I moved to Brooklyn Heights when I was 17. I was enrolled for the summer introduction course for the New York Conservatory for the Dramatic Arts until I started classes in the fall. This was the plan since I was ten years old. Showing up, suitcase in hand and a dream in my heart. The city I found was a Wonderland of sorts. But here I was, this naiive kid straight out of a tiny ultra conservative boarding school in the middle of nowhere – I had little to none life experience – most all of what I did know I had read in books. (As an adult I now know that you don’t ever truly understand or know something until you experience it. You cannot get experience or a full education from a book.) I remember my mother worried, as mothers often do, that something horrendous was bound to happen to me in the city.
“Don’t ever go off alone. People are crazy. People are cruel.” she would call and tell me at least twice a week on the phone. As a teenager I suffered from long bouts of depression. My life had this unexplained lonesome and longing quality about it. I had friends, I had family…..and yet felt a constant disconnection from the world and even from myself. I had shown self destructive and self harming behaviors and suicidal tendacies since age 12. (Has taken years of therapy grow through that) At the time, my well being and safety – at 17/18 – was not something in which I particularly concerned myself. My mental health is what clouded my experience living in the city , (As everything else), so I don’t remember a whole lot from that time. But I wasn’t afraid living in NYC, and I distinctly remember feeling safe even if I wasn’t exactly sure why.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve been back. I haven’t been back not because of a lack of desire or any disdain for the city itself, quite the opposite. After I had left the city back then I came back home to that ultra conservative town and back to an area that is predominately white. The biggest trauma and physical abuse I encountered was not in some dark alley deep in the city but in a close friends’ home on Sunday afternoon. I suppose in order to distance and heal myself, I lumped my time in the city with that time in my life. After seeing people vote for Trump and support Trump, I have seen and encountered more casual and active racism in my hometown. Very current events, too, have taken the masks away in the local theater community as people whom I have worked with, and those I’ve never met, aggressively defended racial practices. I have had this heaviness around me as of late.
This past weekend I went back to NYC to catch a show for my birthday. I feel invigorated and light. I feel more free and more myself. I understand now what I didn’t know then. The city is a place where I don’t stand out. On the bustling streets I am no longer an anomaly. I was never the only POC in any given room. Maybe this seems slight, and honestly it’s not something I dwell on or consciously am aware of all the time. Being brown in a small white town has somewhat become part of my identity, it has become my normal. The city is one place where my hair and skin are not the most obvious things about me, and it no longer are something to separate me from the whole. I can get lost in a crowd. I do not stand out. I am not alone. I am not a target. I am no longer separate from the whole. I am not alone. I am not alone.