“It happened at 8 pm, Monday, May 12th, 2014. I was driving home with my boyfriend. I noticed a car coming into our lane so I swerved into three trees. I almost died and completely destroyed a vertebra. I slept in a hospital bed for three months. I had to learn to walk again. Even today my back requires a lot of maintenance. It’s like an engine without oil. It grinds. It flares up. I actually just finished getting X-rays because it’s been a bad week. But I take a lot of pride in how independent I’ve become despite the disability. Much more so than before the injury. I finally left Long Island and moved to the city. I’ve taken my health into my own hands, which is huge for me. I have doctor appointments every day this week-- but in a good way. I’m being proactive about my health. I can’t do high impact exercises, but I’m weightlifting a lot. And I’m traveling. Next month I’m going to Sri Lanka and India. The sixteen-hour plane ride is going to be brutal, but it’s important for me. I don’t want to have any barriers. A couple years ago I went on a five day trek in Patagonia. It was completely off the grid. Just me, my sister, and my map. My mother was terrified. It was my first major travel since the accident. And there’s no satellite reception, so if you hurt yourself, you’re done. But I was determined. I didn’t want my sister to leave me behind. So I exercised every day for six weeks. I bought some hiking sticks and supportive shoes. I carried 60 lbs of supplies on my back. Each day we hiked eight miles. I brought five pieces of chocolate-- one for each day we finished. At night I’d rest my back. The last day was the hardest. We covered sixteen miles and climbed the highest summit. I kept trying to talk myself out of it. I was stopping every 50 feet. I told my sister to keep going, but she stayed with me. And we finally got to the top. It wasn’t very cinematic. There was so much fog you couldn’t see a thing. But it was a huge deal for me. And I got to eat my last piece of chocolate.”
“She was ‘The Grandma.’ She worked as the head nurse at St. James hospital. She owned her own house. I lived with her up until the sixth grade. We’d have these long conversations every night. And every morning she’d make a ball of coconut for me to bring to school. She was the most consistent thing in my life. Even after Mom got mixed up in drugs, Grandma paid to keep our phone on. She paid to keep our lights on. She checked my grades and sent me to after-school programs. She even bought me my first computer. It was made especially for me-- big tower, lots of lights. It kept me off the street for months. Grandma was the only person who ever took me out of the state. We went to theme parks. We went to water parks. Once she even took me to the Bahamas for four days. Most of my friends had never even left the block. I did get mixed up in the streets for a while. Grandma was upset when I dropped out of high school, but she still did her best to keep me level. She helped me get my GED. She talked to me about nursing. She supported me when I joined the military. I never thought I’d be where I am today. I’m working construction. I recently joined the union. Everything is because of her. She's the only woman who's name I have tattooed on my body."
“We’ve broken up four or five times already. But lately things have been great-- we’ve been talking on the phone every night. And she’s the one who suggested I come visit her. So I’m thinking, great-- we’ll spend a few days together, hang out, maybe have a little physical connection. I bought a ticket on the Greyhound. The ride was eight hours. I did get some sleep, I will say that. And after I arrived, she allowed me to come over for like thirty minutes. Her Jamaican stepfather wasn’t allowing more than that. But I’m thinking: ‘No problem. It’s just the first night.’ We agree to see a movie the next evening. I show up at her house right on time, and out she comes with her sister! What’s going on here? I’m not dating her sister. And I’ve got to pay for three tickets now? Luckily I was smart and loaded up on Dunkin Donuts before the movie. But her sister is ordering popcorn, soda, nachos. And this is a Regal Cinema, so that’s a full $20 order. I played it cool. Acted like it wasn’t a big deal. And when the movie ended, we made plans to spend Saturday together. But then she says: ‘As long as it doesn’t snow.’ And of course it snows. Half an inch. Didn’t even stick. But she refused to come outside. Didn’t want to ‘get sick.’ So I just went out drinking and passed out on the floor of my friend’s apartment. My bus was supposed to leave this morning, but they cancelled it because of weather. So I just sent her a text. She’s off work today. Maybe she'll hang out with me."
“My life is not significantly different, but it feels like everyone else has changed around me. All my friends are progressing down that heteronormative life stage thing. They’ve gotten married. Or gotten a house. Or had kids. Whereas I’m more in this extended adolescence thing. It’s really changed my social life. I used to be able to rally a group of friends on an hour’s notice. But now it’s like herding cats. You really have to work to get on someone’s calendar. Last month I had dinner with good friends of mine—they’re a married couple. Great people. We wanted to squeeze in a date before their twins were born. My job was to keep their child entertained while they cooked dinner. He’s like two. Wonderful kid. Very nice kid. Only says a few words, but nice personality. Likes to hug the cat. Really cares about the cat. He’s also really big into picking things up and dropping them on the floor. He showed me his box of pencils—even gave one to me, which I thought was really nice. Things were going great. But then came the ‘tired’ thing. During dinner there was a sudden change. He started rubbing his eyes. Lots of throwing. Rice and vegetables began to fly across the table. Then came the screaming. Nobody signaled this was abnormal, so I attempted to plow forward with the conversation. I’d find short breaks in the screaming to slip in a few words. But it got louder and louder. The parents were professionals. Completely unfazed. And I didn’t care. I was leaving in an hour anyway.”
