With our voices, we wield power. With our words we draw out hope. We crush dreams. We give direction, build identities with a’s and b’s. With words or arms we wrap our whole selves around another in embrace. Or we give silence and space.
babies, baby, children, city, conversation, culture, English, ethnicity, experience, family, language, Latin, life, men, New York City, NYC, people, pregnancy, pregnant, relationships, sex, social security, spanish, urban
The woman who was in line ahead of me at the social security office is ahead of me, still, at the elevators to exit. We stand with another woman and her stroller.
Silence, the most brief.
“Tres meses.” The woman from the line gasps and peers into the stroller, then cups her own belly, which I hadn’t noticed beneath her layers.
“Oh my God! Seis meses,” Rubbing her belly, still, the elevator lights up, dings, opens. We all climb on. In Spanish, now, the women coo and laugh about their children. Unmarried, each with more children at home and small children in strollers or bellies right here at social security, the elevator fills with beautiful Latin linguistics. They don’t know that I know.
Another ding, door opens, we exit. She turns to me, the bellied, vibrant one, not in Spanish, but accented in a way she can’t help.
“I hardly gained a pound, you see? You can’t even tell I’m pregnant.” She pulls back her vest and shows her belly nested in a thermal as we walk.
“Wow.” I’m smiling, but unsure of what to say. I can’t understand the comment she makes next, but assume it’s in English. Then,
“You can’t depend on a man these days. Have to do it all yourself.” So matter of fact, she makes her last statements. And with a wave, hustles out the door of the social security first floor and around the corner, skinny jeans hugging pregnant thighs.
I stand perfectly still in the sunlight and cold air at the intersection wondering at the impossible gap between our two lives. Yes you can—should I have told her? And, no—you don’t have to.
There was a few minutes of free time at the end of one day. Two out of four student groups had given presentations. Not presentations by regular standard, for this crew…star performances. Magnificent deliveries of spoken words, rehearsed and organized. The most hot-water students, names almost permanent on a blue sheet of paper for athletic ineligibility, stepped forward during Questions & Answers, teaching their classmates about the book they read. Confidence. Beauty.
In these post-performance precious minutes before the bell, students congregated in empty spaces, filling the atmosphere with words they use too frequently, relaxed from their pressure-cooked performances, creating friction unnecessarily between their bodies.
I started to clap my hands from behind my desk, slowly at first. Then louder, more emphatically. They heard me and clapped. Twenty students, clapping with eyebrows raised, heads shifting in surprise like swivels on their skinny necks. No idea why they had started to clap. I heard a few exclamations, questions at the nature of our celebration, but the clapping didn’t cease. I said nothing, just raised my applause above my head and sped up. They clapped along, faster still. By no prompting, they started to woot and cheer. Just general ah-ha’s and woo-hoo’s. Not for any one person, just for the clapping itself.
Soon, laughter at the spectacle, and the speed of it’s escalation brought tears to my eyes. Floods of them. I had to stand up and make amiable acquaintance with the tissue box near the sink. When I quit, they quit, clap by clap.
The groupthink concept overtook them. The aura of peer pressure swept them into action without reason or sense, without command or repercussion. They all just clapped and clapped, cheered and rejoiced for nothing, for no one–because a spontaneous clap grew from the somewhere. An anonymous leader emerged from the bowels of the classroom and they followed, carried it on, curiously, but without needing a reason, any instruction.
I loved the momentary rush it gave us all in the minutes before the bell. Their questions, their surprise, amazement at the superfluousity of the experiment. They loved that I was as purposeless as they were. This was before they knew that I am really a lot like them. Most of them still don’t realize.
All the laughing, the clapping, the wooting together. Immature and unreasonable. Adults and children. And children who think themselves adults. One unified spontaneous classroom noise. Beautiful.
There are rings on all the wrong fingers, slender knuckles, long nails, no polish. Chunky stones set in silver, twisted metal caressing smooth skin, beaded trinkets hanging from bent wood. From her fingers I decide that when they choose her it’s only for one night. Or for weeks at a time. Never—yet—for a lifetime. And I can’t figure why.
I fell in lust with her on the one train downtown. Her long hair, tousled, hadn’t seen a brush yet today. It was late in the afternoon, locks still latched on skyrise buildings, Wall Streeters not yet freed to the streets, and only the running of her fingertips through the curls on the ends of her locks had kept the thick mane tame. Her perfect form, bronze glow, curves of all the right sizes in all the right places, wrapped casually in subtle straps, a gray tank, woven shoulder-strung purse, jean shorts, torn. She fit like a whisper between two faceless bodies on the plastic blue infinite subway seat. Her almond eyes, lashes long, that blinked curiously around the train car as it cushioned with late-lunching New Yawkers. She never squinted cruelly at them. Never bristled. Only slid back effortlessly into her headphones.
And as she wondered, I wondered about her. About what makes her, impossibly, just a one-night girl, with rings on all the wrong fingers.
Sit by me and say nothing. Just whiten this noise. Deafen these railroad tracks metal sparking on metal these sun-kissed shrieking children these shrouded mothers sleeved modestly to their wrists edged in sweat these fathers with strollers like cargo these coolers these suitcases. Punches and chads, dollars and change. Crackling speakers with nothing but stale terrorist caution to say. Sit near me so I’ll hear only you while we see the world move.
When Billy speaks, he’s always talking about someone specific. Someone sitting right in front of him. Someone whose eyes are darting left and right, not wanting to be noticed. Someone who’s heard his too-long speech one hundred times and is fighting sleep. This time that someone was me.
We’re all surrounded by one another, sitting in a too-small excuse for a library, and it’s about to get more crowded in here. There are almost forty of us on staff. Just a buncha off-beat kids who live at the camp and make the place run for half a summer. Tonight, the campers come. Over ninety kids under twelve, running around in sandy flip flops asking if I’ve seen their Bible or toothbrush in the cabin. No, I haven’t.
I’m surrounded by people. So many people that I can hardly breath fresh air. I’m sweating from the overcrowding, one arm’s stuck at my side, there’s a camper clinging to my leg. There are people everywhere. The noise is so loud, I wouldn’t hear my name called out among the crowd. But Billy’s speaking to me because he knows that among the throngs of bodies, there is loneliness. He sees beyond the funny hats we wear for our skits and through the fancy dance moves we create to teach Bible stories in song. And behind all of that, there is loneliness.
When he says someone there’s always, truly, a someone sitting within ten steps of him. He’s never hypothetical. This feeling isn’t hypothetical. It’s seeping in and feeling real. Surrounded by folks, this feeling’s real.