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humansofny humansofny

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Humans of New York  New York City, one story at a time.


“My older brother was my hero growing up. Everyone called him ‘Jise.’ He was this hip-hop dude. People loved him, especially the girls. Everyone knew when he walked into a room. I was the opposite. I blended into the crowd. I was quiet. I made straight A’s. I liked comic books and action figures. So I always looked up to him. He was murdered one night in 1989. Somebody shot him. I was fifteen at the time, and I just kind of gave up. I thought our family was cursed. I always had this feeling that I was up next. So it was like, ‘What’s the point of being good?’ I dropped out of school. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. We started robbing people. I never actually took anything myself. I just tagged along for the adrenaline high. Even at my lowest, part of me was always the same good kid. I always held down a job. I wrote poetry. I kept dream journals. Whenever we were getting into trouble, my friends would always tease me. They’d say: ‘This isn’t you, man. Why are you here?’ Hip-hop saved me. It gave me a voice. I started doing open mic nights. I took all those dream journals and turned them into lyrics. I joined a group called The Arsonists. We toured all over Europe. We pressed a lot of records. Of course I always held down a second job. My proudest moment was when they wrote about us in The Source. My stage name was ‘Jise,’ in honor of my brother. It was like I’d gotten us both there.”

“My English is not good. Spoken English is very difficult. But I want to study at Columbia so I am trying to improve. I decided to come to America because of Forrest Gump. I’ve watched the movie five times. I like Forrest very much. Forrest is very simple. He picks one thing, and he keeps going. When I was young, I thought Forrest was stupid. But now I have a different view. I think people are too complicated. They complain about everything. Forrest never complains. Forrest chooses one thing and he keeps going. I watched the movie last month to encourage me. My life is hard because people don’t ever know what I’m saying. But I just think of Forrest. Forrest figured everything out because he just kept going.”

“My mother wasn’t the best person in the world. She was hooked on heroin for most of my life. She sold our childhood home for drug money. She left me alone to raise my brother and disabled nephew. I used to wake up every night to feed him and change his diapers. I supported us all on the $5.15 an hour that I earned from the grocery store. My mother passed away a few months ago, and I think I’m just now coming to terms with how awful she made my life. This is the most stable I’ve ever been. I have a permanent address. I have someone who legitimately loves me. But my anxiety has never been worse. I’ve been having panic attacks recently. I think I've never had to deal with the trauma because things were always coming at me. And now I’m not sure how to handle the quiet.”

“Graduation weekend was a nightmare. My parents haven’t spoken to each other since my dad had an affair. Yet they both wanted to come to the ceremony. So we spent the whole weekend together. Except they didn’t speak a word to each other. It was ninety percent silence and ten percent me talking about nothing. The celebration dinner was the worst. Nobody said a word. I ended up drinking a lot of tequila. I tried to fill the silence by commenting on every single dish on the menu. I made several observations about my pasta. Then I spent an hour ‘looking’ for the perfect dessert place on Yelp. I’m pretty sure at some point I even pulled out the subway map and described how the entire system worked.”

"My first husband had an affair after eighteen years of marriage. So I made this one wait nineteen years before I married him."

“I lost my job last week. I was there for six years. It was the first job I’ve ever lost. It’s hard not to take it personally when someone tells you that you’re not needed. There were ten people on my team, and I’m the one they chose. So my mind has been running through all the possible things I could have done wrong. The first few days were the hardest. I spent a lot of time crying. But my birthday was a few days ago, and my friends took me out for a taco night. And it woke me up. I started laughing. I couldn’t even remember why I'd felt so sad. My life was so much bigger than that job. I’m healthy, I live in a wonderful city, and I have a great group of friends. I just lost a small piece of the pie.”

