I hadn’t realized the extreme to which I had submitted myself until I reached out my hand and stashed it down that garbage pail, looking for something, anything to drink, finally selecting a left over Starbucks tea and quenching my thirst, a little.
Over a month ago i began my “street-bound” project that had the purpose of experiencing life as a street homeless person in the freezing streets of NYC. The first few nights the park benches were my bed, and since the city garbage pails provided almost any craving I might have had, I felt welcomed, cozy and almost contempt. This lasted a short time, that night of the first snow storm I learned this was not adventurous, interesting or challenging. That night I learned it is a rather horrid experience for a person who does not really know anything about homelessness or how to survive in this mighty jungle of concrete. That night, for the first time I headed out to sleeping in the trains.
I managed to sneak in trough the emergency exit, without being seen, and in to a world that was already familiar, and manage to see a whole new side to it. At precisely 3 am everything changed. At first I was alone and fearless, but hour after hour I began to realize that the management did not want me here. Transit worker’s began to push me out of the cars and eventually out of the trains. I kept repeating “This is not my stop”, “you’re violating my rights”, but the replies were always “get out; you can’t stay here” or “it has not been your stop since the last three times we went around”.
After a while I began to notice I wasn’t alone, a crowd of men and women began forming. We were a pack of loners, making our own street-bound family in hopes of not being kicked out, in aspirations of being respected. At first the crowd scared me; some were talking to themselves, screaming, others reeked of alcohol and urine. At moments I felt out-of-place and desperate to return to where I knew I had a warm safe-heaven. But after a while of going in and out of train cars with this self righteous gang I felt, oddly, at home. I never tought a night could be so long, and a train ride across the city so short. About 4 or 5 am I finally fell a sleep.
It should have been eight-ish when I woke up, feeling hungry and confused. The same homely place that I had fallen a sleep a while earlier was now packed with hurried people, school children, newspapers and briefcases, my righteous gang had gone away to places I would never imagine, even if i wanted to. Young people stared at me, others ignore me like if looking away would make me disappear. One or two seemed to look at me with compassion. That was the cue to my exit.
Outside again, this time snow-covered all and everyplace. No where to sit. I went to garbage pails seeking breakfast; this time around not a bite of food had been salvaged. Snow had covered all and every left over bite I could ever manage to get. Now what?
Desperate, cold and hungry I looked refuge in a nearby church. Funny how God is the only direction to run to and know you will not be turned away. Why is that? Lucky me! A food pantry. I entered, hungry, enthused. “Good morning”, this I realized had been the first person in these few weeks to speak to me directly, greet me, talk to me like…like I was still human. “Good morning” i realized my voice was cracking, I realized I had not used my voice in a long time. Last night, It was not me talking to the metro employee, but the voice of rage and fear. “I am hungry, tired, cold.”
The Big Apple managed to provide me with emergency food. A large bag containing onions, carrots, canned goods, milk, bread. All but the bread seemed useless to me, I had no kitchen, no stove, no can opener. I went to the back of the church, were i knew nobody would see me, where no one would bother me. These few weeks humans had become a pest for me. I felt like I belonged to another race, one that became invisible sometimes and visible at others. I devoured a great part of the bread, fast at first, slowly after. Went back inside to use the bathroom, were I washed my face, and when the mirror image of another me stared back, I knew it was time to go home. Now I had a story to tell; I had then become visible.
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”