Some mornings begin with a headache, a dry mouth and a brain that turns like rusty clockwork. When I opened my eyes on the first Thursday of the semester, I discovered that it was going to be one of those mornings.
I stumbled into the bathroom. Hair looks fine, teeth need to be brushed, class in four hours…my nose ring is gone. I was unpleasantly surprised by that last bit.
One of the first things I learned in 2016 was that a nose piercing can close entirely overnight. With this useful information, I marched out of McKeon Hall into a morning that was too bright and too loud. Every time a Taxi honked, I felt as though my head would to shatter into a million pieces. I wish I had some water.
Just as I went to look up directions to the nearest tattoo parlor (where they often do piercings) my phone shut off unexpectedly and I found myself lost in a city where everyone seems to always know their exact destination. Eventually, I ended up outside the dark doorway of the Red Rocket Tattoo Shop somewhere on Sixth Avenue. For the first time all day, I considered myself lucky when I spotted a man in a red jacket fumbling with his keys outside the door.
“Excuse me, do you work here?” I asked.
“Yeah, but we don’t open for another two hours,” he replied, not looking up from his key ring. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and opened the door.
“Please,” I pleaded. “I had the worst night last night. My piercing closed,” I pointed to the mark on the side of my nose. “And I just found out I got cheated on for the second time. I have class in a few hours and it feels like the universe just tore my entire life to shreds.”
He finally looked up and gestured for me to follow him me up the stairs.
He informed me that the shop’s piercer had left a few months ago and that I would have to head somewhere else. Meanwhile, he sat down at a computer and began pulling up maps and phone numbers for different piercing places around the city.
“Yeah, I just got out of a three-year relationship a few weeks ago,” he muttered distractedly as he scrolled through web pages. “It was rough; it’s still rough, but you’re young. Trust me, you might not think it, but you’ve barely even begun your life.” As he spoke to me, he passed me a cell phone charger and offered me something to drink. My taste buds were thankful for the effulgent sweetness of New York City tap water.
He turned and faced me. “You have the whole world available to you in this city and you don’t need to worry about the future because it’ll find ways to make you cry and make you smile, eventually.” My year-long relationship had just been severed by one incoming text message a few hours prior, and yet I found myself smiling to a stranger in Midtown. Adulthood was already managing to surprise me.
Before I went back on my way with a few printed pages of Google Maps and a partially charged phone, I thanked the man again and again and realized that over the past hour or so I had never asked his name.
“Max,” he said. As I walked out the door, he handed me his card. “If you ever feel like making any more bad decisions, you know where to go.”
I often feel lonely in such a big place as New York. I think there is a universal loneliness buried beneath everyone’s routines. It’s disheartening to witness everyone else on the move, driven by something that they can’t seem to find or possess. However, I stumbled upon Max in a moment of weakness, and that morning he helped me to remember the obvious – I am not alone. Forty minutes of his time reminded me that there is always someone ready to share kindness with me, even if he wasn’t aware of how much of a difference he made.
There’s this nasty stereotype that New Yorkers are busy and heartless. While this idea is rooted in some truth, I have learned firsthand that this is not so concrete. It’s been a few months since that morning. My wallet is tearing in three places, which I realized when I dropped it and all of my cards scattered across the floor. As I reached down, I noticed a red and white business card headed with the words, “Red Rocket Tattoo Shop.” Below was Max’s name and information. I like to think that I’ll revisit that dark doorway on Sixth Avenue and thank him for providing me with the sense of interconnectedness that I feel, not just as a student in New York City, but as a New Yorker.
I don’t plan on getting any tattoos, but if I do (Mom, if you’re reading this, I won’t) I’ll pay Max another visit. The time I’ve spent living in New York City has been marked by many “bad” decisions, but I prefer to think about them as opportunities of learning and reflection. Besides, I’m surrounded by millions of other people who make “bad” decisions, too. At least we’re all making them together.