There isn’t anywhere else in the world I want to be during the summer season in the western hemisphere than in New York City. The bright blue skies and warm air do something to my heart that I cannot describe. NYC itself is like a bad lover. Summer swoops in and takes me off my feet; my eyes light up like the stars and I can’t stop grinning madly. It’s enough to make me forget that only six weeks prior I had been shoveling through feet of snowfall to get out of my house, and that a mere twelve weeks from now I will be cursing the cold again as I pull my jacket around me just a little tighter while trying not to lose my life by slipping and falling on black ice. All I can see are the flowers, all I can feel is the warmth, all I want is the salty sea air in my nostrils, music in my ears, and the ability to stand barefooted in the earth. Summer brings me these things. True, I can have this in several other places, and once I tried my best to leave. But living in NYC spoils you for many things. Sucky public transportation that doesn’t actually suck, pizza and gyros at 2AM, and the ability to let go of my inhibitions and simply be myself because this city is huge and no one cares if you cry or wear pajamas or your favorite cosplay on the train because no one is paying that much attention to you …
When New York City calls your name, you come home.
So I returned, the prodigal lover, with all my battle scars in the sweet, sweet summer air, penitent for having left yet grateful for having had the chance.
My most favorite summer in NYC was the summer of 2002. I’d just gotten here from Trinidad where I’d grown up and spent most of my life. I’d gotten a job at a local discount clothing store in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, and was living with a family, a mother and her son, whom I had never previously met and to whom I was not related. My days and nights were filled with equal parts excitement and dread. I’d never spent more than a couple nights away from my parents’ home, so being alone and completely on my own with no chance of going back was as terrifying a prospect as it was liberating. I never slept. The sun didn’t ever seem to set completely and Brooklyn was perpetually noisy. I would begin my first semester of university soon but for the moment, I was very small in a very big world I’d only ever seen before on television. I visited the church where I was baptized, went to Mass there and was astonished by the aesthetics of the building and the grounds. I considered trying to find my older sister and her mom, but reconsidered it because I figured they must have moved away from that address by now. I went to work everyday and never called in. On my days off, I would explore as much of the city as I could. I got a subway map and would randomly ride a bus line or the train to the last stop, get out and explore. One of those bus rides got me lost in the neighborhood of Brighton Beach, which is close to the beach, but the bus as I soon discovered doesn’t go directly to the beach, and though I could hear the waves and smell the salt, I couldn’t find the seashore. I got a ride back to Flatbush with a trucker named Chuck (yes, Chuck owned a truck…thank you, peanut gallery!) who gave me his worn out map book of the Five Boroughs, and warned me to never, ever take rides from truckers.
I went to backyard parties and concerts with my coworkers, got my first tattoo, got promoted to “Assistant Floor Manager” (which meant when the Manager went on her extended lunch breaks I got to hold the cordless phone. I also closed the store more often than not because I was the only person who could ever account for every single pair of unsold jeans in the place, thanks to my photographic memory. Apparently “doing inventory” had never been less stressful!). I hung out with that one coworker who lived in Bed-Stuy and whose mother gave her money to buy pot and us permission to smoke and hang out on the fire escape on the condition that we didn’t draw attention to ourselves nor cause the cops to come to her door. I still have no idea how I got home some nights.
Then there was BJ.
He walked into the store one day and upon seeing him I simply couldn’t catch my breath. I hid behind a clothing rack and chided myself for blushing so hard, but I couldn’t help it he was so gorgeous. He saw me hiding awkwardly behind the clothes by the fitting room and sent one of my coworkers over with a piece of paper with his phone number on it and instructions to call him. So I called him that night. We talked for a couple hours and he came by the store again to say “hello” the next day. We had lunch together (this time, I took an extended lunch!), the conversation varying across several topics. I loved his face, his voice, his smile…he was tall, rugged and extremely handsome. He said he was intrigued by me, that he thought I was “cute”. His name was John, but they called him BJ in the streets, which stood for “Black John” but I didn’t need to know why. That summer, John became my black knight.
One night in particular we met up after I got off work and hung out with some of his “boys” on the block. He hoisted me up and placed me to sit on the hood of someone’s car that was parked at the side of the street, and we stayed outside way past midnight drinking malt liquor and talking. Our conversations always seemed to stretch on forever. He put his arms around my waist and began to recite a poem he’d written. Truth be told, I wasn’t listening. I was looking at his lips move but I couldn’t hear the words. Instead, I was aware of everything around me. The rhythm of his voice floated through my body. I felt the warmth of the hood of the car radiating upward through my hips and up my spine. I felt the intermingled warmth and coolness of the summer night breeze flowing through my hair and caressing the back of my neck. I imagined kissing him and felt the strongest case of butterflies I ever remember experiencing. He stopped talking and asked me what I was thinking about and I told him. He smiled, said, “Word?” and nodded his head. That night he walked me home and before he left, he kissed me, right there in the lobby. That night I slept.