“I don’t think I’m going to miss eighth grade. It’s been a tough year. A lot of my friends are struggling with depression and self-harm, and it’s hard for me to watch. I just care about them so much. Growing up is so hard for some people. It’s such a big thing. It’s your foundation, I guess. You’re becoming you. It’s such a big thing and we’re going through it right now. Some of my friends are struggling with loving themselves and loving life. I think they forget that we’re still learning. They think that they’re already who they’re going to be. They think they know the future. And it’s going to be horrible. And they’ll never be able to fix it. But that’s not true because we’re still changing. And we’ll always be changing. Even when we’re old, we’ll be changing.”

“I grew up in an abusive household where I never got any approval. I always felt unattractive and gross. But everything changed the first time I walked into a gay club. Everyone turned to look at me. I was the newest thing. I felt like I could have anyone I wanted. It was the first time in my life that I felt a sense of power, and I became addicted to it. I started using sex as a way to satisfy my juvenile need for approval. And that need didn’t go away when I found a long-term partner. I tried to tell him about it one time. We were walking in this park, and I told him about my strong desire to be with other people. I thought maybe if we could talk about my feelings, they would go away. But he took it personally. He teared up. He looked like he’d been stabbed in the heart. So I took it all back. I never mentioned it again. Until he caught me cheating on him.”

“I’m driving to pay off my student debts. I had to start college late because my father had a stroke shortly after I graduated high school. He couldn’t afford to stop working. So I worked in a fried chicken restaurant seven days a week while he recovered. When he first came home from the hospital, I carried him down the stairs. He had tears in his eyes. My father emigrated from Pakistan in the eighties. He worked hard so that I could have a better life. In that moment, I think he saw that I’d turned into the son that he’d always hoped for.”

“I’m turning thirty in July. And I’m still working out a lot of childish things in my dating life. I’m learning how to communicate. I’m learning to ask myself: ‘What do I want?’ instead of ‘What can I take?’ I’m learning that another person can never ‘complete me.’ And I’m learning that in certain moments it’s OK to not like somebody—even if you love them. It’s taken me longer to figure this stuff out because I had to hide my identity for so long. I know that nobody ever fully arrives, but heterosexuals definitely have a head start.”

“I’m practicing French right now. I want to move to Europe so I can force myself to start over. I have a nine-to-six job. It’s a good position. They pay me well. I love my team. But everything just feels so familiar. There’s no discomfort or uncertainty anymore. On weekends I go to the same neighborhood bar. I eat at the same restaurants that I know are good. I take interesting vacations, but even those tend to follow a regular pattern. As much as I tell myself that I'm being adventurous when I hike in Peru—it’s a very planned risk. I think a new city will be good for me. I’ll start out alone. I’ll be forced to reflect. I’ll have a sense of unexpectedness. I want to feel like a tourist in my own life again.”

“He’s an actor on Broadway. I broke up with him in December because he couldn’t manage his anger. He’d scream at me on subway platforms. Once he busted my lip while trying to grab something out of my hand. That was when I finally ended it. But he called me on New Year’s Eve and asked if he could go to a party with me. We’d bought our tickets months earlier. They were expensive so I agreed. My sister was coming with us so I wasn’t worried. Everyone had a great time. At the end of the night, we dropped off my sister and went back to his place. I was so drunk that I curled up in a pile of clothes. When I opened my eyes he was taking photos of me and laughing. I immediately decided to leave. It was literally the start of a new year and I wanted to begin on a good note. He yelled at me to come back but I kept walking. He followed me down the stairs and grabbed my arm. He told me to ‘stop acting stupid.’ Then he pinned me up against the side of his building. He was choking me and saying ‘calm down, calm down, calm down.’ A van drove by and started honking at us. But they didn’t stop. They didn’t help me. I broke free and ran into traffic but nobody was stopping. He caught me, and pushed me up against a van, and lifted me into the air by the neck. When I woke up on the ground he was gone. I asked the judge to sentence him to anger management courses. He's finished them. But I’m still dealing with the trauma of that night.”

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