An Almanac of All the Ways to Sit on a Sidewalk and Cry
1. Oracle of Time Square
Time: Late Summer, 2015
Place: New York City, 47th and 7th
Why: Your mother keeps trying to talk to you but you don’t want to talk anymore.
Your hands are shaking. When you squint at the street sign, your vision blurs. You stop in front of a subway station, interrupting the current of pedestrians moving downstream, into the underground. They divide around you with disgruntled murmurs. So many people—too many, you are biting your lip to keep your anxiety choked down. You tell yourself that instead of being caught in the swell of the subway, you will walk fifty-eight blocks and four avenues—distance seems less daunting than having to crush your body into a metal car, fitting into other people’s vacancies.
You make it four blocks (five?) before you stop, slide down against a building because your walking momentum was the only thing keeping you upright. You rest your cheek on your knee and compress your body into something less hollow, trying to crush out the empty space between you and yourself.
There is no better place to cry in public than the streets of New York City. You are invisible unless you’re that asshole clogging up foot traffic. Then again, this is Time Square, native land of the tourists, who don’t quite have that veneer of jaded apathy. Out of the corner of your eye you see a few people look at you and you cringe away but can’t bring yourself to get up and move. A man in a Red Sox jersey nearly trips over you.
“Something is troubling you,” a voice hovers above you. You look up with a tear-streaked face. A woman approaches. She is dressed in mom-jeans and an unassuming top and looks a Greta or Sharon. “Somebody… somebody has treated you unfairly, done something upsetting. I can sense it.” Your eyes are bloodshot and watery. “I’m a palm reader and would be interested in doing a reading for you. Would you like to schedule an appointment?” You raise your arms to ward her off but she approaches into your space, looming over you. She plucks your phone away, plugging her number in, insisting that she can sense your negative vibes. You resist the urge to ask if she’s using her sense of vision.
When she walks away you put your head back down and there are tremors in your chest and you’re not sure if it’s laughter or crying but—
2. The Sound of Silence and Ten Thousand New York City Drivers at an Intersection
Time: Early Summer, 2015
Place: New York City, 86th and Lex
Why: A week before you start work your mother calls you to tell you that she’s asking for a divorce
The clamor of the intersection swirls around you but your brain is a stimuli- saturated sponge, unable to absorb/process/react. You sit on the corner of a flowerbed between a dusty silver BMW with a dick on the window and a blue Mercedes with several parking tickets under its wipers.
You stare at a smear of dog shit because that dog shit is the only thing that you can handle right now and if you moved your head people might see the tears. Worse, you might see them seeing you.
You keep your shoulders/chest/hands still and tense. Concrete under your bare leg irritates your skin and an ant crawls across your foot. You watch it move. You sit as still as you can because that is the only thing keeping you together and if you move, you might break.
You keep telling yourself that you feel nothing and in some ways you do, because you haven’t said this out loud and if you don’t let your voice shape this into reality, you can stay in stasis. Stay. Still. Feel Nothing. Say Nothing.
Say Nothing because the first person you said “I love you” to cared more about his anger than you. You told yourself that your parents were proof of love. Say Nothing because you can’t rewind time to unhear the dissolution of that proof but if you Say Nothing, you can pause it and this shattered world won’t proceed.
In a week—because a week will happen, then a month, then three—in a week you will tell someone for the first time. You’ll tell your friend who’s been in the hospital three times for suicide attempts, while you’re sitting on the bathroom floor, drunk off your ass, trying to hold up a puking girl. The words will have built up pressure inside you and—
3. Law and Order and Bad Choices
Time: The beginning of 2015
Place: New York City, 96th and Madison
Why: You haven’t spoken to anyone in two weeks. You feel absent. Everyone is absent.
You have been tucked into the corners of your couch and the winter air is a scream against your skin. You’re drunk, but you’re telling yourself that you’re drunker than you are. Your head and feet and chest ache and you feel like the stereotype of every drunk white girl. You thought about staying on the subway as it rattled past your stop. It could carry you through the underground to where the tracks end, and back again. You don’t exist down there, you wanted to stay not existing but when your stop came you hauled your body out the door.
Closer to midtown, when you walk through the city at night, you can feel energy thrumming like a heartbeat. Here, further uptown, everything is built like a shell waiting to be deserted. You are a block away from your apartment when you have to stop. You can’t go in. Not yet. It’s too comfortable/bright/real.
The thing about walking through the city is that you feel like you’re being swallowed up by something bigger than yourself. Your apartment is not big enough to contain the things hammering their fists against the inside of your ribcage. Out here, they diffuse into the concrete. It feels easy to let yourself disappear into the stucco.
No one will notice you gone so late. The apartment was vacated by your family (you have been vacated) months ago and your mother tells you that they’ve left the city for good, though she won’t tell you why (yet). You’ve lived on in the apartment like mold on food that they forgot to throw out. If you were a victim on a crime show, they’d find the body when the smell started to seep through the walls and the sunglasses-wearing detective would ask his partner how long things have been vacant. Head down, you fester—
4. In Which You have a Spiritual Moment With a Man in a Car
Time: All Times
Place: Midday at an intersection that smells like cooked garbage—
A block away from home—
Drunk in the middle of the night—
Why: The streetlights change colors for an empty street, signaling to cars that don’t exist. You sit and watch those streetlights change until the earth dwindles to an end, everything burns away, except for those streetlights, blinking red, green, yellow, like giant eyes and—
You’re there for an hour, maybe two. The city sucks you in. You disappear. The concrete cradles you and you want to lie down, feel it scratching against your cheek. At some point a car pulls up and you make eye contact with the man in the driver’s window. He opens his mouth slightly and for a moment you feel more him than you and you know what he sees—you see him seeing you. Before he rolls down the window to ask if you are ok you pick yourself up and walk to your apartment. You turn your key in the lock, checking to make sure he isn’t following you. Door opening, you feel the vacuum, vast, pulling you into nothingness, your tear-streaked face in sharp relief. Quietly, you slip through the door.
Sarah "Sam" Saltiel is a queer transmedia artist and writer based in Albuquerque. Her work generally addresses the question of what it means to be a body in space, specifically as that pertains to intersections and erasure of gender and mental illness. She has previously been published by Duende, Not Your Mother's Breastmilk, The Rational Creature, and Magpie Games, among others. A full list of her works can be found on her website, sarahsamsaltiel.com, or her professional facebook page, Sarah Saltiel.