The Trauma of Being a New Yorker
You hear a sound that has you convinced a. Someone is spraying poison into the air in a move towards chemical warfare or b. A man is on a spitting spree and you better move or get got. You turn around only to find an MTA worker pulling tape to put up a long list of weekend service updates. Are these thoughts normal?
Normal in New York? Yes.
It can be a fight to practice being a zen and compassionate human in NYC.
A stranger walks up to me, and all at once I’m ready to light up their day with good vibes while simultaneously imagining how to knock their lights out the moment they start to set off my spidey senses. I always end up just removing myself from the situation but you know, stay ready.
If you live in the 5 boroughs, you know that feeling of planning your Lara Croft meets James Bond-esque escape if it goes down on your subway car. The constant tension fills the questionable air we’re sharing, why did the train stop? Oh please don’t let this be a terror attack! Wait, why is he staring at me? Public nail clipping! Ah! It can feel like too much.
Several weeks ago on the downtown C platform at West 4th, a man walked up to me and brought me into a conversation he was having with himself about technology, past presidents and race relations. In that moment, I wanted him to feel heard and seen. He just needed to talk, right? Well, within seconds we were in a dance. He would move closer to me, I would move back, then he’d move closer...again, never missing a beat in his story. I’d step back again. We continued our subway tango until I went from standing in the generally understood “waiting for the train” area, until I was almost at the middle of the platform. My compassion pour was too heavy with that one, I tilted my heart back and the Brooklyn in me saw it was time to pop out. “Excuse me sir, you’re making me very uncomfortable. I need personal space.” I surprised myself, been doing that a lot lately. There’s another layer to these interactions as a woman in this great and complicated city. If you’re a survivor of abuse and assault, there’s yet another layer.
I felt this anger start to swell in me. At that point I was thinking, ok this guy is fully aware of what he‘s doing and for a woman less fluent in CREEP, it could’ve felt like trap.
Once I stopped allowing him to move into my space, it was like snapping someone out of a state of hypnosis (based solely on what I’ve seen in movies). He flinched, and slowly went about his day.
In moments like that I wonder how much longer I can “do” this New York thing. I was born in Brooklyn, first generation born in America to Haitian parents.
We were taught not to trust anyone, to keep to ourselves and stay alert for danger. We didn’t live in the worst neighborhood but we were always surrounded by them.
At 12 years old, while riding the train solo in my cute little white t-shirt, my new favorite necklace and my baby gold chain, a man kept staring at me. Already learning the language of creeps and pervs by that time, I started to feel disgust. How could this man be looking at me, I could be his daughter! What a disgrace!
The doors opened at my stop, I stood up, he stepped out, and before I could take my second step onto the subway platform, this man snatched my chain. I stood there in shock, holding my now snapped baby gold chain and watched as this grown man ran up the stairs with my new favorite necklace.
I looked around, as a child often does, for support. Did anyone see that? Everyone pretended not to see. No one stopped, not even for a second. No comforting glance. Nothing. It’s the one time in life that I truly remember feeling invisible.
These are the things NYC teaches us. You’re alone, you’re not safe, basically you in danger girl!
To live in this city is truly similar to a really questionable relationship. The highs are really high and the lows are rat infested.
I could write a coffee table book filled with NYC specific trauma I’ve experienced, maybe even a cute paperback. For now, I live in this wild city and you know what unless you live here, it’s hard to understand. Harder still to understand? I love this place.