I lie on my back staring at the baskets of ferns hanging above me. This is typical of how I spend time before class starts. Vines connect the individual fern baskets, giving the appearance that the plants are holding hands. The connecting vines transform the singular plants into one sizable organism. Perhaps this is supposed to be symbolic of yoga: individuals coming together to form one cohesive entity. Staring up at the drooping ferns, I wonder who is responsible for watering and trimming them, and if they ever drip onto the bodies below. Yoga to the People is precisely as obnoxious as the show Broad City satirizes. A guy unrolls his mat next to me wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs so tiny they could make a European blush. I own larger pairs of underwear. Over the past 12 months, I’ve spent more time in close proximity to half-naked men than I have in the last 10 years combined. A young woman to my left rolls out her mat and begins arranging a collection of amethyst crystals into a shape that isn’t quite a pentagram. Watching her line up the purple stones and snap her hair into a perfect Ariana Grande ponytail makes me feel old, and gives me a better understanding of why people are always hating on millennials. Knowing I left my collection of crystals at home on my dresser, like a decent human, momentarily causes me to feel superior. I close my eyes and try focusing on the island that is my mat. Taking a deep breath, I attempt to be present in my skin, feel rooted through my body, and melt into the floor. “The mat will hold you,” I say repetitively as I push all of the air out of my lungs. This is phrase teachers frequently say, and I want to believe it. Being held is an intoxicating notion that I’m currently having trouble trusting. “The mat will hold you,” I say again to myself, trying to sink a little deeper into my skin. Everything in the studio is ostentatiously hipster, but I continue showing up for classes in an attempt to make peace with my mind and body. It’s been a difficult task, finding comfort in myself, since the assault.
Over a year ago, I left a neighborhood bar blacked-out and full of rage over nothing in particular. It was simply one of those times where drinking flipped on my internal indignant switch and transformed me into the person I hate most. This woman is hostile, loud, and has little concern for the feelings of others. She picks nonsensical arguments and fantasizes about self-destruction. Like Mariah Carey once said, “I don’t know her.” This particular night wasn’t on the path to ending well to begin with, but it should have only taken 10 minutes to walk home. Events are blurred, but I did have an encounter with a man, which caused my journey home to take much longer than anticipated. In my high school driver’s ed course, I learned that the majority of car accidents occur in close proximity to the driver’s home. I wonder if this fact holds true for human collisions.
Prior to the assault, I had spent numerous evenings eating pizza and happily drinking (or sometimes ragefully drinking) at this bar. It was a favorite spot due to its spacious outdoor seating, rotating menu of homemade pastas, and lack of people. The place was never filled to more than half capacity. It also used to be a favored destination due to its convenient location. This bar is fixed at the center of almost everything in my neighborhood, which has made the past year complicated. Every day I’m forced to pass this street in order to catch the L train and commute my body to its various responsibilities. My wife and I have to travel past it during our Saturday morning ritual of dog walking and coffee drinking. Further, our dog expects to be taken to McCarren Dog Run at least once a week, which also requires a stroll by the street of the crime. McCarren Dog Run is a park where dogs can feign independence, and I can actively engage or avoid human contact, depending on the day’s disposition. In this sacred space, zealous dog parents have the option to chatter ad nauseam about their pet, free from judgment. The park acts as a safe zone to let your embarrassing dog flag fly. I once looked a man dead in the face and uttered the sentence, “I’m worried he’s getting tired of watching Food Network during the day.” The man I spoke with had the utmost respect for my concern and added his own similar worry, telling me that he rotates dog walkers, not knowing which one his pup likes best.
I don’t have to cross this particular street to board the G train or make a trip to the grocery store. However, I am forced to walk passed my neighborhood police station where I reported my assault and had an unfortunate encounter with a less than empathic female officer. My brain is stamped with the meticulous details of her disorganized workspace and the hardness of the chair I sat in while we spoke. Her desk appeared exactly how I imagined a police officer’s desk to look: stacked high with papers and overflowing with file folders, a computer 10 years too old, and a coffee mug half full. I sat and faced her while she stared at a computer screen and typed. Her knees, the only part of her body turned in my direction, almost touched mine. I ruminate about our conversation more than I would like to, especially on tough days.
She probably doesn't recall, but I fumbled through my words as I explained to her what happened to me the previous night. Compulsively, I rubbed my eyebrows in an attempt to self soothe. “Why didn't you call 9-1-1 right away?” were the first words she spoke to me after I finished stammering through my account of the night.
