I believe in human connection. Not the forced kind, not even the expected kind, but the kind that comes in tiny, random bursts. It doesn’t expect anything or even want anything back. It’s just there and then it’s gone. That’s the kind I believe in.
I was 18 when I moved to New York City. I knew three people – maybe 10 if you counted acquaintances and maybe 30 if you counted people that constantly came and went. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that New York was a lonely city, no matter how many people you knew or recognized or even wanted to know. Most of the time I hated that about it.
One night during the neon hours right before the sun starts to reappear, I was on the train back home. Tears gathered on the thin rims of my bottom eyelids, my ears swelled from the cold ear buds pressed into them, drowning out the drunks and the rats and the late night train performers. Then someone sat down beside me.
“You okay?” he mouthed. I ripped an ear bud from my ear.
He wore a bright yellow blazer and his wide eyes made it look like he hadn’t slept in days. That or that he was just thinking, thinking, thinking. His skin was tanned, but naturally, and his hair was the blackest black, curls springing across his thin face as the train moved us down the tracks. An artist, a crazy person, a serial killer. There was no telling. My mother, just like yours, told me not to talk to strangers.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Thank you,” I told him, and reached back for the dangling ear bud.
I’m not sure what happened next to make me tell him that no, I wasn’t okay. That the guy that I was maybe kind of seeing maybe kind of broke up with me at 3 a.m. in the middle of Astoria, Queens, after watching the movie version of Clue. That I had to walk through the cemetery that you see from the sky if you’re flying in to or out of LaGuardia, a hefty overnight bag strapped across my shoulder, to the train station where the trains didn’t even run consistently because it was so late. That people drooled and peered at me like I was a fresh piece of meat. That one man kept sitting down beside me, sitting down beside me, sitting down beside me no matter how many times I switched train cars. That I knew it was my fault, but no, I wasn’t okay and I wanted to go home.
That was when anyone would have crossed me off as crazy, gotten up and walked away, but he said, “Do you want to go somewhere?”
His eyes seemed honest and his British accent was thick enough to paint the air. I said, “Sure, let’s go somewhere.”
It didn’t surprise me that we were already getting off at the same stop – 51st street, right in the middle of midtown, arguably the most boring stretch of the island. Though to us that night it was anything but. We walked, laughing and swapping stories. He wasn’t a serial killer. He ran a publishing house in London, one that printed those fancy art books that were pieces of art themselves – the ones where you have to be careful not to drool on every page. He was here working with my favorite photographer on his new book. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.
And all of a sudden, the most random connection wasn’t random at all.
We stumbled into an Irish pub where karaoke night was in full swing, and just when I thought midtown was the one part of the city that slept. We drank, sang and laughed some more until our sounds started to stumble and swirl.
That night, we parted ways on the corner of 55th and 3rd. He told me that he liked to remember the people he’s met and took my photo standing in front of the big, glass doors of a fancy office building. He kissed my cool cheek and we parted ways.
The photo still lives on his website under the heading “East of Arcady.” That night, we did create our own kind of paradise – idealistic, authentic. We’ll probably never see each other again, but maybe that’s the best part. We connected when we needed it, two humans in a lonely city, two humans who needed to create a paradise if only for a few hours, two humans who did.
When I’m feeling down, I pull up that photo. I believe that, as much as it seemed like it, this experience wasn’t out of the ordinary. Rather, we experience these things all the time. The grocery store, the crosswalk, the coffee shop, the post office, the park.
The train on the way home.
Brittany Joyce is an artist and writer currently studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Ga. After stints in Virginia, North Carolina and New York, she’s found a home in Atlanta where she writes for Paste Magazine and Aviary Organic Beauty Collective.