“Driving makes me anxious. I’ve avoided it all my life. Errands only. And I certainly have never left Suffolk County. It was never a problem until my son decided to have a fucking kid. Ellie Rose is her name. Absolute delight. But she lives three hours away. So me, Chucky Bologna—pronounced like the city, not the lunchmeat—at the age of sixty-five, has to drive on the Cross Bronx Expressway if I want to see my granddaughter. It’s a nightmare. I get nervous even thinking about it. The first time I made the trip was right after the birth. I studied the route beforehand. Memorized all my exits. I refuse to use GPS because I can’t handle the lady talking to me while I’m trying to drive. My husband packed the car. We put my dog Lyle in the front seat for emotional support. But that backfired because he sensed my anxiety and started licking my hands. My girlfriend Annette told me: ‘Chucky, you’ll be fine. Just own the center lane. Find the center and stay there.’ So that’s what I did. That minivan was not changing lanes for any fucking reason. Three straight hours. Didn’t even stop to pee. I lost eight pounds of water weight from all the sweating. But I made it. When I got there, I felt so victorious. Empowered. Like I could drive anywhere. But I haven’t, of course. Way too scary.”
“I was at an anthropology field school in Guatemala. I was twenty-two. And I was having a crisis. I had no idea what I wanted to do after college. I remember sitting at a café with my favorite professor, and he told me: ‘If you were my daughter, I’d tell you to go into law. From there you can work on anything: healthcare, policy, human rights.’ So when I returned home, I began to study for the LSAT. I spent four years getting my Master’s in International Law, with a concentration in human rights and environmental justice. Then last year I moved to New York to pursue a job in my chosen field. But that’s not exactly what happened. I’ve arranged meetings with twenty-five different attorneys to ‘better understand the field.’ And I’m always hoping to say the right words to catch their attention. It’s poor form to say: ‘I need a job.’ But at the end of every meeting, I always ask: ‘Do you know any opportunities that I should be pursuing?’ And the answer is always ‘no.’ I do have a job right now, and I work hard at it, but it’s mainly reviewing records and writing letters. It’s not the path I wanted to be on. And the longer you work in another field, the harder it can be to transition. I’ve always wanted to make an impact. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is my idol. And I worked hard on this. I studied my ass off, I was valedictorian, I got into a great school, and got great scholarship money. I’ve had a job since I was sixteen. I focused on two or three friends. I didn’t date. This was supposed to be my thing. And now it’s not working out. I’ll never be in my twenties again. Or living in New York. But I’m having a hard time enjoying it because I’m so focused on this one path that’s not opening up.”
“My father was a different person when he came home from Vietnam. He drank a lot. He was never around. So everything I learned about being a man, I learned from my grandfather-- Daniel O’Connell Renehan. He also grew up without parents. When he was two years old, his mother died while cooking soup. The cauldron fell on her. So my grandfather spent his childhood in an orphanage. He never went to school, but he educated himself. He was a voracious reader. Eventually he became the treasurer of a bank on Park Avenue. He was in his late fifties when I was born. But he treated me like his son. We’d watch Notre Dame Football together. We’d go on long walks. We’d sit on an old covered swing for hours and he’d tell me stories about Irish kings. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. My mother did her best, but she was always at work, and there were too many wrong roads to take. So I’ve lived my life by his example. Being a father has always been the most important thing to me. I’ve got four kids of my own now. All of them turned out great. And one of them is named Daniel.”
“I had three bottles of wine on election night. I got in bed after Pennsylvania, and stayed there for a week. I’d only get up to use the bathroom and get more wine. I’d have left the country by now if it wasn’t for my elderly mother. I’ve weaned myself off Xanax, but I haven’t recovered. I still watch MSNBC all the time. I’ll spend entire days on the couch. I’ll wake up with Morning Joe and go to sleep with Brian Williams. I’ll get on Twitter during the commercials and search for any hint that somebody’s going to be indicted. I know way too much. I know the name of every congressman. I know their district. I know what percentage of the vote they got. Before 2016, I hadn’t purchased a book in twenty years. Now I buy all the political ones. The scarier the better. I even got the Omarosa book. Nobody else wanted to read it so I thought I’d take one for the team. I went to DC for four different protests. And a few weeks ago I drove down to Mexico to see for myself what was happening on the border. I’m obsessed. It’s not healthy. Recently I was able to cut myself off from politics for about a week. But then here comes Brett Kavanaugh and I’m back on the couch for three days.”
