The Nature of Home

There’s something special about getting off a plane in your hometown.

I traveled quite a bit this summer (at least, for someone who maintains a 9 to 5 job). The month of May kicked off with a 9-day family trip through the highlights of Italy: We took a gondola through Venice, tasted homegrown olive oil in Tuscany, and sat silent under the beauty of the Sistine Chapel.

There were also quick trips. We traveled to Wisconsin’s Door County with my husband’s family for a long weekend in August. The bunch of us snacked on cheese curds and explored quaint towns along Lake Michigan’s coast. The water comes right up to the Nugent’s cottage, so we grilled steaks and sipped whiskey while listening to the waves crash on the shore. My personal highlight? One morning, we went to a Swedish restaurant that employs four (live!) goats to sit on their sod roof and chew grass all day.

But as I said, there’s something special about getting off a plane in your hometown. And that’s what I did this past weekend.

As a child, the smell of Virginia must have been engrained into my mind. When the plane door opens, and I step foot into the makeshift walkway leading us to the airport gate, something deeply innate is always triggered. I am home, and there is no escaping the word.

New York is also my home.
Yes, you may have more than one.

After eight years of subway navigating, and hustling for a paycheck, and finding secret bars, and sucking up every culture and every type of food there is imaginable—I know where I find joy. It’s on a deserted street with a group of friends while we scream the lyrics to our favorite songs. It’s in a dark hotel bar. It’s on the rooftops of a Brooklyn apartment. It’s in one of the world’s top museums, or in the belly of the Broadway district on a Tuesday night when the rest of the world is thinking about work the next day, but we’re sneaking into a show and then hitting up the piano bar downtown. My New York Neverland is a bustling paradise that cannot be untangled from my city-loving soul.

But sometimes, I want to walk through grass without wearing shoes.
Or ride bikes to the river during golden hour.
Or not wear makeup—and let the salty, humid air style my unruly hair.  

“Dad, I need another bowl of butter!” We were cracking a bushel of 84 crabs in the backyard of my parent’s river house. Newspapers had been laid out over the table, and citronella candles burned as Mom dispersed Old Bay-doused shrimp to a dozen of us. The cicadas were making their summertime noise, and our dogs circled around the table looking for scraps. I’d already dissected six crustaceans and was about to smash the seventh to pieces. This task demands a knife, melted butter, a bowl of water to wash the “dead man” off, and some well-trained hands.

In this moment, it was my hands that struck me.

They moved quickly and without thought: Pull off the crab legs. Open the top shell and remove all the junk. Dunk ‘em in water; split him into two pieces and pick, pick, pick…

Inherent motions.
Hand movements that wait in the back of my brain to occasionally be released.
And then there’s that sweet smell of summer in Virginia, and the sounds of my family laughing around a table full of food.
Home.

I know I am lucky to have a place where I come from—and to have a growing list of "homes," including my husband’s childhood towns.

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It is New York City that never ceases to make me feel like I’m always on the cusp of the next, great anything. I feed off of its collective energy, like a true extrovert. But, we all have nostalgic places that let us slip into our most comfortable “at ease” selves. And something inside of us yearns for a visit to those sacred locations every now and again—perhaps to "reboot," or to seek a peaceful moment.

Virginia is one of those places for me. 


We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.
— Henry David Thoreau

A Midsummer Night's Nostalgia

I am running. 

We’re in a field and the sunlight sprinkles my auburn hair, lighting it on fire. The neighbor’s unkempt flowers are crushed beneath our feet and dust gets kicked up from your bike. We’re about to go—I don’t remember where—but it doesn’t matter because going anywhere is enough and the thought of it all makes me giddy. 

I am climbing. 

Up the electrical box, over the old bowling alley’s wall, and onto the roof where our small view of our small town is all we could know or want. And it’s perfect when it begins to rain. The humid mist makes the empty parking lot look like a scene from a movie. We all scream in delight as water rushes over our dirty feet. But getting off the roof is hard. I fall from the sky to the ground and it hurts. You try to catch me, which is kind. (You always try to catch me.) Maybe we’re not invincible—but then again, that theory still needs testing. 

I am dancing. 

