Hey! Here is an excerpt from my new book, The Lonely Children of New York. If you like what you read, you can find my book here: https://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Children-New-York/dp/1542891469/ref=la_B00QEL41LS_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491514428&sr=1-11
I am the loneliness of children running around in unrestrained free play, the free spirit happy and sad for no apparent reason, the kid that grew up too fast, the beautiful human being alone in the city, lonely reading books in a lonely city in a lonely world. If this is too melancholy and nostalgic and beautiful and Romantic for you, then it might be easier to just let it go now, and stop reading. But if you want to hold on, feel free to follow me. You never know where we’ll end up.
I’m one of the lonely children of New York. I’m not really a kid any more, though according to some “official criterion” that the people in charge of homeless commissions and homeless shelters have to say, I still somewhat qualify as a street kid, a street youth, to be more precise.
I’ve been homeless since before I can even remember (be aware, though, that the title of homeless is a complex title with many implications and meanings). I’m not sure I’m a fan of this, as you can imagine, I’m not sure I could ever be a fan of this, but you do what you have to in order to survive, even if that means being there for others. Being there for my other lonely friends.
I’m thinking about this, my past, my future, my present, twenty-six years with nowhere to go, wondering, and thinking. I’m with Isaac, and we’re both sitting against the wall of an alley in the most glorious slum of this side of town, and we’re both happy and content, and Isaac, who’s too young to really contemplate adult matters (he’s only, like fourteen, fifteen … pretty young, still innocent), doesn’t know what I’m thinking about right now, doesn’t know what’s going on in my mind. What I’m thinking of, what I’m desiring, what I need. As we sit together, I feel like we’re an odd and peculiar but necessary pair, like Jim and Huck, looking out for each other, even if we couldn’t be any more different. But that’s the way it should be. Isaac looks up to me, and I don’t want to let him down. I don’t know why he looks up to me, of course, but he does, and I don’t want to stop him from doing that, as I want to be his guardian, his protector, his angel.
Though of course, I’m far from an angel.
I’m thinking about love. I’m thinking about Romanticism, what it means to be a Romantic, lost in the zeitgeist of a brutal world. I can’t believe all I’ve gone through, all I’ve experienced. It’s too hard, but it also seems necessary. Though I couldn’t say why. I’m kind of dumb sometimes, and so I miss out on the most important things. Though I’m okay at street smarts, as one would hope. When I spend my time bouncing around from place to place, from the shelter to some friend’s house to a stranger’s house and back to the shelter, and then on the streets as well, things get a little hectic, and everything blends into everything, and it’s hard to know what is what, if you’re sleeping in a bug-infested shelter for the homeless or you’re sleeping in the back of an alley.
What is love? Everyone thinks love is just sex, including me. It might be because I’m a male, and because I’m a sensitive male, I have to try and redeem myself and pretend that I want more than love, that I want sex as well. But what would that mean? What would it amount to? What could it amount to, to be more precise? What is the purpose of it?
I’ve known for about a decade that I’m probably gay, or at least as close to gay as the gay community would ever allow me to be, being the misunderstood outcast of the kingdom. Don’t tell Isaac, though, or any of my street friends. They wouldn’t be devastated, as many homeless people can be gay, but they’d look at me different. I don’t know how to explain it. They just would. That’s why I keep all of my fantasies locked away from them. Out on the streets, it’s about self-preservation and survival, not about finding love and fulfillment and companionship, whatever that may mean.
I don’t tell Isaac, but I have an erection right now. I don’t know where it came from. I guess, just these thoughts. There’s something overpowering about desire, and not knowing what you desire.
They’re too much, these thoughts. And I want them to stop.
But they never stop. I have a need to procreate. I have a need to have kids, a family. I have a need to touch and be touched. To be loved.
Amazingly, I’ve never been sexually exploited, what with my twenty odd years on the streets. I find that odd, though I’m grateful. I find that strange, when I know that some of my younger friends haven’t been so lucky. Gabriel, one of my favorite street friends who speaks Spanish like a motherfucking Cervantes and immigrated straight from Mexico, with innocent tanned cheeks and a darker complexion (“blessings on thee, little man, barefoot boy, with cheek of tan …”), hasn’t been so lucky, precisely because of how beautiful he is. It breaks my heart thinking about what he’s gone through, how unfair it’s been, but I try to think about other things.
It’s hard, though, when you’re dragged through the mud over and over again.
I guess if Gabriel has anything going for him, though, it’s his charm. He’s good with the girls. He hasn’t gotten anyone pregnant yet, thank God, but he’s always looking for an excuse to check out the girls. He likes to see himself as an angel, for sure. A lost angel.
Gabriel is about the same age as Isaac, just a little older. The two are good friends.
We’re all good friends, really.
I think that’s one of the things that makes me feel the loneliest. That is, the fact that I have good friends, people that I care about, people that I love. People I would die for, if I needed to. People that take me back to when I wasn’t so innocent, when I knew what was going on, simply because I’d cry every time my mother took me to the shelter, or when I was afraid when the cops were being hard on me again, because they didn’t trust me, because they didn’t like me.
It takes its toll, having a beautiful soul. Nobody looks at the soul anymore. The soul doesn’t matter. Some would say the soul doesn’t even exist. Those nihilists.
I guess what I would say is that, I don’t let it go. I’m supposed to, let go of the beauty that destroys me, and comes at such a heavy price, but none of that matters. Because, I care, and that’s one of the consequences of being beautiful, of having a beautiful soul. That’s one of the consequences.
