby, left alone in a room for too long.

You look up at their warm eyes and say, “I can’t, I can’t do this anymore. I’m so alone. Tired. Nobody’s there. Nobody’s…nice anymore.” They hug you even tighter and suddenly you feel transported, as if to a special womb designed for chicks losing their shit. They say reassuring words. “It’s alright. We’re here now. We care. You have somebody now.”

It’s as if they know you. It’s as if, clearly, clearly, they are not cops but angels.

You tell them how sorry you are and the man says, “You don’t have to be sorry. It’s all right to lose it sometimes.” You can’t believe someone just gave you that kind of permission. No one in your life has given you license to let the darkness pour out of you like a sick, black flood. Looking around, you also begin to realize everything you broke was yours, only adding insult to injury.

“Do you have any friends here, sweetheart?” the woman asks. You thought you did, you tell her. But everyone is too busy. She tells me that she’s not too busy.

They sit with you, rocking you gently, for what feels like an eternity. At one point, you laugh. You laugh, thinking of all of the shit that goes down in this neighborhood--the drug deals, the street fights, the stealing--but tonight, you’re the trouble. You share this with them and they laugh in agreement.

Your ex never leaves the bedroom. The cops gently place you in your bed with a glass of water, kind touches, and almost imperceptible words of kindness. After they leave, you realize you have just experienced something divine and full of grace. Two magical strangers just made everything better, simply by caring.

Months later, as you take steps toward getting the hell out, you write the 76th precinct a letter. You write how, in your wildest dreams, you never thought police could offer the kind of help they did that night. And that you will never forget their kindness.

Right before you leave New York, you receive a letter back from the precinct, telling you that they hung the letter up on their wall. And yes, cops do all sorts of things that one can’t imagine.

You leave New York with renewed hope. Life kinda sucked here. No question about that. But even in your darkest hour, angels appeared and guided your way. You trust in the magic of the Universe once again, even if it’s just a little.

With a lighter heart and a cigarette in mouth, you leave the city and head to your old family home at the Jersey shore, emotionally threadbare but ready to start again

Special thanks to my friends Joe and Elena who constantly remind me that I don’t ask for too much. To my friends mentioned in this story, you mean far more to me than the constraints of this story and I hope you understand.


Anonymous said...

This made me cry tears of recognition... thanks for the reminder that there are people who swoop into our lives, at just the right moment, unfamiliar, but gracious, graceful, saving angels... when those who we often "expect" to be there can't be... just like we haven't been there for them when they've expected... it's God's, (if you don't believe in God, the Universe's), way of reminding us of our interconnectedness to every person on the planet and how right when we think there isn't an answer or someone to offer a shoulder, an ear, an embrace w/o sexual expectations, we get what we need... it may not be what we want... but it is EXACTLY what we need when we need it!

Thank you for the blog... breathtaking! Please keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

wow, that sounds exactly how i felt the first few months i lived here and feel off and on going into year two. Thank you!

Jules said...

You wrote with your soul on this one. You have been through so much and I love that and can relate. I love that you have noshame, everything is very honest and naked.

You are a beautiful writer because you touch hearts.