We’re in a backyard somewhere near the beach—the air tastes salty, like the sweat dripping off of all of us. There is music, and laughter, and a late, loud night that leads to a quiet sunrise. You hold my hand for longer than you should, but I don’t mind. We always love the people that will leap with us—to where, it doesn’t matter because, as I’ve already told you, anywhere is enough. 

I am walking. 

I love meandering through the East Village, and you don’t mind because it makes me smile. We get an egg cream from the old bodega on St. Marks and eat oysters for dinner. It’s humid and the apartment doesn’t have AC but you sit with me anyways because it feels nice to be still with somebody. I stare at your eyelashes while you take a nap, and I smile at the little golden strands that catch the light. 

I am crying. 

It’s early in the season but too warm, so my hair is pulled into a ponytail. I walk on 7th Street, unaware of what is lurking. The darkness suddenly grabs at my cotton dress and I scream over and over again. Police lights come twelve minutes later, and then I see the cold face that felt nothing. You comfort me as I sip on a soda at 3 am, and I hold your pinky finger while the detective asks questions about that walk home. It seems we are not invincible, after all. 

I am smiling.

I am walking toward you; you’re the one that I adore. It smells like roses, and there’s a line of mud on the hem of my dress. The air is heavy with Virginia's humidity. My spirit leaves my body for a moment and dances in the summer air, like a lightning bug in June. I am jealous of my own joy; I want to keep the moment in my pocket and pull it out to watch it again, and again, and again. But the sun sets, and we must move forward, forever altered. Where we go, it’s unknown, but going anywhere is enough.

I am summer. 

There’s a shade of pink only New York summers know. The color illuminates the countless brick buildings of our city, turning even a dingy facade into something briefly ethereal. Rose-tinted hues reflect off of thousands of glass windows in a display of blinding brilliance, right at the cusp of darkness. But even the light is not invincible to the night that swallows it. Still, each morning, she persists.

I am old. 

I don’t know if I’m alone—or maybe I’m with you? The end feels very much like the beginning, so I’m told. Ah, but it’s all the little bits in between... the dirty feet, the lightning bugs, the anywhere we went—the anywhere we’re going. 

And that vibrant shade of pink. 

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And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Wedding Video

It's here! Josh from WhiteFlair Productions just sent us our finished wedding film. I so enjoyed reliving this incredible day and listening to my dad's loving speech. Also, the dance party: I hope you find your sweating, happy faces in the crowd! ;) 

Thank you again to everyone who helped make this day possible. We love our wonderful community to the moon and back. 

Our Wedding: The Highlights

Weddings are notorious for whirling by in a blur—you plan all year for an event, and then it’s over in a matter of hours. So on the plane ride to our honeymoon destination, I jotted down a few moments that stood out in my brain before they disappeared forever and become an inaccurate memory.

Here are the highlights of our wedding week, from my perspective and in no particular order. I am obviously missing many other narratives, but I hope these quick tidbits will serve as a happy (and at time, hilarious) reminder of what happened on June 17th, 2017.

All of the below photos were snapped by the talented Katelyn James Alsop.


Remember on wedding day...

…when the electricity was flickering off and on in the Berkeley Plantation's sitting room as a thunderstorm rolled through the area. I wondered aloud if this meant the power was also going off in the ceremony and reception tents. Every bridesmaid said, "Noooooo!" in perfect unison. Turns out, the power was going off in the tents—but it was better that I didn’t know.

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…when Ryan first saw me in my wedding dress, and we had a beautiful moment to ourselves.

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…when it started raining while the bridesmaids and I were doing our portraits, so we ran for cover. The girls tried to stuff me into the gift shop, but in the process Grace cut her finger and started bleeding. Meanwhile, I slipped on my dress and was about to face plant onto the ground, when Groomsman Phil screamed, "Briiiiiiiide!" and caught me just in time.

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…when during the ceremony Father Jimmy kept trying to make us hold hands, but we were so sweaty and really just wanted to swat the bugs off our faces.

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…when pregnant Bridesmaid Kelsey fainted during the ceremony, most likely because it felt like 120 degrees under the tent. She was OK after some fanning and water!

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…when the bridesmaids, Dad, and I screamed “Sound of Music” songs before we walked down the aisle. (Video, below.) 

…when some of the groomsman and wedding guests took a quick dip in the James River. 

