Unable to reach for the hand sanitizer in my purse, I sat motionless on the crowded bus, pinned between arms and thighs, staring at the sharp teeth of a Russian man’s zipper. The 6 train stopped running. Obama was stumping in midtown. The fury of delayed travelers ascended 86th street, pushing against crowded busses, willing doors to open and bodies to crush onward. Miraculously, I got a seat. With the bus draped over us, we drove on, stronger than gasoline.
Jeffrey sat next to me. He was one of the guys on the street pushing people and yelling and swearing, a mess of tweaky anger. I wondered what would happen if I started talking to this guy. When I introduced myself to him, Jeffrey brightened. It’s been nearly four months since I talked to Jeffrey and then Jasmarie, and as I sink into that July afternoon, I sit in my apartment after a day inside a burgundy sweater, contextualizing those four months in between that bus ride and now with what has passed – the election, illusory love, the hurricane, a successful new project, an accordion player, rocking chairs, cable, a farm wedding, electric blue leggings, and love expanded.
Back in July, Jeffrey was just leaving work, and was on his way home. He works for a company called CEO – Center for Employment Opportunities.
“The 6 train let me down,” Jeffrey said.
“Me, too – I’m running late,” I said.
“Yeah, where you going?”
“Therapy,” I said.
“Oh, head therapy. That’s cool. Everyone needs someone to talk to,” Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey is going home to Jamiaca, Queens. He’s been there all his life. I ask him about his neighborhood.
“What’s it like in the hood? It’s definitely different from anywhere else. It’s ongoing struggle in the neighborhood. It’s kind of rough. People can’t find jobs. You got to survive so you’re going to do whatever it takes to survive. I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret my upbringing. It was good. It’s just the outside influences. The streets. The neighborhood. Your friends. Your neighbors.”
Jeffrey has an empty wine glass in his hands. I ask, “Are you drinking some wine?”
“It’s for my Hennesey later.”
I have no idea what Hennesey is – “What is that?” I asked.
“It’s cognac. Liquor.”
I told him that I don’t drink.
“That’s good. But in my neighborhood you would.”
A woman beside him laughs. People are listening to us. We are sitting on a bus.
He says, “This is my nice little cup that someone gave me at the job.”
“Oh, who gave it to you?” I asked.
“A friend,” he tells me.
“What’s your friend’s name?” I ask.
“Was that a gift?” I asked.
“He gave it to me.”
“That’s really nice of him.” I said.
“I guess you’re right.”
“Have you ever given him a gift?”
“I give him cigarettes,” he says.
“Are you ok that this bus is crowded because Obama’s in town? How do you feel about Obama?” I asked.
“Obama’s cool with me and I’m cool with him. I’ll give him my vote again.”
“What do you think about the state of the country?”
“Ain’t nothing happening that they don’t want to happen. I’ll put it like that. Everything for a reason. It’s already been written.”
“What, if anything, would you like to see changed?” I asked.
“In America? I’d like to see politicians keep their promises so when they say something they do it instead of just telling us.”
“How about you, do you make promises?”
“Only if I can keep it. I don’t want to promise something I may not be able to give.”
“Yeah, it’s integrity. Say you’re going to do something and then do it.” I offer. “Can you tell me about when you were a kid?”
“You psychoanalyzing me?”
Jeffrey told me about his two brothers and one sister. They all live in New York. He sees his sister at least once a week. She’s in the Bronx. He sees his brother every day.
“What does family mean to you?” I asked.
“Family’s everything. Family first.”
“When you were a little boy, where did you hang out, what did you do?”
“What stop is this? 60th? Alright. Right around the corner from my block they had a play street where they blocked the streets off and you could play skully.”
“Skully?” I ask, perplexed. I don’t think he’s referring to The X-Files.
“You put numbers on the square and you pluck numbers into the square. First box, second box. Thirteen boxes. Hopscotch. For about two blocks. There was a lot of kids.”
“You must have met a woman eventually.” I probe.
“Where’d you meet Melanie?”
“I met Melanie in a Chinese restaurant. I was standing there. She was ordering. I liked what I saw. She had a baby with her. I asked her if there was a husband to go with that family, and she said – no. I took her out for her birthday our first date. Her birthday was March 7th.”
Jeffrey had two kids with Melanie.
