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Rush-Hour Sorrow, Rush-Hour Sweet

Checking my phone tonight on a rush-hour train, I discovered an unwanted email from an ex with whom I still have an unhappily charged dynamic. I did what I always do with messages from him these days–I deleted it–but not before his brief email walloped me in the chest. Surrounded by people in the packed sardine can of the subway car, I couldn’t shake the shock of the unsolicited reminder of everything I (we) had lost, couldn’t exhale as deeply as I needed to without making a scene, couldn’t just curse the heavens. So I froze, silently imploring the tears in my eyes not to run down my cheeks, and felt lonely in a way I never feel when actually alone. A hand tapped my shoulder then, and I looked up to see a young woman in full Muslim garb and orange high-tops smiling gently at me. “It’s ok,” she mouthed, and my eyes widened at her vigilant kindness, as well as the palpable warmth of all the other commuters regarding me with concern. This, during a week marked by sorrows on every level, too.

But that’s just another day on the IRT, as they used to say. Really, it amazes me that visitors ever accuse this city of harshness. From the minute that I moved here, New York has been my truest, steadiest heart. I cannot count the times that its denizens have matter-of-factly shored my grief.

I Wonder, Woman

I was waiting on line at Fairway when this couple ahead of me started fighting. They were in their 60s–both clad in sensible footwear and baggy tees emblazoned with lefty slogans. You know: doggedly grey hair, spectacles, humorless facial expressions. They were of a piece. If I had to guess–and guessing is my favorite part of people-watching–I’d say they lived on the two top floors of a Park Slope brownstone they’d bought in the early ’80s. I’d put money on the fact that they didn’t have kids. They’d have been too busy fighting the good fight for such frivolous pursuits.

Anyway, they were fighting now. Boy, were they fighting. The man was yelling so loudly at the woman that it penetrated my headphone cloud. I hadn’t heard a man yell like that since I’d left my father’s house, and my fists started to clench. The actual words were inconsequential–I asked if you got skim! You know I can’t drink 2 percent!–but the voltage spoke an entirely different story. The voltage would’ve made more sense if he were calling her a stupid cunt.

I knew the type: He was a bully. A self-righteous bully who, if confronted, would never cop to how much he hated women, including his wife. A bully who would instead point to the money he donated to Planned Parenthood, to the campaigning he did for the ERA, to the volumes of feminist political theory lining his office. He was a bully all the same. Continue Reading →

Schadunfreed

My terrible, very bad neighbors across the hall–you know, the ones of the extremely audible, all-hours bongo-playing and door-slamming and key-losing? The ones who routinely had such terrible, very bad, and extremely audible sex, complete with terrible, very bad, and extremely audible fake orgasms, that I longed to bludgeon them with a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves? Well, I am extremely pleased to report that those neighbors have left the building. First they broke up—very audibly, of course–and then he moved out, and then she finally moved out as well. As of now, their apartment remains empty, and my building is so still, so peaceful, so luxuriantly quiet that it’s as if I’m living in a mountain spa right in the middle of Williamsburg. I need a new word for the particular schadenfreude one feels upon outlasting terrible neighbors. Schadenfreudenizen? Schadunhausfraught? Oh, the future’s so bright my apartment’s gotta wear shadunshades.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy