My First Protest (The Women's March in D.C.)

On January 20, I find myself in a hotel lobby in Silver Springs, Maryland. About thirty teenagers in prom dresses and shirts with ties are on the couches in the lobby. You barely hear over the chatter. It's already midnight. 

The hotel attendant gives Edward and I our keys and warm cookies (it's their thing) and we get into an elevator, with more of the formally-dressed high schoolers. On our floor there are more kids on carpet having conversations so involved they don't notice when we step over them.

There's a woman with a clipboard doing bed checks through an open door. I tell Edward that they were probably an Inauguration Band. 

"Well, we're definitely not getting any sleep tonight." 

I'm exhausted. I had a full day of work, I got on The Path Train, I met Kel in New Jersey and we drove six hours to be in Washington, D.C. for the Women's March. It was all a fluke, really. Kel called Wednesday night with an excited urgency I'd never heard from her: 

"I was raised to do what I am told and put my head down. But with everything that has gone on, I said, 'You know what? I need to do this.'"

So here we are, in D.C. with only three days notice. I open the window shade to a main street. I tell Edward that I haven't been to D.C. since 2009, and start into my favorite story about taking the Amtrak alone, writing the whole ride, alighting at Union Station and getting a cab and feeling so independent. I tell him about seeing the monuments from a tour trolley in the freezing cold ("It was April, it was supposed to be warm, it was the Cherry Blossom Festival") and seeing The White House where there was a protest. Then the famous punchline -- it was an anti-circumcision protest. 

"I've never protested before," I keep saying. I'm scared but manage to sleep.

Edward and I set alarms for 6 am, we have to meet Kel and the girls at 7:15 am sharp. 

The alarm goes off the next morning and my eyes feel...sore. I put on a pair of jeans and tennis shoes, I hide my purse in my larger overnight bag and only tie the essentials to my chest in an old passport pouch. We go to breakfast buffet. A woman looks over at Edward's pink sweater. 

"I hope a lot of people show up. He's wearing pink, but maybe I'm reading too much into it." 

All is quiet in Silver Lake, Maryland, at 7 am until Edward and I make it to the station platform and we realize that everyone going to the march is there. My heavy eyelids perk up, a smile crosses my face. We're not alone, and everyone is exuberant instead of angry. Kel and company arrive in pink just in time for the train. We exit the metro near The National Mall and start walking to find coffee. 

There is an Au Bon Pain right off the march route, and it's packed. The line is wrapped around the interior three times. A barista is holding a hot vat of coffee high above the crowd. 

"Excuse me, hot coffee," he says, and places the dispenser right beside Edward and I. 

"Has it been crowded?" someone asks. 

"Yeah, but a really polite crowd, much nicer than yesterdays crowd that's for sure," he says, mentioning the inauguration crowd from the day before.

We walk back to a meeting point, where Kel's friend is gathering people from a nonprofit organization to pass out posters. There's a memorable moment on a bathroom break: the women's line is longer than the men's line (naturally) and one of the elderly woman kicks open the door and yells, "I'm coming in! We have to fight the patriarchy and the man, and just make our own way!" Other women follow-suit, and suddenly the sexes mixed in each bathroom laughing uproariously. 

I make a mental note, that I'm going to blog about that moment no matter what. 

The group starts to gather for the rally just a block or two away. Edward and I find out that if we hold hands on our walk, we get television cameras in our face. 

"We're, 'That Interracial Couple at the Women's March,'" I whisper to him with a hell of a lot of snark.


The first six hours, are the worst. A crowd forms near The National Mall around 8 am to watch the rally on a big screen. Everyone is shoulder to shoulder. That big breakfast wears off and I wonder if anyone will be able to hold it together until 1 pm, when the official march is supposed to begin. 

Around 9 am, the crowd starts screaming “Am-bu-lance. Am-bu-lance.” The first casualty. This will happen about five more times, someone at one time screaming, “Does anyone have a blood sugar checker?” About five doctors part the crowd but they are helpless without an ENT to lift the body for a man who has passed out. I look around and notice that there’s no cops in eyesight, but why would there be — there are probably cameras everywhere.

