Like a feather that lies gentley atop the grass, my body takes brief refuge in the action of rest. This bag of bones is worn and depleted, but as a slave is indebted to his master, I must obey my nature to fly.
A day off in Newark, New Jersey. My instinct is to tuck myself into the deepest crevice of my bottom bunk, and await the rising sun of tomorrow so that I may flee to my escape- which happens to be San Diego.
A Florida native, you can understand why I would feel a step out of my element in The Brick City. Newark has been my home away from home for almost a year now, so it’s only within good reason that I crawl from beneath the roof of my pretty crash pad (look it up) and at least give the city a chance. Besides, the life of a Flight Attendant can get particularity lonely, and burying myself in a dark room probably isn’t the best remedy.
Back when it was an option, I loved doing things by myself. Now, that I no longer have a choice, I find myself wanting company more and more. Not just any company though, I want my loved ones with me. Remember that movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?” I totally wish that that was real, so I could just toss my friends into a breathable mason jar and make them life size at our destination. But since it’s reality we’re dealing with, I’m trying to come up with more practical solutions.
In Florida, I lived in an environment where I was constantly surrounded by supportive family and friends, so I felt stable. I was able to endure jobs I hated and how generally stuck I felt because I was surrounded by people who loved me. While, I still have the love and support of my family, it’s less tangible. It took a while, but I finally realized that I was meant to be grounded in only one way- God. So, I flung caution to the wind, and here I am. Of course, at the time, I didn’t forsee the emotional weights of my lifestyle. I wouldn’t trade this job for stability and every bit of my heart knows that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, but as with everything, there are adjustments to be made.
So today, instead of making a fort in my bottom bunk and watching reruns of, Hey Arnold! , on Hulu, I chose to do the uncomfortable. I invited myself to tag along with a sweet roommate of mine as she ran some errands on foot. Today was a beautiful day, highs reaching eighty degrees, the sun beaming, and light breeze that evaporated the moisture of heat on our bodies. If I tried real hard, I could almost pretend that I was in Florida. But, I’m not. I’m in Newark and it’s a city (I learned today), that has a charm all of its own.
Topeka, my roommate, is an embodiment of community. She’s motherly, sisterly, and friendly. All of the roles I’ve been so dearly missing. Initially, I had tagged along to pick up some cereal and milk from the bodega to complement my planned camp out in bed. She had already told me that she had an extensive list of errands to run and I was okay with that, but my ultimate goal was still to return to the comforts of my stiff mattress and resume my marathon of lonely television.
I don’t even want to think about how many calories we burned as I’m forever trying to put on weight. However many fell to the ground, they left a trail of my exploration of a city as tired as myself. What I loved about Newark is that as much hopelessness as I saw in the eyes of the young mother pushing a stroller through the uneven streets of the cracked city, the city itself still breathed life. The buildings danced with colorful art that begged the citizens to care for their youth. Our youth.
As much as I wanted the convenience and ease of an Uber, I again, did the uncomfortable and after little convincing, took the city bus. Better known as public transportation, which I hate. Downtown, there was a park where at least sixty children took turns playing volleyball. At the entrance of the park was a statue of about four to five barely clothed men holding up a pole. My eyes followed their own, expecting the American flag to be their unwavering symbol of hope, but there was nothing. Just a pole. For some reason, seeing that bare pole didn’t make me sad. Instead, it was a testament of hope. At any moment they decide, the city of Newark can dress that pole in whatever fashioned flag they please, and the possibilities are endless: freedom, education, love, or commitment. Anything.
Genuine community among strangers made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. As an older woman walked aboard the city bus, she inquired about the mother of a young girl who was already on the bus.
“She’s doing good,” the young girl smiled.
“Tell her I said hello.”
Understanding smiles of a perpetual struggle were exchanged as the older woman took her seat. I loved it! Even though their expressions were somber, the sadness was endured in pairs. Maybe one day, that weariness they all hold up together could be exchanged for joy or strength….maybe even happiness.
I was indifferently surprised (Was that an oxymoron?) to see a feminist street corner. Even one of the telephone booths urged the people of Newark to celebrate, “Our Sheroes!” I probably hold that street corner dearest to my heart of all my encounters today, as I have a special love for the pride of my fellow women.
Neither, Topeka nor I had eaten breakfast, so after several blocks of walking and a short bus trip, we were both famished. We settled into some mom and pop restaurant with a french name I can’t remember. We chose a small table for two that was pushed up against one of the few windows in the restaraunt. People watching is priority. As I put my full weight into the chair, I sunk several inches down and wondered how I would manage eating comfortably with my body so low to the table. Normally, that would’ve been an indication for me to go elsewhere, but Topeka said,
“We’re going to support the community.”
A good enough reason for me. We had been sitting for at least ten minutes with no sight of a waiter, greeter, or cook. No one, except two women who sat directly across from us with longing looks of expectancy on their faces. We asked them about a waiter and they informed us that there was only one man, who was trying to juggle three different positions. The women let us in on the secret of a soul food restaurant that was just down the street from the direction we had come. We thanked them for their recommendation as we casually abandoned our lovely window seats. Whoever was running the place never even knew we were there. The women told us that they would be meeting us at their wonderfully described soul food restaurant, and I looked forward to catching up with them.
Soul Food Chess House harbors some of the best oxtails, collard greens, and mac and cheese I have ever tasted! My stomach was grateful for the visit. More community emerged as a gentleman waiting to pick up his food inquired about the selections on my plate. I exclaimed how fantastic they all were! The two women eventually showed up and again sat right next to us. It was a small place, so options were few, but the familiar faces still made my heart smile. We scarfed down not even a fourth of our food as we chatted with our new found buddies and the owner, whose wife was the master chef of our heavenly enchanted lunch! Our bellies full, we bid our shortlived friendships goodbye as we hailed an uber home.
Today, I woke up feeling lonely, but stangers of a city I rejected made me feel like I belonged.
My apologies to you Newark. I’m sorry that I judged you for not being Tampa, for not being what I’d grown to know as home. I’m sorry for breaking one of life’s most classic rules, “Never judge a book by its cover.”