Myself, the winter of 2005 at some super bangin' bar I bet.
Back in the day, homegirl lived in New York City. I chose to live there because I was suffering from agoraphobia and, after it caused me to quit college, I finally felt that enough was enough.
The best therapy, I thought, was immersion therapy. I was going to throw myself into a world where I couldn't avoid a person unless I were dead-- which, at the time, was frighteningly a little too okay with me.
So I saved up my dough in a washed out jar of pickled okra and moved. I lived across from the Comedy Cellar and Mamoun's on Macdougal Street in the West Village in a tiny apartment with a jazz singer who was maybe the last true Bohemian of Manhattan. I worked at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea about 12 blocks away.
When the last patron of the evening left, Jimmy, a loud reddish man with greased back blonde hair and a tattoo of a bulldog on his chest, would pull the front shades down with a flourish and yell, "Hitta da music!" and Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" would come on.
The song not only heralded the beginning of the end of the night, but it also was the song to which Giuseppe, the bartender, would start laying out lines on the bar or in the basement, in his locker. One evening, the night was going particularly convivially. We were wine-drunk and weed-high, and whatever else, dancing around the restaurant, trading Italinglish barbs with each other. Then it was time to go home.
I walked down the 12 blocks home, but, not wanting to shut myself away in my sardine can apartment whose toilet was in my bedroom, I decided to savor a bit of alone time on Father Demo Square. At the time, the park was a ratty triangle but if you sat on the right bench, all of the traffic coming up Sixth Avenue seemed to be coming right at you in thrilling style. It seemed the first time in a long time that I had sat alone in the relative dark and hadn't felt a panicked urge for safety. It was the last thing I remembered until...
"Miss! Miss!" a child with dirty fingers was shaking my arm. Hushed, hurried whispers followed. My eyes opened slowly.
"Miss, are you okay?" said a deeper voice, a teenager.
I pulled myself fully awake and found myself surrounded by an Oliver Twist-of-Harlem crowd of about 25 kids, aged 8 to 16 or so.
"I'm okay... I'm okay..." I said.
"What are you doing out here? Did you O.D. or something?" said the older boy, his brown eyes shining bright with concern.
"It's not safe out here," the older boy said, helping me off the bench.
"Yeah, it's not safe, it's not safe," the others echoed.
"Are you alone?" said a little one.
"You can come with us if you want," said another.
My sleep-laden brain finally grasped the reality of the situation. It was 3 a.m. and I was being stupid. A group of homeless kids recognized danger and wanted to protect me. I had a place I could be this late at night-- my apartment. These kids didn't have a place to be except with each other and they invited me in. So I went walking with them.
We walked all over the West Village. They wanted to know all about me. I wanted to know all about them, but they were not forthcoming. Smart.
Little by little, the kids dropped off and faded away with little snickers until I was left alone with the older boy, the one who helped me off the bench. I smiled when I realized they had snuck off for that purpose.
"You gonna go home, Miss?" the older boy said.
"I guess I better," I replied. "Thanks for hanging out... and for helping me..." I trailed off.
"We're always lookin' out-- for each other, other people," he said, impulsively grabbing my hands. The air stopped. We drew each other in and kissed a lovely, dangerous kiss. "You can stay with us," he said afterwards.
"I can't," I said. "I'm too old for you."
"I know, but I don't care," he answered.
"I know... I know." I said. I kind of didn't care either. But I had to. "I have to go."
"I see that," he sighed. "We're always around this place though, so we'll see each other again."
"I'd like that," I said, and with that our hands unclasped and I walked towards my sardine can, he watching from the corner.
We never did see each other again.
And that was the time I fell asleep on a park bench.