I’ve lived in New York my whole life. I was even born in the middle of winter, so my first interaction with snow happened well before the age of six months. Before I could even walk, I was tripping over my own feet in puddles of near-slush on the concrete.
I’ve lived through over seventeen years of winters—actual winters, the kind of winters that get inside you and eat you alive. But never before have I experienced winter like this. I’ve always said that New York winters were bone-chilling, but I never really knew what it meant to be left ravaged by the cold, with no place to seek asylum. I never knew what it meant to cower behind bushes in hopes of escaping even a fraction of the merciless winds.
I’m not alone—there are others, too, though I don’t speak to them. I cower away from them, for they still seem somehow strange and foreign and dangerous, a part of a separate world that I could not bring myself to claim as my own.
When I see him, I’m just someone cowering behind a park bench, and he’s just someone with a life that isn’t crumbling down around him. He is just a boy hurrying his way through the storm, head lowered, coat pulled tight around him.
It’s a nice coat, the kind of quality that meant his parents had probably spent most of their lives catering to his every whim. It’s a coat not altogether different from the ones that I have worn for much of my life. It’s an Upper East Side coat.
He looks around, then, briefly, furtively, and his gaze mistakenly meets mine. For a single moment, he looks right at me.
I wonder what he sees, in that moment. I wonder how I look—if I have become one of the Others, yet. If he can still recognize the designer threading of my jacket or if it has become tattered become recognition. If I am his own personal Ghost of Christmas Future, warning him of the potential pitfalls of—
(Of what? I wonder. Of being different? Or just of acknowledging that difference? Of refusing to play the game? )
I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t said a word.
Maybe I would have met this boy. Maybe we’d both be wearing suits, and we’d clasp hands and I’d have greased my hair back the way my father always insisted and I would stand there and he would meet my gaze and smile with the kind of recognition between one privileged, well-educated man and another.
“Good to meet you,” he would say, and then I would say it back.
It makes me feel so physically ill that for a second I think I might actually be sick inside he bushes, but after a moment or two it passes.
I am not that man. I don’t ever want to be that man. I am not a man.
My hand is trembling when I reach up to touch my lips. No, this isn’t what I expected. I expected bad, from parents with a rigidly Irish Catholic heritage who preferred to forgo notions of modern thinking, like maybe men can make the meals once in a while and gay marriage is actually become legal in more and more places. I expected them to say it was wrong, and maybe even perverse, but I expected them to love me. They never didn’t love me before.
I didn’t expect them to disown me. I didn’t expect to be trapped on the streets in the middle of a New York winter.
But saying it out loud was the first time the world stopped feeling inside out, and I don’t think I can ever go back. I can’t keep pretending my own body doesn’t feel like it’s suffocating me. I’m shivering behind a bush in the sharp chill of winter and it’s the first time the world has ever felt legible to me.
I won’t go back.
I whisper my new name aloud, tentatively, and my breath comes out a cloud of white.
It’s the most real I’ve ever felt