It’s one of the consequences of being a beautiful human being. Even if you can’t see it: Especially if you can’t see it.
“… paying attention?” Isaac says.
I snap back to reality. I look over at Isaac, who has a gentle and smug look on his face.
“Yeah?” I say.
“You’re daydreaming again,” Isaac says, if just a little impatiently. “I was wondering if you’d noticed the sunset yet.”
I nod my head, looking at the sunset now, with its gentle and vibrant shades of orange and yellow and pink. “Yeah. I see it.”
“And I was asking you if you wanted a smoke.”
I look at my friend, and then shake my head.
“Suit yourself,” Isaac says, and pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and lights up. I let him take a couple of puffs, and then, I take the cigarette out of his mouth, toss it far away.
“Hey, what the—”
“You’re not smoking,” I say assertively. “At least, not when I’m around. You need your lungs to run away from the cops you irritate all the time.”
Isaac doesn’t say anything, but I see his pride deflating when he sees I’m serious. He says, “I guess that could come handy. You know, good lungs and all.”
“It might come in handy, yeah,” I say.
“What were you thinking about, anyway?” Isaac asks me, handing me his pack of cigarettes without comment.
This question hits me kind of hard. Where do I even begin? I was thinking about my sexuality. I was thinking about love. I was thinking about Romantic poetry. I was thinking about childhood. I was thinking about homelessness. I was thinking about all the street youth that exist in the world that everyone else on the outside ignores.
As I think about what to say to this complex question, I think of another line from Whittier’s poem: “Outward sunshine, inward joy/Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!” I can’t help but wish for the best for Isaac. I never know when we’re going to be ripped from each other’s protection, stripped away from the home we’ve built together.
As always, Isaac is barefoot, because he can’t afford shoes, and thinking of Whittier’s poem continues to make me feel sad. I once was a barefoot boy, but as Whittier describes, soon we have to clothe ourselves in the shoes of pride: That happened to me too quickly, hence why I am no longer the barefoot boy running around the city, or playing soccer in the park on the grass, or just being a kid. For a moment, I feel a pin-needle pang of envy for what Isaac has stripped away from me. I was once that barefoot kid, but not anymore. That has been taken away from me, by experience, and the innocence I once had, it’s gone.
But what makes me hurt more, is knowing that soon, Isaac will lose that innocence too, if he hasn’t already. Of course he hasn’t, of course, but … well, I’m not sure. What is innocence anyway, except for a fleeting aloneness?
Isaac snaps his fingers in front of my face. “Wake up! I asked you a question.”
I snap back to reality, this time promising to not drift and dream again. “Sorry, Isaac. You know I get my head in the clouds.”
“I know,” Isaac says. “That’s what I’m worried about. So: What are you thinking about?”
“Do you often wonder what it’d be like to be free?” I ask.
Isaac doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then he says, “I don’t know, Alex. Why are you asking?”
“I’m just wondering,” I say.
“I guess it depends on what you mean by freedom.”
I think this is a good point. I can’t help but think of Rousseau’s line that man is born free but everywhere he is in chains. Even though the dissenting Enlightenment thinker didn’t mean this, I think his statement is a perfect metaphor for street kids and their contrast to urban society. The irony being, that we as street children are not born free, and yet, we aren’t in chains, while everyone else, born free, is in chains.
Rousseau would probably like that little bit of Romanticism in my intellect, my point. It would seem to me that we as street kids are more free because we have tried to return to nature, to the state of nature in which we originated. Not that I want to Romanticize the plight of street children, of course, because it’s far from beautiful … but, I’ve learned that you have to find the beauty in even the most unbearable of situations. When Gabriel was first abused, I was so angry with the person who had done it that I thought I would murder them. But Gabriel, being the light-hearted Cervantes that he is, and the good-spirited angel, just laughed about it, and said that at least he’d had sex. I didn’t agree with his sentiment, but I knew it was enough to keep him going.
Indeed, it’s so much easier to lie. So many times, I want to lie, and say something untrue, just to say it, just to assert a different reality. Oh, how Oscar Wilde would like my poetry! But to do that would be to bring untold agony to this lying and cheating world we live in, this unfree world.
“I think by freedom, I mean … the ability to let yourself fly. Metaphorically of course, but still … letting yourself fly.”
Isaac considers this, and then says, “I don’t think I’d like flying. Sure, it’d be reckless, but the wings would get heavy after a while.”
“If we could just be ourselves,” I say. “If I was myself.”
“You don’t feel like yourself?” Isaac says, sounding a little surprised.
“No, it’s not that … I just wonder if one could be more authentic.”
“You’ve read too much Sartre and Beauvoir. You can’t force authenticity. You have to let it happen in its time.”
Maybe I need to stop trying, then, I think. Maybe the flight will come in its time.
“But I hear you,” Isaac says. “Being vulnerable all the time, we’d think we’re more ourselves, but maybe that’s a distraction sometimes. Who can say?”
I’m not sure, but I don’t respond, because I find the entire question too difficult to answer. Authenticity. Being who you really are. With everyone connected to the system, no wonder I ached to be real. Because you realize, when you’re real, you crave being even more real, and even more real than that … and it never ends, the quest to be true and honest. As if, I know what any of that means, being true and honest.
Being as true and honest as the barefoot boy Whittier describes.