Monday, August 27, 2007
New York, New York
Finally – I’m going back…plane ticket in hand, it’s official. It’s been precisely 12 years since I last stepped 16-year-old, shaved head, foot in the big apple. That was such a dramatic time in my life I can barely bring myself to share it. Let’s say this, I had scabies, no money, way too much heart, and I didn’t fit in anywhere in the whole wide world. I thought I’d give New York a try, why not. 6 months later it was sensory-overload, nervous-breakdown city for me. I got bussed out by nearby family members and transported across the country though a network of an extremely concerned uncle, sister, grandmother and mother. Four months after my breakdown I landed right back in Jacksonville Florida (where I had left from) and decided not to ever go back until I was good and ready to face it like an adult.
That time has come – all of a sudden, with an invitation and the comfort of a childhood, turned adult-life friend.
I suspect I will love the city, try to drink it and meld right into it’s overwhelming, enormous, everything-all-at-once-and-everywhere pace. I look forward to riding the subway again and visiting the places I used to live and work at that fragile age of 16 years old.
At the time I landed an under the table job in a fast food chicken joint. The owner constantly hit on me and my co-workers once taped a sign to my back that read “I am stupid”. I found the sign on the back of my tee-shirt as I was changing in the bathroom after a shift. Enraged, I exploded from the bathroom, shirt half on, shaking and wagging the sign in their surprised faces. My wrinkle free eyes were streaming hot tears of indignation and my whole world was echoing with the sounds of my betrayed and embarrassed heart bursting into a million pieces.
They, of course, denied that they had posted the sign on me and I think felt somewhat bad about the whole situation. I threatened them all, defended myself and reminded them that I worked there because I was 16, had a southern accent, no work experience and still had my whole life ahead of me to actually fulfill my dreams. They stared in stunned silence through late 20, early 30 year old, immigrant eyes. Eyes that relied on my innocent and naïve disposition to see their own world as better than someone else’s, anyone else’s life.
I walked out of that chicken joint that evening making the first of many promises I have made to myself since; a promise to succeed, to prove them wrong. I cried and cried, running down the street in a blind fury. My young soul taking in my first lesson on how cruel people can be.
Years later in my first graduate level sociolinguistics class, I revisited that episode while internally contemplating the effect a southern accent can have on one’s reception outside of the southern united states. It turns out that moment was a defining lesson in my life that I would never trade in or change into something that didn’t happen.
I have often revisited it, as my “well, at least it wasn’t that bad" example or my “this is what it would feel like to work without papers in this country” example. Anyway I slice it that Belizean woman, Panamanian sidekick and Egyptian owner’s son taught me so much about myself, I really owe them a thank you for it. Despicable as they may be for participating in such a thing, they helped me along the way. yes, their way similar to the "kick in the head" way of teaching someone a lesson, but never the less, I grew from it. And have never wanted to be them, anything like them, or anyone but myself since then.