“I’m single now, by choice. For me, it’s good to be single because I’m not ready for a commitment. How is this interview going?” he asked.
“It’s going great. Thank you.”
“At least you got something.”
“She’s got a story to tell.” He looks playfully at the woman who sat down at the other side of me – I think we both could tell that she’d been listening in..
“No I don’t actually,” she says.
“Everyone’s got a story to tell,” Jeffrey says.
“I do have stories to tell,” she says
I asked her if we could talk, and she says – “Sure.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“I never heard that – it’s a beautiful name.” says Jeffrey
“That’s Jeffrey, and I’m Jessica,” I tell her.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To the end of the world,” she says. Jeffrey laughs. “I don’t know – wherever I can catch a train. I’m supposed to be headed to Brooklyn.”
“What are you going to do there?” I asked.
“Just chill,” she says.
She looks at me. “You’re funny. I’ve been watching the questions you’ve been asking. Have you taken psychology classes?”
“I can tell.”
“Have you taken psychology classes?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she says.
“What are you interested in?”
“Medical examining, poetry, and music,” she says.
I love this combination. I ask Jasmarie what she writes.
“I’m a revolutionary writer.” Jasmarie said.
Jeffrey runs out at 59th street. As he runs out the door we yell back and forth how cool this was and where he can find my blog, and then he’s gone.
“When did you start writing poetry?” I asked Jasmarie.
“Long time ago.”
“How old are you?” I asked.
“I was going to college but I dropped out because it was boring.”
“What was boring about it?”
“I don’t think they ever gave me the real liberty to think for myself. They actually just trained me to think what they wanted me to think. I don’t like that. That’s not my kind of party. Prior to you teaching me what you want me to know, I’ve already drawn a thousand conclusions. I’m an observer. I was listening to you and the way you asked questions was hilarious. You entertain and then you break apart.”
I’m not used to people observing me. I entertain? Then I break apart? I explain myself a little: “I want to get somewhere real with someone, and you can’t always get there with a stranger on the street or on a bus. We’re all human, but we can block ourselves off in public spaces. We can make people objects.” I said.
Today I struggled on my subway ride home. I didn’t like it when a woman who shared a pole with me let her leather jacket brush my arm from Fulton Street to 42nd Street. I couldn’t move. I vacillated between feeling angry at being treated like an expendable arm in someone’s way and thinking that we are beautiful spirits wearing jackets that sometimes touch each other.
Jasmarie says, “That’s funny that you say that because if you asked me a question about that, that’s what my answer would sound like. I find these days that as I block myself from the world, the little interaction I do have with people is at a soul level, which is very strange. When you open your eyes, you’ll be amazed by what you can hear and see. When you get the facts of the conversation it’s better than listening to the bullshit all the time. That’s what I’m reaching to. I’ll tell you, all my friends – I don’t talk to them. There’s nothing in common anymore. When you start purifying yourself from the inside out, what they’re saying doesn’t make sense.”
“How are you purifying yourself?” I asked.
“Getting rid of the thoughts that used to plague me that added no value to my spirit.”
“Thoughts such as…”
“The media, the latest fashion, that kind of stuff. I’ve been writing since I was really young. Sometimes I didn’t understand the things that I wrote. It was almost like I was a vessel for something greater and not until I got older did I start finding myself again within my own voice, which is crazy. I found that the truth that I was looking for – I knew it all along.”
“What are some of the things you write about?”
“The lies, deception, the mask that people put on. Deficiencies that I see in other people.”
“Is it based on your personal experiences?”
“What I see, what I experience, what I learned, and mainly learning from what I used to be and now that I’ve let go of certain things. I compare the two, and I find I’m more free when I don’t care what my hair looks like. You know what I mean? It’s little things. You wake up and just be you. If you is not good enough for the world – then so be it. Even adults have to face that. There’s so many people who want to keep up with the Jones’s. It makes no sense to me. I understand we live in a society where we have to work, but in my perfect world I would depend on barter and trade. Because people use their talents and everybody’s happy.”
I like this idea of barter and trade. I have thought hard about bartering pedicures with friends.
Jasmarie said, “If you give a child a coloring book, you teach him to conform. If you give him a blank piece of paper, you give him endless possibilities. That’s what I thought about. My thing is – I love the medical field – but I still love art, all sorts of music, all sorts of art. To be in a state of mind where you can produce things, do you know the value of that? It makes me so happy. I have a lot of friends who are poets and spoken word artists, and the formation of their words is just so amazing. How do they come up with things like this? It just baffles me.”