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…when Leiv handed me a shot of tequila before the ceremony, as the thunderstorm roared on.

… when the drizzle stopped just as the bridesmaids were walking down the aisle. We all tossed our umbrellas over the hedge at the last second. The rain began again after Dad and I entered the tent. The momentary reprieve was a little blessing.

…when Suzanne, Kathryn, Grace, Mom and I sang "Going to the Chapel" on the car ride from the hotel to the plantation. Looking back, there was a lot singing at this wedding.

…when Kelsey and Ryan Webb nailed their rehearsal dinner speech by creating a pretend app called the Brit Fit (not to be confused with a Fit Bit). The app would let my husband-to-be know when I'm getting antsy, among other facts to assist with my quirky ways. 

…when the Nugent men all teared up during their brilliant and well-thought out toasts.

…when Dad made everybody cry during his speech at the wedding. 

…when the Nugent, Fitzgerald, Lombardi, and Roberts families were all honored at dinner. The silver centerpieces on the tables were cherished heirlooms, mostly from our grandparents' collections. Lore, Mom, and my florist were so helpful in making this vision come to life.

…when my sisters gave the perfect speech. I felt so loved by the people who know me best.

…when Harlan picked up Mom on the dance floor and threw her over his shoulder so she was essentially crowd surfing. 

…when the Polaroid photo booth idea actually worked.

…when the wedding coordinator whispered into her walkie-talkie, "Bride and groom's plates, still full." Then she and the caterer brought out more food and basically made us promise we’d eat it.

…when Dad and I danced to Barbra’s "Happy Days are Here Again." It was the live version of the song, so there was tons of applause on the track. People must have thought the applause was all coming from the tent, so they gave us a standing ovation! We also did an impromptu kick line and I hope it was documented on video somewhere.

… when the New York girls tossed me in the air on the dance floor. I remember looking down at Sarah and Chinae. They were surrounded by my huge dress and using every muscle in their bodies to keep me afloat—but both were still smiling.

…when some of our friends and family wore trash bags from the bus while running to the ceremony tent. Most also abandoned their shoes as the rain came down. (Sorry, my dears. You all still looked stunning.)

…when I tried to quietly sneak into my hotel room after being at the Tobacco Company Bar until 2 a.m. the night before the wedding. Suddenly, I heard from the darkness, "Britney Fitzgerald, I cannot believe you are just getting home." My sister Grace was tucked in bed and laughing at me. 

…when we spent two days putting together welcome bags and favor boxes with the whole Fitzgerald-Spicer Clan the week of the wedding. Copious amounts of wine made it worth our time. 

…when we played hard on Thursday night at Casa Del Barco. There were definitely some parent tequila shots. 

…when we had to make about six rain plans the week of the wedding, due to one tent being too small and a 100% chance of scattered showers. 

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…when Ryan and I took a moment to observe the celebration from afar while holding hands and smiling. 

… when the CNU crew waited 10 minutes to take a picture with me (unbeknownst to them, I’d gone to the restroom). I felt so loved by longtime, loyal friends.

…when shirtless Karl and Dylan had a dance off to Britney Spears’ "Toxic." 

… when Photographer Katelyn hesitantly walked over to Ryan and I at dinner. She said, "So I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you this. And you don’t have to, but… there is actually a sunset. I know we weren't planning on doing sunset photos because of the rain. But I thought I’d let you know..." Ryan and I agreed to take a few more photos. KK became super excited, and we ran together through the tent to catch the glowing light just in time. 

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… when Uncle Michael spun me around the dance floor, like a true professional. The full circumference of my dress was finally captured!

…when one of our guests told us that she never once used the restroom trailer and peed in the woods all night. I later found out she was not the only one to do so.

…when everyone sang “New York, New York” as Ryan and I exited the venue through a tunnel of sparklers. I almost cried as the faces of loved ones in the crowd glowed in laughter. It was a cinematic moment that felt like a proper end to the evening.


One of my favorite takeaways from this whole experience is that you all have memories, too. Every person I’ve spoken with post-wedding has told me a hilarious, insane, or perfectly lovely anecdote about their time in Richmond, Virginia. Thank you for turning our special day into a story—there were so many tales of adventure, love, and sacrifice.

And that is the best gift we could ever receive. 

