It was a torqued-brain day. This is different than a code-red day: I wasn’t at maximum anxiety, only slightly breathless and jumpy. The excess nervous energy twisted the grey mass behind my eyes only slightly. The flood of excess stress hormone in my system is less, but still gives me a dull, insistent headache like a hangover. Aspirin doesn’t help; neither does lots of water with lemon. The deep breathing and back-off-the-edge self-talks Dr. Berger has taught me weren’t working. I was buzzing with agitation. Definitely not a good day to encounter hipster pricing for a 10-ounce coffee.
I should have known better, but torqued brain impairs my judgment. Café Haute had that look about it: Pannini – Focaccia – Cappuccino stenciled in AR Bonnie font on the large windows. Café tables with earth-toned tops, and chairs with steaming-coffee-cup cut-outs on the backs that reminded me of furniture in the Bed, Bath and Beyond catalogs that arrive weekly in my mailbox addressed to “Our Friends.” Michael Buble was on the sound system, singing an oldie made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes, Hoboken’s son. I should have walked out. Definitely when the woman behind the counter told me there were no bagels and tried to tempt me with “yummy goodies from Amy’s Breads.” I cut her off because yeah, I knew it’s a shop in Chelsea in New York City.
I’m originally from out of state. New York state, across the river. Born and raised in NYC, to be exact. The woman behind the counter didn’t know any of that. I likely looked like just another local creative type: funky with my ‘fro and patterned cross-body bag, contemplating Ethiopian or Costa Rican, mid-afternoon on a weekday. I paid the three-dollar penance for my cranky torqued-brain thoughts, and listened to the real Frank sing about making it in New York, New York while I sat by the window at the corner of Monroe and Second Streets in his New Jersey hometown.
I watched the lanky bearded crossing guard outside, and the passing community bikes and Verizon and Comcast vans. Two kids from the projects ran up along Monroe and stopped right in front of the window. Listen to me: “kids from the projects.” Because they were black and the projects were just around the block and they weren’t wearing uniform blazers or dress code slacks like the kids at the private and charter schools—at least the kids who actually attend school in their zip code. The girl’s natural hair wasn’t a statement other than she didn’t treat or set it, nor had bothered with it that morning.
This girl and the boy were less than five feet from me, they on the street and me on the cafe chair with my fair-trade brew. They laughed. I knew it was at whatever they’d been yelling to each other as they ran along Monroe, but the sound torqued my brain. The kids were brash, bold enough to claim wherever they stood as theirs. They didn’t look the types to exit their squat public housing building every morning and cross immediately to the not-project side of the street. I imagined they wouldn’t take shit from anyone who would tell them they didn’t belong on the non-project side of the world or from anyone on their block who might taunt them or say they thought they were too good for the projects. Those kids walked where they wanted, ran if they felt like it, and laughed in the street right in front of me. They weren’t torque-brained. I envied them.
They didn’t even see me, as they stood out there on the street right in front of me. Those kids from the projects. It takes one to know one. If they had looked at me, would they have seen through my empowerment-statement natural hair and boho chic, ethnic look? Could they have known that I know their life because I recognize it in the past I left across the Hudson? I wondered about that as they caught their breath and, suddenly, took off running.
I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time and finally exhaled.
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