This question caused my stomach to flip the way stomachs do when you assume you’ve disappointed someone or botched something important. I didn't have the energy to let her know that I hadn’t originally planned on telling anyone what had happened to me the night before. Calling 9-1-1 did not float through my mind as I hid in a driveway at 2 A.M. waiting until it felt safe to walk the rest of the way home. That night, in the moment, I assumed my experience was karmic retribution for a lifetime's worth of self-destructive behavior and hurting those around me. My brain couldn’t arrange the words to let her know that asking people for help isn't always readily available in my repertoire of self-help skills. She probably doesn’t remember what I mumbled next, and neither do I. I looked at the door and wanted to walk out, but my body remained seated, compliant, and in place.
"Is it possible he was trying to help you up?" she asked me after I explained to her that I had been drinking. My eyes watered and stung for a moment before my mind stopped operating. I retreated inside myself for the remainder of the interview. As she jotted down my case notes I watched the ink move across the page and remembered the feeling of an unwanted weight on top of me and the overwhelming silence that filled me despite wanting to scream. My mind recalled the choppy sounds of my own breath and the steady bouncing of my backpack against me as I ran. I didn’t say any of this out loud to her. The thoughts didn’t feel like they would be significant, and I couldn’t catch a hold of the words to form a sentence. Was he trying to help you? This phrase echoes loudest in my mind on difficult days.
“Look at her,” my wife said defensively as I had stopped speaking. “Look at her wrist, and legs, and her back.”
I mumbled to her about having papers from the hospital and noting that the street probably had cameras that someone could check.
While she continued to speak and write, I stared at the slight bruise on my left wrist. Throughout the next few weeks, my shins turned from scabs to scars, while the bruises on my lower back and wrist turned from purple, to yellow, and finally back to unmarked skin. Over time, my superficial wounds have healed, but I often wish I still had my bruises and scabs to look at. Losing them makes feeling awful less concrete.
The officer doesn’t know that a few months after we spoke, I saw a flyer put up by the police department on the corner of Union Avenue and Grand Street. The paper caught my attention from across the street, and although I couldn’t read the words from where I stood, I saw the photo and immediately knew what it said. Standing fixed on the street corner; I read the flyer through at least twenty times as the neighborhood bumped into me hurrying through their morning commutes. Touching the paper, I contemplated taking it down. An inclination to call the station and see if the flyer was connected to my interview briefly filled me. It felt related. The description of this man’s actions and photos matched my foggy impression of him. I didn’t have the name of the officer or my case number and assumed no one at the station would remember me, so I never called.
Our community fire station stands next door to the police department. I often see the men buying groceries together and waving at small children who are impressed by their gear. Seeing the fire fighters shop as a cohort makes my insides gooey and provides some insight into the feelings of straight women. As I watch the firefighters, I’m reminded that places and people can feel good.
In an effort to further expand this idea and reclaim my physical space, I started taking rambling neighborhood walks. Similar to yoga, I try to stay present in my body and feel the street beneath my feet. While walking, I have discovered the incredible city sunsets of late August and early September. Although I had seen them on Instagram hundreds of times before, I couldn’t believe the colors they produced IRL. I’ve collected new favorite sounds, like the rhythmic sweeping of Italian grandparents clearing their sidewalks of fallen leaves and the clinking of tiles produced by street corner games of Dominos. When Hasidic families routinely shut their gates as my dog and I walk closer to their homes, I try not to take offense, reminding myself it’s probably nothing personal. The adults look away, but the kids, who are typically wearing matching outfits, reach out their tiny hands saying, “Kelev, Kelev, Kelev.” We smile at each other, and my dog bounces over to be pet. Dogs and children have no concern for social constructs.
During my walks, I’ve inched my way closer to the bar, which has since been converted into a coffee shop. My wife went in once and decided we didn’t need to go back. Apparently, the interior hasn’t changed enough in appearance or smell. The physical space of our neighborhood has been difficult for her, too. I keep edging forward towards this particular spot in a need to regain mastery of it. When I walk I can’t decide if Brooklyn has broken me or saved me. I remind myself that a person, not a place, hurt me and that I was a little broken to begin with. These streets will hold you, if you let them, I repeat to myself.
top photo: Andrii Nikolaienko/Pexels Creative Commons
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Samantha is the author of Putting Out: Essays on Otherness. She regularly contributes to BUST. Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org