Perverts, hundreds of panty sniffing perverts, New York was filled with them. I’m sure of it. Sasquatch men clutching knives and chemical covered rags ready to take my panties and inhale their scent into their systems like fiends. This was my dream. Not to be raped, murdered or killed but the adrenaline rush of new experiences, new beginnings. I was going to the city where dreams came true and sometimes people died from the desperation of it. The melting pot.
I removed my headphones from one of my ears and began to play with my mother, British accent mimicking old movies. “Would you like a spot of tea? Would you like a spot of tea as this plane goes down? Hmm Mum?” I received a slap upside the head. I grazed fingers through my red mane. Shocked but not shocked. After five years, speaking about a plane going down was definitely not the thing to do. Even if 9/11 never happened, she would have slapped me for annoying her while she tried to find herself drifting into the arms of the Sandman.
I looked out at the clouds. The Jet Blue screen. No distractions could stop the haunting of Law and Order scenes. They flashed in my head like adolescent musings of ice cream and toys. The plane was my safe haven. Well that is until it landed and I’d have to start blending into the streets. The New York streets filled with bootleggers. I had heard of the bootleggers.
Chanel. Gucci. Prada.
I had heard of the bootleggers that liked to build secret passageways in abandoned Canal Street buildings to send tourists on the hunt for designer knock offs. And sometimes they even made them climb into unmarked white vans in empty lots that were filled with designer purses.
Chanel. Gucci. Prada.
I had heard of the whispers.
I dreamt once that I died on Canal Street clutching a Gucci purse in my hands with Chanel shades framing out my face. I dreamt of dying lavish. Or I dreamt of being knocked off while wearing knock offs, I suppose. My mother looked at me and smiled. Her only child. I was leaving her. Rubbing my knee, she mumbled, “If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere.”
Cornball. I respond to her with a smile. I didn’t want to ruin her profound moment. Didn’t want to tell her that this move was stupid for me or that I fell in love with a city I dreamed of dying in. She kissed me, breath tart from the flight but sweet just the same. I was her baby.
The plane lowered and my heart bounced in my chest. Rose and fell gentle but it hurt. I clutched my seat as I looked out towards the disgusting buildings of Queens. Everything looked dusty. Everything looked brown and broken. Nothing liked the movies. It was not beautiful. I clutched my purse. I checked my wallet. Thought maybe the ghosts of Attica’s past might have came down to steal my ten dollars and lip gloss. Heard the man behind me sniff and I clutched my bottom. Perverts, thousands of panty sniffing perverts. I cringed.
My aunts lay asleep in the next aisle over, probably having sweet dreams of short Asian people whispering sweet designer names in their ears.
The last jolt and bump. I nearly fainted. How could a dream be so frightening?
“Gwanyca.” Mommy. That was my first thought. I started to feel like a child being left at a classroom doorway. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want her to leave me after the weekend was up. I wanted her to stay with me and be the buffer between my dreams and I. I wanted to ask her, Mommy what if I can’t be the big girl? What if New York kills me? What if I get lost and my phone dies and I’m stuck circling the blocks of Brooklyn?
I look up at her. She smiles and I smile back at her. I was too afraid to confide in her and too ashamed of being scared.
“Gwanyca get up.” I stood.
The plane was empty. My heart felt the same. “Momma I’m scared.” She didn’t hear me.
And if she did, she ignored me.
Jennifer was the hooker that talked me into this. I had been dreaming about moving to New York City all of my life but Jennifer talked me into actually applying. She found the college for us. She told me that once we got to New York we were going to be living the life. The poetry clubs, the dance clubs, and Coney Island. I always wanted to go to Coney Island. I never made it though.
She ended up living the life and I ended up living the life of hell inside of my dorm. She was the social one. I was the caterpillar making sure my grades were perfect and making sure I was doing everything right.
Jennifer talked me into living this dream. We were supposed to do it together but things change. Don’t they always?
We hung out together twice the entire six months I lived in Brooklyn. I saw her occasionally on campus. I spoke. There were no hard feelings there. We each had to find our own way. I guess. I was still lonely. I resented her for being more outgoing. I was unable to utter a word the first time she brought me around her friends and that irritated them.
My quietness, you know? It irritated them. It irritated a lot of people who didn’t understand. If I don’t know you, I won’t speak and if I’m not comfortable you will never see my heart. You just get quietness. So I was cast out quietly.
