You know you’re a real New Yorker once you’ve cried in public for the first time – suddenly unable to contain yourself, to present and conduct yourself based on your considerations and concerns of how those around will you see you, no longer willing to disguise yourself with an air of contentedness or determination or indifference that we so often deploy on the sidewalk.
You break down in what you consider the last place appropriate or suitable for feeling, amid sidewalks and high-rises, food trucks and taxis, tourists and commuters. Your tears simultaneously engage and intertwine you with the bustle of the city around you, yet also leave you so isolated and alone, since no passerby will actually stop to comfort you.
You look in desperation for a quiet place to be alone with your thoughts, to unleash your emotions on your own, to contemplate and reflect – but instead you must settle for a stoop on a less-crowded street, for a few yards of space and for sunglasses as a shield to separate yourself from the inescapable presence of those around you, for a way to encapsulate and shield yourself from the eyes and ears of passerby.
With every sob, every tear, every wave of anguish, you feel torn between preserving the stoicism this city has instilled in you, the self-reliance expected of you and which you expect yourself to possess, and the promise of release, of letting go, of loss of control, of surrendering yourself to your feelings in this moment. You feel torn between all that is natural, emotional, spontaneous, in the midst of all that is unnatural, constructed, orderly.
You didn’t plan for this moment. You had seen others crying on the street before, on some other stoop, in some other doorway, facing some other wall. You had walked by with a mixture of sympathy and sadness, with a glance of pained understanding that betrayed relief that you were not in that same position. Now you are that same person, revealing your innermost pains and vulnerabilities to total strangers, to people whom you will never see again, who are around you but not with you in one of the most raw and difficult moments of your life.
The moment passes. Your fogged-up sunglasses begin to clear. The tears running down your face, clouding your vision, coursing down your cheeks and along your nose and lips, begin to dry. You lift your head up, take in the cars parked around you, the cracks in the asphalt, the facades of the buildings that line the street.
You feel the stoop that has been your support, your grounding, and hope it wasn’t too dirty to sit on after all. The din of pedestrians moving past you, of conversations continuing around you, of trucks unloading and horns blaring and air conditioners humming and doors opening and closing, once again surrounds you as the sounds of your own muffled sobs and ragged breaths subside. Your pain, your moment, has added to these surroundings and this noise.
You recall that you are but one person in one moment in one place, and find a strange comfort in your small and unacknowledged contribution to this environment, this hardened and impersonal city. You take a deep breath, stand up, assume your determined expression once again, and rejoin the commotion you had tried so hard to detach yourself from.
You round the corner, lost in the continuous flow of humanity and machinery. The marks from the teardrops sprinkled across the stoop remain for a moment longer, quickly fading evidence of your contribution.