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Source: britney-fitzgerald.com

Salty Eyelashes

“Bye, love you.”

I had just left my youngest sister a voicemail while walking from the Astor Place subway to my apartment in the East Village. I was wearing my summer uniform, which consisted of a floral dress and a beige backpack. My hair was pulled into a ponytail with two bobby pins. It was a warm June night, and I rejoiced in the perfection that is New York City on the cusp of summer.

I turned left onto 7th Street and walked by my old church. Next, I passed McSorley's, an ancient Irish pub where you only order “dark or light” beer. Their motto until the 1970s was, "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies." You can still order half a raw onion and a sleeve of saltines with the cheese platter.

As I walked down the street, I felt something poke my rear. I was passing a group of well-manicured bushes and assumed a twig had gotten caught on my dress. I took a few more steps, and then felt a human finger very precisely poke me once again. This time I turned around, expecting to see my roommate or another friend who lived on the block.

Whoosh.
His outstretched arms tightly encircled me.
We were face to face, breathing the same air. 
For a brief second I could see his eyes.
And then I understood.

“HELP, HELP, HELP, HELP.”

I was screaming like I’d been stabbed—but maybe I was about to be? Over and over and over again I said the words, “Help! Help me!” My vocal chords strained into a sound I’d never heard before. I was having an out-of-body experience, focusing on the frantic tone of my own voice. It seemed so animalistic. Was this little girl having a panic attack? I could tell she couldn’t breathe very well. Her arms were flailing, but it all seemed useless. Bruises were forming on her upper arms. Our protagonist in the floral dress was being crushed like a butterfly in a closing fist.

“You know what I want.”

I flew back into my body the moment he spoke, and this is what I saw: There was a man in a blue polo shirt, a dark jacket, and jeans now holding both my arms with one hand. They were bent in a painfully awkward position.

His other hand was on my knee.
Now on my lower thigh.
Now on my upper thigh.
His hand was on a place no stranger’s hand should be.

As he groped for more, I blessed the bicycle shorts I wear under all my dresses. The assaulter’s hand reached the most intimate part of my body, but he became confused—the bicycle shorts were not part of his ill-conceived plan.

In second one of his hesitation, I remembered what my mother used to say when we were children: “Never go anywhere with someone, no matter what. You won’t come back.” In second two of his hesitation, I remembered what a college friend named Kaitlin Mahoney once said in regards to getting assaulted: “Go limp; fall to the floor. Relax every muscle.”

I slowly maneuvered the groper and myself into the street, knowing that I’d have a better chance of being spotted. As he attempted to finish what he’d started, I shut down every muscle in my body and collapsed toward the pavement. I stared at the ground, mentally visualizing myself melting into the cool black asphalt. I pictured magnets attached to my arms and legs, pulling me down, down, down.  Oddly, I felt a death-like peace.  

He held my body for a moment, but my weight made him stagger. As he began to drop me, he squeezed my arms tighter. I played dead. My left cheek was now pressed into the gravel. But I peered down the road, and there in the distance were shadowy legs walking hesitantly toward me. If I could just make it to those people…

Because I was facedown, the attacker now had to readjust his hold—there was no other option. As he pivoted, I pounced up and took off running. I turned around, tears flying from my face, and saw two men. One was my attacker. Another was a homeless man who, from what I could tell, was on my side. He waved his arms frantically, as if to say, “Go from this place!” 

I reached a group of men at the bottom of the street and called the cops. Two born and bred Brooklyn gents were immediately ready to fight the attacker who, strangely enough, was walking toward us.

“Don’t fight him, don’t fight him,” you can hear me saying on the police tape. “We’re on 2nd Ave and 7th,” I then respond to the dispatcher. “He’s still here. We need someone here.” I am crying. “I know the precinct is right around the corner. 2nd and 7th. I’m on 2nd and 7th! Are they coming?”

Casey Holloway strolled by our ragtag group, which now included myself, the homeless man who tried to assist me, and two aggressive Brooklynites. He spit in my direction and mumbled something unintelligible. Then he walked south down 2nd Avenue toward Houston Street. 

An unimaginable rage burst through the center of my chest, like acidic fire.