I resented them for making me the odd one out. I resented myself for not being able to step outside of myself to experience new things. This was supposed to be new beginnings. Adventures. There was no sign of the perverts the first two weeks I was there so I was doing fine without my mom hanging onto my coattails. The only thing that bugged me was that the entire 13th floor had a herpes outbreak which sent me into a lysoling frenzy. Long Island University did not give us the luxury of having a private bath. The dorms didn’t afford us any luxuries, unless you call the elevators constantly breaking down a luxury. I lived on the 15thfloor so that was not pleasant at all.
It was home though.
The block that was my campus was home. It was safe but outside the fenced in security protected walls was chaos. I was scared to cross the streets alone the first couple of weeks I was there because the cars went by so fast. After I got over that hurdle, I ventured onto the subway alone and found myself headed to Canal Street. Two stops. I memorized the map my floor RA gave us. I planned that trip like it was a Jason Bourne mission but it didn’t work out that way. I ended up at Canal Street just fine but it was pouring down. I should have took that as a sign but I kept walking.
Until I ended up lost. Phone dying. Damn near on the verge of tears down a cloudy alley. I finally found myself and noticed I’d been walking in a complete circle the whole time. I ended up back on the train, two stops away from safety, with the realization that this trip would set the tone for the rest of my trips.
It was time for Thanksgiving Break. It was time for us all to leave the safety of our secured block and make our way home. I was headed back home to Nashville. I was alone this morning. Alone, missing the light and the crowded streets. I saw random cars zoom by with no care in the world but once I got away from the main street it all seemed to get darker. I felt like I was in a horror film waiting to meet my painful death. As I was passing a closed nail salon I heard footsteps of gentlemen or potential murderers, rapists, or thieves behind me. My first instinct was to grab my phone and call my grandmother. It was four in the morning in New York and three in Nashville. She didn’t care who was behind me and whether or not if I was safe. She was just trying to get off the phone. It didn’t matter none because before I knew it I was inside the subway station with my suitcase and my grandma’s voice was a thing of the past. The call dropped.
Have you ever been so scared that everything looked gloomy and evil? That’s how I felt alone in the subway station until a man smiled at me and asked if I needed help with my bag. I put my headphones in my ear and told him no thank you. After awhile everything brightened up and I felt safe. Marvin Gaye was on repeat and I felt safe. After awhile trains zoomed in and out, taking most of the people with them but I remained the only one standing. Soon enough when I was about to give up on life, my train came flying past me and stopped. Once I boarded the train, I noticed it was free of crazed drunks and only held me, a woman and a sleepy teenager. I smiled.
But that happiness was short lived because a couple of stops later Crazy came. Crazy always came to me. Crazy was New York’s shift changing bouncer. He was always determined to scare me out of my mind and send me packing. I heard Crazy before he even got on the train because he was in the middle of cussing someone out. He came onto the train behind a woman that was clutching onto a container of Chinese food. She was used to Crazy, I suppose. She just blocked him out.
He looked up at me and screamed, “Pull your damn pants up.” I looked at him and immediately thought, And you are? But the stare I received after he saw me not moving made me pull my pants up. Fast. But she blocked him out. She blocked out all of his yelling but I heard it all over my music. At first I thought Crazy had found himself a lady friend and hoped that maybe they’d get into a fist fight that I could tell a friend about but I already knew. I already knew that sooner or later Crazy was going to make his way towards me. He always did.
Moments after the train had gone back to work I overheard him call the lady a bitch. I saw him get up and walk away from her. I smelled his stench. Crazy was always funky. He came closer to me. I tried to ignore him like the lady with the Chinese food but unlike her I still hadn’t perfected my New York scowl. My big brown eyes were too curious. They liked to wonder a lot. They wondered why Crazy was playing musical chairs. The music pounded into my eardrums like horror movie sound effects as he came closer and closer until he slid right next to me. Hip to hip. That stench. Crazy smelled like a spilled gallon of spoiled onion milk and I hoped that his smell didn’t cling to me. I had a flight to catch and I didn’t want to stink up the plane because Crazy didn’t want to wash his behind.
He took the headphones out of my ear and Marvin went away. It was funny because he was in the middle of saying What’s Going On? And I wondered the same thing because Crazy had never touched me before. I cringed. Felt my ears burning from the thought of potential fungus being placed on my ears by his dirty hands. I looked at him. The side-eye action I gave him was phenomenal. He looked unmoved by the frown and I couldn’t do nothing but laugh it off. I couldn’t intimidate a can of paint.
“Who are you talking to?” Who am I talking to? I looked around. I didn’t think he was serious at all. I hadn’t opened my mouth since I spoke to the man while trying to lift my bags down the steps of the station. I had my phone tucked away in my back pocket. It was thick so I felt it hug the back of my form fitting jogging pants. Who was I talking to? I was puzzled? Was Crazy hearing alien communication? I couldn’t do anything but look at him confused.
