Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"5/11/06 (technically 5/12)" By Teresa Hartmann - 2016 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Semi-Finalist

"5/11/06 (technically 5/12)"


 Teresa Hartmann  

It was one of those situations you’re taught about as a girl, or any young person growing up in New York.  I didn’t know why I had to go to the bank—it was late and I should’ve taken a car service home, but I bought a donut and a hot chocolate and I walked right by that car service, got on the 2 train and rode it all the way to the end – Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College.

I got to the bank, eager to see if, indeed, my pay scale had gone up—I had been assured a few weeks earlier that it was going to, but somehow I still wouldn’t believe it until I saw it.  Walking into the lobby, where the ATMs are (it was after midnight and long since any employee had been in the building), I was startled by a large sleeping form huddled along the wall where the radiator is, the one least visible from the outside—in fact completely invisible to anyone not actually inside.

He was in a washed out orange shirt and had his head on a blanket or jacket or something like that.  Close by was a small square-ish black duffel bag, though I think I didn't see that until later.  He was facing away and clearly asleep—practically snoring, but I knew immediately that I should leave, that that was the correct standard of behavior.  But I had come here with this purpose and I was going to deposit that check.

Every move I made seemed amplified hundreds of times as I retrieved a deposit envelope from the ATM and proceeded to ruffle though my bag for the elusive pen that is forever alluding me (and has been the cause many times of my having to literally turn back and go home check still in hand, because you just can't endorse something with a pencil).

Now, however, I was fairly confident that I had one – the question was where.  As I rifled through my purse, I was suddenly aware of the incredibly unnecessary amount of noise I was making and, looking at his sleeping back just a few small feet away, I started violently, tension seizing my body and breath as I realized the full danger of my position.  It would be so easy! 

In a minute I would turn my back to put my card in the ATM and leave my back vulnerable—he would grab me from behind, maybe even push a gun into my back and take all I had.  Though it wasn’t this so much that I feared but the very invisibility of where he lay on the floor and the possibility of my being thrust into his blind corner, his body on top of mine, the weight of it…

I took a shaky breath, not yet willing to run away, or thinking that running might be as bad as staying but waiting just to be finished and out of there!  I fumbled with the envelope, finally getting it out of the bag and struggling to gain control over my hands and open it.

Sudden movement flashed in my periphery and I snuck a glance two feet to my left where I knew he lay.  Two very bloodshot light eyes met mine, angry, before I looked away quickly.
“I don’t mean nothing!” he said, a little too loud, like a man awaking from a drunken daze.
“It’s okay,” I said—my voice a little higher than I would’ve liked.  Rushing now to get that check signed as quickly as possible while pretending it didn’t exist.
“You scared the shit out of me!  I don’t mean nothin…”
A nervous laugh—“Well, you scared the shit out of me.”
An almost laugh in response “I don’t mean nothin’.”
“You're okay.”
“What the hell are you Filipino or something?”
“Well… yes… actually.  Partially.”  In spite of myself, I am shocked by this, not all unpleasantly—“what made you say that?”
“I know everything—I’m a psychic.”
“Oh.  Okay.”
“I usually sleep at the McDonalds but the cops kicked me out tonight.  I know what you’re thinking—I don’t usually sleep here.”
“I know people think I’d be here to take money from people but I’m not like that – I got two sisters that live around here.”
“What the fuck do you wanna know that for—are you writing a book?!!” (A flash of anger—I’ve hit a chord.)
“I’m a veteran.”  This is most likely true—he’s got a shaved head and a pair of eyes that have seen horrors.
He continues:  “What else are you?  Italian?”
“No.  I thought you were a psychic?”
“Yeah, well.  Irish?”
“A little yeah.”
“What else?”
“Norwegian.  Polish, French.  Bunch of stuff.”
“You Catholic?”
“Where’re you from?”
“Not far from here.”
“This neighborhood.  Midwood.”
“You’re not from Brooklyn.”
“I am.”
“No.  You're not from here.”
“I am though.”
“You're not.”
“I swear.  I was born here.  I was brought home from the hospital to a house in this neighborhood.”
“You're not fucking from here.  You know what I mean.  You’re too fucking sweet.  You're not like people around here.”
(Too fucking naïve he means.  Or too fucking stupid…)
Quietly: “I was though.” 
I am finished at the ATM, having just taken out some cash—$60 in twenties that I hope he won’t see.  I pocket them and fumble around in my pocket for what change I have.  I feel stupid giving him change when I have real money on me but I can’t rightly give him a twenty. 
(Later I wonder if he would’ve even taken it.)
“You got a boyfriend?  Where’s your boyfriend tonight?”
“What do you mean, no?  A pretty girl like you?  You have such a nice face.  The face of a…”
“Well… there’s this guy I’m… seeing.”
“Yeah?  You got a boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.  Its just got started.”
“You have the sweetest face.  You got a dollar for me?”
I hand him the change—it’s probably around 80 cents.
“I’m sorry this is all I have.”
“You have the sweetest face.  Get the fuck out of here.”
“Leave me alone.  I’m tired.  I have to go to sleep.  You’re a sweetheart.”
“Good night.  Nice talking to you.”
“Hey.  What’s your first name?  Please?”
I hesitate.  Who could he tell?  For some reason I wanted to give him my name, even though he was cursing at me.
“Teresa.  I’m John.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Now get the fuck outta here & leave me alone!”
“I will!”
I leave.  Strangely high from the experience.  John.  I wonder if I’ll ever see him again.  I wish I’d offered him that $20.  Or I could’ve bought him something—though there’d be nothing open at this hour.  

I realize that I am flushed from having broke the barrier of not interacting with homeless people that makes me feel so awful, but also just fascination with this man who could shift so quickly between complimenting and cursing me in one breath. 

It occurs to me that his “identifying” me as a Filipino and his being a veteran are most likely related and that this connects us in a larger sense—would he have been stationed in the Philippines?  If so, we share a history beyond Brooklyn and the human race.  He certainly lashed out when I asked where his sisters were.  None of my business anyway, but certainly a sensitive spot.  

I want to help him.  I feel bad that I could think of such a thing as he must feel, that a girl so young and weak could have so much pity for a big older veteran living on the streets, scarred by all he saw over there.  The nameless things.

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