“Do you feel like your family understands you?”
“Definitely. You know there is always the black sheep. The beauty of that is that you are the one who defies expectations.”
“Is that you?”
“All the time. Ever since I can remember. My aunt used to say – you know more than a pencil. I don’t march to their beat at all. Their beat is the same old sad song. Conforming to the ways of people around them. Trying to fit in. Go along to get along. I’m not like that. They sit down and gossip. They eat their lives away with unhealthy food. I’m nothing like that. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m finding greater joy and peace in helping people. I went to Florida. I really went out there on a limb. I had no family there. I took my suitcase, and I was like – I’m out, I don’t need to be here. I received a call from a friend and they said I have family there and you can stay with them. Cool. A week or two later I go to the beach, and I kinda took the wrong bus and ended up not in Miami Beach but elsewhere. I go in front of McDonalds, and there’s this guy there, and you know how you get this feeling that you’re supposed to talk to someone – you have a message to give but you don’t know exactly what. I started talking to him. I knew he was homeless. I hung out with him the whole day. Hours prior when I did reach the beach, I was talking to God – I was like – I want a husband that’s good and all this other cute stuff that I was asking for. So I was sitting in front of the McDonalds talking to this guy about keeping his head up, and this Indian guy comes out of nowhere. He’s like, ‘Eh, my friend.’ I was like, ‘Who are you?’ He’s like, ‘Do I know you?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ He says, ‘You’re from New York, right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he just starts talking to me. He says come here, I have something to tell you. ‘Fortune teller, 20 dollars.’ I was like ‘I don’t have no money for you.’ So he says fine, he pulls me to the side and says, ‘You’re going to have a husband, and culture isn’t going to matter. And one day you’re not going to work for anyone, someone is going to work for you.’ It’s funny because he almost answered all of the questions I had asked God earlier. It served as confirmation that I was where I was supposed to be. Now that I look back, I really honestly believe that the whole purpose for me going down there was just for that guy. I bought him food. I spent the whole day with him. When I left him in the nighttime, he looked at me with those don’t go eyes. It was a lesson I learned to not only give without judgment, but to be open. I could have told that Indian guy to go away. It was almost as if he was looking for me. There’s no accidents. You can’t tell me that certain things aren’t real.”
“What is your relationship with God?”
“God is everything that sounds, everything that is. It is God, it is me, it is you, it’s all one thing. We collectively as the people form the body of God. That’s why it’s so important that we become one with each other as human beings, because once we create that body again, we would become an incredible force. This society does the divide and conquer thing. How can you divide something that is ultimately supposed to be together? If you think of humans, they’re all DNA cells that multiply, rejuvenate, and die, and they come above again. It’s really strange that we have to be so separate. In my poems, I write that. “I spend more time being you, speaking like him, and loving like her.”
“Can I take a picture of you?” I ask.
“Sure, let’s take a picture together.”
As we got up, eyes followed us out the door onto 14th Street. We hugged. I went to therapy. Jasmarie sent me this, a piece she wrote:
This dedicated for the mentally medicated for those who abandoned the real meanin their hearts perpetrated this is for the faithful faithless for those whose hearts face is mutilated for those who ride on the back of hatred for those who forgot god consciousness and in the process defecated on their soul with no redemption or feelings of disasterness,,, this is for spiritual strangulation for those whose mind lies in detention push down by this fake nation,,, for those whose philosophy is such catastrophe wake up and see what u r doing to we. the fumes you breathe hurt u emotionally so you become motionless full o stress to ur past u regress with many regrets. this is for those who buried their voice and instead synchronize with a technological demise that keeps them brain dead and doesn’t allow them to rise,,, this is for u, ur friend and that guy,,, please people open ur eyes….see you follow empty words or should I say killing swords that were only used by those who u crowned as lords…please people open your eyes sooner or later you will realize ur demise please my brother and my sister plse rise,, utilize the sacredness between ur brow it’s ur heaven to the truth open your books now,,, notes to take changes to make the perfect ascension waiting at hand loose ends to mend can u over stand open ur eyes I’m sure you can I’m asking you to extend ur hand on behalf Of the fallen men
I love what Jasmarie shared with me. We are writers.