“I’m not talking to anyone?”
“Then what is that?” He pointed to my black Colby mp3 player that I had gotten on Fulton Street last night. I smiled remembering me haggling down the price and especially remembering when I had received compliments on my shape as I walked out of the building.
“It plays music.” He took it from me. I frowned. Crazy had never snatched anything from me. He put my headphones to his nasty ears. My frown deepened. I contemplated snatching them back. Then I saw myself dying.
He handed it back to me and smiled at me. I just laughed. As soon as I did that his hands found his way to my thighs. My thighs down to my legs. I turned to look at the woman that was across from me. I mouthed help me but she turned away. I felt his hands ease over my fresh tattoo that I had gotten up on Fulton Street. Instantly I winced and smacked his hand. I saw my life flash but he didn’t do anything but move his hands back to my thighs. Again I turned to the woman but she looked away. I took his hand off my thigh and he put it back.
“I don’t know you like that.”
“You can get to know me.”
“No thank you.” I laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I had angered him.
“I have to laugh to keep from crying.” I mumbled. He didn’t hear me. Asked again. “Nothing.” Soon my stop came up. I tried to hop up fast but he knocked me back down. I looked towards the lady again but she was gone in a blur. She might as well have been a figment of my imagination the way she disappeared so quickly. I got back up and grabbed my suitcase. I didn’t think Crazy would get up with me but he did. I just kept whispering my prayers to myself as I walked out of the train and continued to follow the sign that pointed towards the escalator to the JFK Airport airtran.
Meanwhile, Crazy was asking me to sneak him on the plane. He wanted to hide in my luggage. I wanted to call him stupid and to tell him to get away from me and that his presence was not wanted but I wasn’t out of the clear yet. I was still alone with him on the subway platform. He kept asking about if I knew how to get him onto the plane and if they would notice him. I wanted to tell him the stench alone could get him busted but I didn’t.
Soon we were at the top of the steps and I had to pay to ride the airtran to the airport. It was five dollars. I barely had five dollars so I hoped to God he couldn’t afford it but Crazy went the extra mile today. I tried to signal for help but it was like some dream sequence bull because no one noticed me and no one cared to. He followed me to the airtran. I saw the woman again. She ran. I wanted to kill her because she was too much of a coward to save me.
I called my grandmother. Maybe to tell her good-bye. I don’t know. At that point I simply gave up on life. I told her what happened but she was still tired and still not caring. She was telling me he was just trying to keep me safe. Crazy wasn’t safe. Last time I checked, safe wasn’t crazy. I kept her on the phone until the train came. This agitated Crazy but I no longer cared.
Soon we were boarded onto the airtran and he was still talking in my ear but I ignored him. The airtran was full of folks so I’m sure they’d catch him if he whipped out a knife and gutted me but he didn’t. He just yelled and yelled. “Do you want me to fucking leave?!”
I stared at him dumbfounded and screamed. “Yes! Goddamn! Please leave me alone!” And he left. The rest of the passengers stared at me as if I was the nut job. I couldn’t have arrived to my stop any faster. No matter how loud I tried to explain to my grandmother that I was stalked, fondled and cursed by a psycho they still sent judgmental stares my way.
When I was younger I used to watch Crooklyn with my cousin Jonathan. I would dream of New York streets and the days when my body would learn to mimic the beats to music as I walked past basketball courts. New York was music to me. I’d see myself leaning back on the steps of Brooklyn brownstones soaking up the sun. I dreamt of the day New York streets would embrace me, dreamt of New York streets changing me. New York was life to me. As I got older, I’d close my eyes and see myself in the middle of night clubs letting the music take me away. Let the lights blind me, let the sweat cleanse me of every inhibition. I used to close my eyes and dream of a better life. Another me. A stronger me. I was focused. So focused on leaving behind my home. Embracing something else. Growth.
But it felt like New York never dreamed of me. She never dreamed of welcoming me into her bosom like the thousands of other dreamers. And I definitely never dreamt of Crazy. I finished the semester but I couldn’t stay after that. Crazy had finally driven me from my dream and I regret it. Each day I regret it. I should have laughed it off at Thanksgiving Dinner along with my family but I couldn’t see it as a lesson or a way to toughen me up. I just felttoo violated. New York had treated me so cold when all I wanted to do was love her. New York let nasty fingers taint my skin. New York cursed me. I couldn’t see past that. I couldn’t see past Crazy.
Panty sniffing perverts. I met three, the African man that tried to snatch me from the train, the lover of my friend Carol who chased me up and down the streets of Queens with a switch and Crazy. Come to think of it maybe I should have just stayed my ass out of Queens.