“We gonna follow em, c’mon. We gonna get this asshole. Miss, you wanna get this guy?” The man’s thick Brooklyn accent made me internally chuckle. “Yes, let’s follow him,” I said with mock assurance. I was shaking so badly I could barely hold my phone, but walking felt good. Walking felt powerful.

Holloway went down one sidewalk, while we paralleled him on another sidewalk across the road. With only the street between us, I commenced my journey and prayed for safety. He stopped, started, and stared but he never deviated off 2nd Avenue.

6th Street… 4th Street… 2nd Street…

“Don’t approach him—what if he has a weapon?” I screamed at the men, and frantically bit my lip. Where were the cops? It had been nearly 15 minutes since my initial call. Just when the tension was about to bleed into violence, patrol cars roared down the street. Two cops jumped out and pinned Holloway to the ground. Another one motioned for me. “Is this the man?” They pulled his head up and we looked each other in the eye for the second time that evening.

“Yes.”

I watched as he was placed in the back of a cop car, cuffed and apathetic. I hated his dead, dark eyes. But the toxic rage, which had spread to every cell in my body, was now slowly subsiding.  

That night was a whirlwind of police questioning and Coca-Cola. As my body went from shock to a drug-like exhaustion, I sipped sugary soda in the waiting room and washed the mascara from my face with a napkin.

My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé Ryan arrived at the police station. He was solemn but steady. I held his pinky finger as the detectives questioned me in a cold room with two-way glass. “Where did he touch you?” “Was it here or here?” “How did he grab you?”

I finally fell into my bed at 5am, cold and bruised—but unmistakably alive. The next morning, I woke up with salty eyelashes and a phone call from the ADA. I’d need to come in and share my testimony as soon as possible. And so, the yearlong court process began.

***

I have a quiet rage.

It’s most likely been resting inside of me since I was a little girl, but I first remember releasing it in college when I was told I “could not” while knowing that I certainly “could.”

That same rage builds up inside of me when society discusses topics like Roger Ailes, unequal pay, or how one might like to “grab her by the p*ssy.”  Every time—every time—that phrase is uttered, the events of this terrible night pop into my head.  I can smell him. I can taste my sweat.

This story is nothing special.
In fact, many women have experienced this and much worse.
So, let’s not weep over it.
I was even blessed with a “happy” ending.

I’m telling you this so that you can grasp the dark shadow hanging over my head today—and occasionally, other days. It is my hope that you might understand why this morning I again woke up with salty eyelashes.

But tomorrow?
Tomorrow, I'll wake up with a heart full of hope, and a spirit of determined joy that, I pray, will always overcome my humanistic need to hate. 


Can you see the sunset real good on the West side? You can see it on the East side too.
— S.E. Hinton, "The Outsiders"

Never Change, Just Always

A wave of humidity settled over New York this summer, and it seemed to shake everything up.

A friend of mine asked me six months ago, “Are you dying to be engaged?” I told her that yes; I was ready to marry Ryan. Something about last August solidified our relationship and that deep assurance bled into fall. By Christmas, I knew without a doubt that I'd selected my partner in crime. It was an oddly undeniable feeling.

But was I dying to be engaged? No, not entirely. I rarely crave modifications in The Big Three: housing, significant others, and jobs. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a little switch up. I just don’t ever pine for change—mostly because it has always woken up, and smacked me in the face.

I was very content with life for the last year and that’s how I knew change was on the hunt, sniffing around for an ideal time to appear. I probably created the catalyst by taking a two-week trip; that deviation from the norm seemed to wake the beast. February was for planning, March was for Scotland, and April was for Iceland. Then I was in a best friend’s wedding, I gleefully got engaged, I moved to Brooklyn, babies were born, sisters lost their jobs, and Ryan’s eye decided it no longer wanted to function.

This is why one should not crave change. It’s my opinion change will find you.

(I’m sitting in a coffee shop typing this, and I feel very safe in front of my computer with a cup of caffeine seeping into my blood stream. The wheels are starting to turn in my dusty Sunday morning brain. I could sit here forever, the breeze blowing in from an open window while Bob Dylan plays at a low volume…  

Ah, but I couldn’t.
I take back everything I just told you.
I’m already bored and I've had too much coffee.
Plus, I’d be terribly irritable if the world didn’t keep spinning madly round.)

Maybe I’d like to rephrase if you’d allow me that, dear reader?

