“The Big Island” by Brigid Ronan

AJ Goldman | La Cieneguilla

The Big Island

Look, I hate this town sometimes but Carmelo Anthony said it more succinctly: Man, fuck New York. Staring despondently at the banking site that displays my lack of savings. Being treated like a criminal at a deli with a nonsensical ticket-payment system, and I had misplaced my ticket. Dear God I only wanted some matzo ball soup and a knish! Being followed by some guy through Union Square late after work one night and he won’t leave me alone—“Sorry man, I’m not interested”—and he still won’t leave me alone. Wishing I could afford a room of one’s own. Privacy is a myth here. It’s reserved for gods. My sister laughs at me when I go up to the wilds of Massachusetts to visit her and collapse in the glorious damp grass, Ahh nature I had forgotten you, as if it’s an ex love. That dirty apartment where something bit my abdomen while I slept and for two weeks ruddy rash crept like ivy across my skin.

And other times I’m walking through Union Square on a humid Saturday afternoon kicking up trash as I try to avoid the guy beelining toward me clutching a clipboard because I know he’s going to try to sell me a “haircut deal”—this same guy has approached me a hundred times without remembering that I refused him the day before. It’s like a boring sequel to “Groundhog Day.” When I finally make it to the stoplight at 14th & Broadway unscathed, a woman standing beside me in the crowd of waiting pedestrians calls out “EXCUSE ME—” and I think Oh God please don’t let this be another case of ‘stranger yelling obscenities at other strangers,’ it’s too humid for that, but I glance over to her anyway and that’s when I notice the crutches she grips as she continues, “—would anyone let me hold their hand so I can get across the street before the light changes?”

I don’t have time to waver, I simply reach out my hand and react as this city has taught me: Yes. She shifts both crutches over to her left and presses her right hand in mine as we traverse the heavily trafficked road. We don’t exchange names, there’s no need. Her voice is confident and clear and utterly without the shame or apology we too-often convey when we must ask for help. New York City is 8.5 million people and we’re all acting like islands when really we are the sea.

Safely across, she gives me one of the kindest smiles I’ll ever remember—“You have a great rest of your day”—and walks on. I’m just bowled over by this woman who will never know I needed her that lonely afternoon as much as she needed me, and as I keep on down Broadway kicking up the trash that whips my way, I feel as though my heart will burst.

There’s a lot of garbage here, but it’s our garbage, our glorious garbage.

I keep returning to a few lines Vonnegut wrote in Breakfast of Champions: “… there is no order in the world around us… we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead. It is hard to adapt to chaos, but it can be done. I am living proof of that: It can be done.” I walk out my front door and into the sea. If I squint just so, this dingy walk-up looks like a palace and I begin to see the unwavering band of light in these my mysterious bedfellows—the stranger who shouted at me on 125th and the stranger who coughed on the back of my head on the A train and the stranger who (I shit you not) threw a muffin at me on the L train and the stranger who marched toward me on 1st Ave wearing nothing but a diaper and a baby mask but maybe that’s just his Tuesday routine and who am I to judge? and the stranger who almost ran over me with his cab and the stranger who almost ran over me with her bike and the stranger who held my hand in complete trust as we crossed mad 14th Street.

 

Brigid Ronan is an emerging writer based in Brooklyn, though she originally hails from Wilmette, Illinois. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, her humor writing has been published by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. This is Brigid’s first time appearing in the Santa Fe Literary Review.

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