“We’d been married for four years. We had two young daughters. Everything seemed normal. He never stayed out late. He was a police officer, but he was always home on weekends. And we had a robust sex life. He was my best friend. Sometimes we’d stay up all night talking-- no TV, just talking. Then one morning I tried printing something out on our office computer, and it just kept printing out the same page. It was a picture of his naked body, combined with the profile page for a gay website. He said it was nothing. Only porn. Then a few months later I found the same picture in the ‘unsent messages’ folder of our Outlook account. He’d been trying to send it to a transgender woman named Gabby. That’s when I went through his Internet history and found thousands of jpegs of transgender porn. He denied being gay. He said it was nothing but a porn addiction. But then a few weeks later I was reviewing our credit card statement, and saw that he’d gotten tested for HIV. The next day he brought me to church. He sat me down with the pastor. And he confessed that he’d been having sex with transgender prostitutes throughout our marriage. We didn’t immediately divorce. I tried to make it work for our daughters. He tried going to an addiction treatment center at Johns Hopkins. But I felt like I was married to a stranger. It drove me to the edge. On Super Bowl Sunday of that year, I was sitting in my bed, crying, heavily medicated, when I heard him on the phone downstairs. He was laughing like he didn’t have a care in the world. That night I checked his phone, and saw that he’d been talking to Gabby. He’d been texting her every day for months. The last one said: ‘My wife is getting suspicious.’ That’s when I kicked him out of the house. I haven’t spoken to him in years. He does call my daughters a couple times per week. I just tell them that things between Mommy and Daddy didn’t work out. He seems to be doing fine. He has a new family now. And he’s a minister.”
“My dad brought me here at the age of seven. My mom stayed back in Jamaica, so it was just me and him. He was very strict. It was cultural, mostly. He’d served in the military back home. So he controlled all areas of my life-- school, sports, socializing. Nothing was ever enough for him: not the first place medals, not the honor roll, nothing. He tried hard to break me down. He’d wake me up at 3 AM to go running. He’d make me kneel on the floor all night. And he’d never let me speak back. He intimidated me into silence. I left the house when I turned eighteen. I got a job as a pharmacy tech. I got my own apartment, but I still lived nearby. One day I was driving to work, and I saw him walking to the bus stop. So I pulled over and picked him up. The ride was only ten minutes. But there was a different energy. He actually talked to me. And he let me talk back. He told me things about his life. He talked about how stressed he felt. Things got better after that day. I’d occasionally drop by the house. I introduced him to my girlfriend. He’d tell jokes and laugh. We were beginning to form a relationship. On the morning he died, I actually drove past the crime scene without realizing it. My phone was turned off because it’s not allowed at work. When I finally turned it on, I had several missed calls from him. Each time he left a voicemail: ‘Alex, pick up,’ ‘Alex, please come get me,’ ‘Alex, I need a ride.’ The only time he didn’t leave a voicemail was the very last call. He’d been shot in the neck while walking to the bus stop. I always wonder if the last call was while he was bleeding out. The next few months were surreal. I felt like I was sleepwalking. And I felt responsible. He’d called me for a ride and I’d been right around the corner. I ended up quitting my job. I went to a recruiter's office. And I punished myself the same way he’d have done it: I joined the Marines.”
“Last I heard he was arrested for buying large amounts of cocaine. My mom let me know. She called me one day and said: ‘I don’t want you to find out by Googling your name.’ It wasn’t a huge surprise, actually. It explained a lot of his behavior. He promised to pay for our school—then didn’t. He never wanted to pay child support. He started calling less and less. I haven’t heard from him in years. But I have a really, really great stepdad. I just call him Andrew. My first memory of him was when I was ten years old. I just thought he was a nice older guy at the New Year's Eve party. But my mom got hammered, and the whole ride home, she kept saying: ‘Isn’t he so great? Isn’t he so cute?’ Two years later he moved in with us. He never tried to discipline me. He’d leave that to my mom. He always had the attitude of: ‘I’m not your father.’ But he was another adult in the house that I could rely on. And I’d never had that before. He’d cook meals for us. And he’d really work hard on them. And he’d drive me places. I think 95% of my needs at the time were cooking and driving. Even today, I could call him if I need a ride anywhere. If he’s not able to do it himself, he’ll pay for a cab. Or he’ll figure out another solution. It’s the kind of attention that makes you feel like you’re deserving of someone else’s time. He’s far from perfect. He works too much. He snores. He doesn’t do his laundry. But when I think of the qualities of a good man, or dad, or just person—Andrew’s got them.”
“I started selling when I was seventeen. I didn’t even have to look for customers. A bunch of my friends were squatting in an empty building near my house. And they all smoked. Plus they had people coming over all the time. Everyone came to me. It was the first real money I ever had. I didn’t even know where to start spending. I could buy real things: game consoles, clothes-- all the stuff I’d never had before. I got some $400 Jordan 9’s and only wore them twice. The police don’t even care about it anymore. An unmarked car stopped me while I was skating home last night. They were searching for somebody who got in a fight. When the detectives asked if I had weed on me, I told them ‘yes.’ And they weren’t even worried about it. They let me go. But I want to stop dealing soon. I’m almost twenty-five. I’ve got ten grand hidden under my bed. But that doesn’t even seem like much money to me anymore. I could make more, but I don’t want to start growing it. I don’t want weight in my house. And I don’t want to sell to people that aren’t my friends. So there’s nowhere to go. And I’ve wasted a lot of time. The money made me complacent. I’ve been dealing for six years, and I’ve got nothing on my resume. All I did was work at Macy’s for two months during the holiday season."