Something about BJ drew me in. Somehow, he knew everything about me- that I loved deep, analytical, philosophical conversation, that I enjoyed staying inside and watching movies after work and on the weekends; he knew how to touch me and where and for how long; how to kiss me and where and for how long. He was a thug in the streets with a revolver in his belt, always in the ‘hood uniform- a white t-shirt and blue jeans and white sneaks- but in the apartment behind blackout window shades, he was a boy. I thoroughly adored watching him go from gangsta to lover once company left and the door was closed; he would simply melt in my arms, and I relished every moment of it.
I never asked about his girlfriends even though I heard about them and realized slowly that there were several. I never saw any of them despite being at the apartment with him every time I had a spare moment, and never calling before I showed up. I never asked him what his last name was, nor did I ever find out. He never took his socks off, not even that one time in the shower when he swore he just knew I was going to sneak in there to find out what his feet look like. I never asked him for anything (except repeatedly to see his feet, and he ALWAYS said “No”.), and he never asked me for anything (except to please, get nicer underwear because I still wore “little girl” cotton panties at 20 years old, and he said it made him feel like a pedophile).
It’s as though our souls met in that space and time and simply knew each other- we connected in ways I’d never understood before. I had never experienced that level of intimacy before or after. I always knew, too, that he wasn’t meant to be with me forever. We never argued (except about his feet). I didn’t want to own him and apart from asking me once to move down to Maryland to be with him, he never tried to own me. We were both simply present, in the moment, loving and taking delight in every moment and every little detail about each other. He appreciated my mind and every inch of my body, and I savored being in his presence, hearing the sound of his voice, picking his brain for weird facts and sayings, and lounging in his embrace. That summer, I was drawn to him over and over and over again, and I relished every single instant- every breath with him, every touch, every kiss, every conversation. The last time I saw him was the Thanksgiving break during first semester freshman year when he traveled up from Baltimore and spent one night with me. The next night, before he left to return to MD, he called briefly from some other girl’s phone, “just to say “hi” and I’m thinking of you”. I ended that conversation by saying, “…I just want you to know, I love you.” He replied, “Thank you”.
I’ve never seen or spoken to him since. I sometimes think I dreamed him up. I close my eyes and in an instant I can feel him and hear him again; I’m back in the apartment in 2002, in the armchair, wrapped in his arms with my head on his chest. Whenever I feel the night time summer breeze caress my shoulders, I’m sitting on the hood of that car again, fantasizing about my sweet, sweet Black John, whose voice filled my ears like a Nubian siren.
Sweet Prince of the ghetto…
This summer was one of my first summers as a truly single woman. I made the decision to remain consciously single, and to spend some time consciously loving myself. One of the conversations I had with BJ that has always stuck with me was centered around me learning, understanding and loving myself.
I still remember him asking me, “How can you expect a man to love you when you don’t know how to love yourself? How is he supposed to know what to do to please you when you have no idea how to please yourself? How is he going to give you an orgasm when you don’t know how to give yourself one? He’s not going to know, and you won’t know what to tell him. You have to learn yourself. Learn yourself first and then you’ll have something to teach the world.”
Ironic then, that I never had to tell him anything and yet he seemed to always know what I wanted and needed and with the exception of maybe a couple things, he was an expert in pleasing me. Unconsciously, after that I lived expecting the men in my life to instinctively know what I wanted and demanding that they deliver by reading my mind..or perhaps some novel…or possibly by watching The Notebook & The Time Traveler’s Wife…
I crave the ease of that relationship today, the deep, unspoken connection I felt with him, the way he always left me satisfied- physically, emotionally and spiritually. So many years later, I still remember how being with him made me feel even though I can hardly remember what he looks like. It’s possible that I’ve seen him on the street or on the train since then and completely overlooked my long-ago lover. But I will never forget the way he made me feel, and the conversations that stirred my heart and my passions so many years ago. I will never forget the many, many things he taught me, the secrets he unlocked inside my soul for me to find so many years later.
And this summer, I spent my time and energy loving myself, caring for me- spending time exploring my body and examining my physical, mental and spiritual health, filling my heart in anticipation of meeting my soul partner, the one with whom I will spend the rest of my life- because I know deep within my soul that he is coming. He is the lover of my soul, the one whom my soul loves, and I am excited to meet him. Summer in the western hemisphere may be almost over, but for me, it is just beginning.
Photos courtesy google images
Art by Patsy Stirling, courtesy Sageword on facebook.