Layering for a Manhattan winter is essential. The winds come from all angles, and if they aren’t rushing up the avenues, they’re booming down the streets that intersect them. They wrap around the buildings, hugging every concrete curve and bend. The crisp, chilled air blows through the fibers of my thickest layers and sends a chill rushing up my spine. This season was always the worst to come in for; the cold here didn’t have the same feeling as the one on Long Island. Here the breeze motivated people; it pushed them to walk a little faster, hold their loved ones a little closer, and focus a little harder.
I was here a week before, to celebrate Thanksgiving in my great-grandparents’ townhouse. My mother always likes to make a trip out of Thanksgiving, so before we headed over to conjure with the rest of my family we walked the Brooklyn Bridge. My mother didn’t account for two things: the forty mile per hour winds, and the fact that the end of the Brooklyn Bridge leaves us in Brooklyn. We walked the bridge twice, once east and once west. My earlobes and nose were numb by the time we arrived for dinner at the Gramercy townhouse. We all gathered in the basement where my great-grandmother prides herself in her home-décor skills. The whole family knows that she takes advantage of Pier One employees to customize her humble abode.
I sat at the further end of the table, away from the older adults and across from my parents. The draft swirled through one of the windows that my great-grandfather forgot to seal shut with the clear plastic film from Home Depot. We all mumbled along in a grace prayer, knowing that we all only ever say grace before this particular meal. I slugged back the small glass of wine, and braced myself as the row of family members discussed what they were thankful for, a tradition held in the memory of my aunt whose kind-spirit loved to embrace what each member was thankful for.
I wiped my sweaty palms against the red and orange table napkin that had a hand-embroidered turkey on it. It’s my turn. “I’m gay,” flew out of my mouth in a brash voice, highlighted with a crack. I paused and took in the moment of silence that followed, a silence like that of those mourning a loss. “And—and…I’m thankful that I have a supportive group of friends and I hope that group can include everyone at this table,” I muttered out as held back the rush of water that ran to the bottom of my eye. I sat with my head down, acting like I was taking into account what was on the plate in front of me.
My grandmother placed her glass down on the table and spoke before she finished swallowing, “Well—you could not be surrounded by a more supportive group of people, my dear. Hell, you’re in Manhattan, you can be whoever you want to be here.” This was followed by murmurs of agreement, and softly worded statements of pride that held a slight, uncomfortable air.
My mother has not spoken a word to me since. Instead she’s yelled and bolstered her aggravation with the topic and its consequences. I was grounded, in an attempt to keep me away from my boyfriend. My father would enter the confines of my room to try and cheer me up, but it was no use.
But like any rebellious teen filled with angst, I lied. I told my mom I had planned to tour Hunter College on a day off from school, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to excuse herself from work to attend with me. I told my parents the plan: get on the train with Jessica, my friend since kindergarten, around 10 a.m., arrive at Hunter in time for the 11:30 tour, grab dinner when the tour concluded, and then come back home as soon as we could. The plan worked, and I hopped on the train with my boyfriend, Kenny, at the station in our town.
My sneakers maneuvered their way on the concrete, dodging dog shit and trash. The atmosphere that surrounded the city was alluring,; offering escape, comfort, and inclusion. Focused, I concentrated on the streets we passed, the key features of each corner we turned, and the proximity to Central Park. I stayed focused, trying to balance between maintaining a conversation about photography with Kenny, nervous about my mother uncovering my ruse, and figuring out how to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So to stay in the vicinity, the Met seems like the best bet.
We walked along the solid structure that outlined the park, stopping occasionally for Kenny to photograph some aspect of nature that sprung out of the concrete, just as Central Park does to Manhattan. As we shuffled through the chill, we halted at the marvelous steps of the museum. The structure was so large and grand that it stunted the sights around it. The building in the middle of so many that topped it in size, but never in grandeur.
I grabbed his hand, intertwining our fingers instead of grasping his hand fully in mine. This method always seemed most sincere. This action was never so natural, so thoughtless. My body tensed up, and a rush flew to my head, leaving me to slow down a minute as I reached the top of the steps. “Are you okay?” Kenny questioned. I grinned and pushed against the door leading to the center of the museum, still grasping his hand. I tried to stay interested in the boring art that Kenny liked to look at. They all looked the same, some stuck up snob paying big bucks for a selfie. But in silence, I searched the room, for a stare, a glare, and snicker. Nothing. I was never one for PDA, there was always something about it that repulsed me, but this didn’t irk me. The deeper we sank into the museum, the less I worried about anyone looking.
We walked around the museum all day. And when we had finished wandering throughout the larger exhibits, we took our excursion to the park that surrounds the colossal structure. Once outside, the thoughts spurred up as my eyes wandered to meet those of passersby who felt confused, or uncomfortable. The only person to meet my eyes was a homeless woman playing the guitar for spare change. The temperature and the wind didn’t affect the buildup of sweat between our palms, which had to be smeared on our jeans every couple of minutes. However the inconvenience didn’t seem to matter, because it was an action of humility and affection.
Our hands stayed entwined as we crashed through the heavy flow of tourists in Times Square. We dashed through the street and sidewalk to make the train home at a time that would coincide with the end of Hunter College’s tour. We left our fingers clasped as we sat together on the train, resting from a long day and analyzing the pictures that appeared on the small digital screen on Kenny’s camera. We picked through the pictures we liked, and even the ones of us that we could post to Instagram. We only let go as we arrived at our town’s station. When we saw our parents standing together at the ticket booth, all with a glare that stung worse than the icy breeze.
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