I adore change just as I adore being content in certain seasons. My anxiety was speaking out, and she is a much worse monster than change. She is the evil queen of stagnant motions. She gets her cheap thrills from repetition and fear. She doesn’t like success because it’s too much of a gamble, and her favorite pastime is chewing brains into dull submission.  

No, no we shall not feed that beast.
It's true; this has been a terrible summer—isolating and humid.  
But just like every season, it is not infinite.

So I’ll sit
And I’ll wait.
And then I’ll plan out the next steps.

Where shall Ryan and I travel? What should I write next? Will I finally do my laundry today? Will Ryan’s fourth eye surgery actually work? I don’t know the answers to these questions.

This I do know: With one hundred percent certainty, many of our delicately constructed plans will be altered. But the joke’s on life—because we don’t know what we want, either.

We just hope to keep progressing forward.
And, luckily, we have the ability to do that. 

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Would you like an adventure now, or would like to have your tea first?
— J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 

The Waiting Game

I'm a writer without a pen. 

There's lots of chaos happening around me at the moment. I'm perched in a random chair near a highly coveted outlet in the Barnes & Noble on 86th Street. A duo of Upper East children are screaming for "more cookies!" to their nanny, who try as she might, cannot keep them at bay. Someone in a tennis skirt just tripped in the Fiction section, and a man is talking loudly on his cell phone while searching through the car lovers' magazines.

 I have 18 unanswered texts, 36 new emails, 2 missed calls, and a handful of Slack notifications. There's a gunman in a movie theater in Germany. Trump's ex-campaign manager is speaking out! Someone nearby is coughing in the most disturbing way. 

Ryan sends me a text.
"Ok I'm next. I love you, see you in a bit."  

During book club one night prior, my typically social fiancé didn't feel inclined to participate. I found this odd considering he was hosting the event and seemed to enjoy our novel, though I didn't press. Long day, work problems, city living stress—it could have been a cocktail of frustrations.  

But as people trickled out of his apartment, I discovered that Ryan's lifelong annoyance was behind his sudden shift in mood. He could no longer see out of a portion of his right eye, and we needed to go to emergency room. Immediately. He packed a Amaretto Sour to-go, while I hailed the Uber. 

Hours later we learned what we already expected: There was a tear in his retina and if it completely detached he would be blind in one eye. Surgery was needed as soon as possible. 

"Love you, too. Cya in a few!" I texted him and ignored everything else on my phone. The woman with the perpetual cough now popped her dentures in and out. Time to move.

As I collect my scattered belongings, my mind races in circles like a Ferris wheel of doom: Two of my close friends just got laid off. I'm supposed to move out of my apartment Sunday, and I haven't packed a thing. In fact, I may have laundry at the cleaners? My best friend has a doctor digging around in his eyeball. Our next book club novel (“The Count of Monte Cristo,” unabridged) is so dense that it won’t fit in my purse and, therefore, I cannot purchase it today.

Oddly enough, that last problem sends me over the edge.
I have no book!
I have no pen.  

I tear up as I place “Monte Cristo” back on the shelf.
Idle hands, idle mind.
Ah, let’s walk. 

Now I'm on the street, the first breath of summer caressing the back of my neck. It's not too humid today so I meander and wait for the call to come fetch Ryan from the grips of localized anesthesia.  

Walking around New York has always given me a sense of peace. The buzzing of our brick and metal world is revitalizing to an extrovert who doesn't want to communicate, yet desperately needs to steal other's energy. As I pace the streets, I rejoice in the fact that I can see with my two healthy eyes. The wind picks up. It might rain; the smell of a thunderstorm is lingering. I take it all in.  

I pass an orchid shop on 80th Street, which makes me think of Ryan. He'd sent me a text earlier in the day saying he was, "strolling down Lexington looking at the flowers." I thought it was an odd message at the time—but now I wondered: Was he worried that he’d never again be able to see a flower’s bright petals?

This thought made me sad so I kept walking, this time thanking God we have two eyes instead of one. You wouldn't have a lot of chances as a Cyclops. 

And then it happens.
I find a pen.

It's dirty because it’s been dropped on the sidewalk, but this fact has never bothered me. I discover lovely garbage on the street all the time—candleholders, ancient books, etc.—and sometimes they come home with me. So without much thought, I reach down and scoop up my forgotten friend. Waves of anxiety seem to physically lift off my overactive brain. 

