I headed toward Central Park West and 75th Street after leaving Dr. Zimmermann’s office. As usual, I pretended my mood was improved in order to avoid prolonging any conversation about adjusting my antidepressants. But honestly my mood wasn’t all that bad. It was my favorite kind of fall day: the wind gusted fitfully, and it was just cool enough for a light jacket. I like to cover up as much as possible. With nowhere to go immediately and a long, lonely train ride ahead of me back to my lonely apartment in Poughkeepsie, I decided to idle along the park side of the street. As I crossed 75th, I sensed someone looking at me. Waiting at the light, a dramatically handsome man—wavy blond hair, early forties, square shoulders, soap opera good looks—smiled at me as if I was his long-lost best friend. Propped on his bicycle seat, he hunched forward slightly, right foot on the sidewalk to steady himself. He wore a flannel shirt over a white tee and faded jeans, and, like me, seemed in no rush to get anywhere. Or maybe he was just that kind of confident person who gives the impression of being exactly where he needs to be at all times. He smiled even more broadly, perhaps amused by my obvious shyness and the confusion on my face. It was an unexpected flirtation. A rare flirtation for someone like me.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” he asked.
Disarmed by the easy intimacy of his warmth, I returned his smile in my own timorous way. Just at that moment another cyclist nearly ran me down, screaming as he passed, “Get out of the way, FAT ASS!”
I was so startled I barely knew what was happening. I turned and saw the second cyclist riding away, decked out in his expensive jersey, cycling shorts and shoes, and an aerodynamic helmet. Slowing down only momentarily, he glanced back as my beautiful friend screamed after him: “He has the light, asshole!”
For a moment I stood frozen in the street, shamed and a bit disoriented. All I could think was “…but I had the light.” Strangely, I didn’t feel even a little angry. I dropped my head to avoid eye contact with my soap opera hero and continued on my way. We exchanged no more words. Certainly, I’ve known greater injuries. Of course I have. Yet frequently I find myself compelled to reopen this lesser wound, reckoning with the abjection of that lovely fall day. Maybe it is the strange and disorienting coincidence of kindness and cruelty knotted inside of me. The arrested moment of an entirely unexpected intimacy and a very public abasement
Hiram Perez teaches in the English Department at Vassar College, where he also directs the Women’s Studies Program. Presently on a hiatus from academic prose, he is at work on a memoir that contemplates the relationships between racial embodiment, sexuality, and shame. His first book, A Taste for Brown Bodies: Gay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire (NYU Press), was awarded the Lambda Literary prize (or “Lammy”) for LGBT Studies in 2016. He has published essays in a variety of journals, including Social Text, Camera Obscura, The Margins, and Scholar & Feminist Online.