Now, I can write everything down. 

[Editor’s Note: After all this nonsense, Ryan wakes up from surgery and tells me there was a pen in his bag the whole time—oy! He goes back under the knife today. Thank you again for everyone’s prayers and support.]

For Christopher

"Soon as he touched you, he was dead.”

We were watching the pilot episode of "The Wire," an HBO show (that I should have already seen) set in the projects of Baltimore circa 2002.

The series has an interesting drug-hustling, detective-hunting kind of plot, with more corruption than a Dan Brown novel. I'd watched quite a few episodes for a class project—but for some unknown reason, I’d never jumped back into it post-college.

"You going on point, picking us business in the pit.”
"Why you giving me the low-rises when I had a tower since summer!”

The towers they're referring to are the tall, city projects with a plethora of drug traffic in the stairwells and elevators—a crack dealer’s dream. The disgruntle character (dubbed D’Angelo) had just been demoted to “the pit,” or the smaller buildings near the courtyard—less business, more visibility.

The scene ended as he jumped in a car and headed down the street.
Another scene began…

"Miss Britney, you know you sound like Hannah Montana?!" one of the girls ran over to me.  She wore glasses and had braids separated into pigtails. Her pink puffy coat was too big in the sleeves.

“You’re only saying that ‘cuz I’m from the South,” I said with a grin.

“Nooo,” she said with exaggeration. “Say somethin’ else like Hannah Montana!” I appeased her as we crunched through the snow blanketing Hyatt Court, hand in hand. The projects were quiet tonight. Even the Crips, who usually huddle in the corners waiting for God-knows-what, had moved indoors.

It was the end of March, but spring doesn’t always mean new life and growth. Sometimes things stay frozen, and it’s out of our control.
Newark, New Jersey taught me that lesson.

Baltimore looked run down as the camera focused back in on “the pit.” A drug deal had just gone terribly wrong, and there was blood to pay. My stomach dropped as an angry crew descended on an addict who’d tried to score some crack with fake 10-dollar bills. Kicking, punching, and yelps of pain ensued…

There was a squeal of laughter.
It was Christopher.
He was one of my favorites.

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites when teaching children.
But I did—and he probably knew it.

The first year I’d worked in Newark, we were on a college spring break trip. I’d hated it. The cold was unbearable, the children were utterly insane, and we’d slept in a dirty church with no heat. Weren’t 18-year-old freshman supposed to go to Mexico?

But there were a few great kids who, I’m now realizing, will forever haunt me. Christopher was shy when I met him, but you could tell he was something different. With 2 younger sisters, the 12-year-old was slightly softer than the razor-sharp, soon-to-be Crip kids of Hyatt Court.

 "You show that kind of weakness, you lose everything that comes after.” My wandering brain switched back to the television. One of the drug ringleaders on “The Wire” was reprimanding D’Angelo, disgusted by his mercy. He was too soft.

Soft like Christopher, the gangly kid who’d made me a cross out of popsicle sticks that said “I love you” in 2007.
The kid who still hadn’t totally lost his squeaky voice in 2008.
The kid I had to remind to give me a hug in 2009.
The kid who wasn’t so soft in 2010.
The kid I’d lost track of in 2012…

(I was beginning to remember why I hadn’t finished this show.)

“One or two in the back of the head. No witnesses. No suspects. You got a .380 casing on the ground there.” The pilot episode was wrapping up with a murder and a moral dilemma.

Then the credits began to roll. I felt awkward as I asked my boyfriend what he’d thought of the show. The entertainment. He’d liked it, fine. I’d like it, fine. We’d probably watch it again soon?

After he stood to grab a drink, I was left with my own thoughts. So I sat on the couch hoping (praying) Christopher’s story hadn’t ended the same way.

It seemed my conscience was still infected with whatever holy poison Newark had injected into my heart. If I couldn’t watch “The Wire” without thinking of Chris, or walk down Avenue D without a small twist in my gut…

I assume that I’m not doing something I should be.
Because even though we don’t have power over what’s frozen, we who have been shown warmth can cut the cold’s bite

 Newark, 2009

Newark, 2009

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
— Albert Einstein