For the Rally portion of the march, several celebrities make speeches and bands play music. It would be fun but it’s not what anyone is there for, we’re there to say things, to make noise. For a long time we've watched the news, read articles, felt powerless and out of control, and this is finally the moment we get to express ourselves. We're tired of listening to people at microphones, it's our turn.

The crowd gets more and more angry as we get closer and closer to 1 pm. “When are we actually going to start marching?” someone asks. Even if it muffles the rally, a small group even starts to scream, "March! March! March!" The crowd decides that they’ve had enough. 

“Everyone turn around and start walking,” someone shouts. We’re just going to do this, and so we start off in any direction where there is room. It’s disorganized. Most of the walking paths are short lived and end on giant fields and streets that start to look like street fairs. Our group finds multiple groups to follow down the streets.

The chants are as thus: 

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” 
“We will not go away, welcome to your first day.” 
“We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter.” “This is what democracy looks like; this is what America looks like.”
"Thank you Obama! Thank you Obama!" 

I get the feeling like I’m going to cry whenever I see a sign that I agree with, or just because some rage and disappointment floods me and because I still feel like a pawn in a very large, hard to fight game. We have work to do. This is an exasperating feeling of helplessness that I’ve felt long before the election began. 

Despite this, there is an overarching feeling of happiness, too. People find moments to dance to a jazz band that's playing, to laugh, to be polite to each other. You'd think the crowd would be showing more of their rage, but it's good we're civilized. My parents text me: "Don't go to jail." I read this to my friends and they all laugh, it seems unlikely now. 

After a few more hours of marching, we find the end of the trail. The protesters have dissipated to bars and restaurants or the nearby T station. Edward and I are taking a rental car back the same night. We have six hours of road to cover. We expect to be back in New York by midnight. 

We take a train to Silver Springs, grab dinner, pick up our bags at the hotel and took the train back to the airport to get a rental car. A heavy fog settles over D.C. as we exit. 

"Ah, all the monuments look so beautiful glowing in the dark," I say to Edward. 

We sing oldies songs on the way home and stop at a rest stop in Delaware, stretching our legs beside buses of admirable women in pink gear.

Even though I'm inspired by being surrounded by like-minded people in a safe forum, I also feel discouraged, lazy, and anxious. Sure, we'd had a success that day. But we couldn't all party and rejoice without keeping the momentum going for the many months or years that we would need to. Showing up was only 1/4 of the battle.

Edward and I make it to New York around 2 am. My feet hurt, my lower back sore and I'm losing my voice (a seasoned protester was trying to tell me to preserve it, but I was such a newbie). When I close my eyes to sleep, I think about our rental car headlights on the highway and feel the movement of the car. Roads to cover, hours to drive, unfinished, urgent business. Work to be done. 

I Was There When

So often, it happened like this: my mother, once outside the car opens the driver side door, letting the interior lights (one on the ceiling, two on the floor) turn on. She sits in the driver seat, rears back the wrist and shoulder of her right arm to fasten a seatbelt with her left. Then she hunches over the wheel, turning to me, shivering. 

"It's windy out there," she says, or "not fit for man nor beast."

This was not a regular weather pattern, but the wind coming off a hurricane churning in the gulf. You could feel the winds three days before landfall, a reminder of the things that were to come. 

I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, a city on the Gulf Coast. Before moving to New York, I lived through at least nine notable storms (including Hurricane Katrina). A hurricane gave the city a sort of focus. Small talk disappeared. Everyone could only talk of one thing:

"I heard Lowe's was having a sale on wood if you need to board your windows..."

"My cousin in Birmingham told me I could come up and stay with her."

"They say it might be category four..."

Though we had our bills, our sadness, our to-dos, they were filtered through the worries of an upcoming storm. It was as if the city were operating together as a unit, that we were of one mind. I can't describe it better than that.

On November 8th at 6 pm, I exited the subway at 42nd Street and felt this focus for the first time since I left Mobile. Crowds of people were speed walking west toward the Javits Center where Hillary Clinton was hosting her Election Night Party. I didn't know the numbers -- how many tickets had been given out, how many crowds were due to show up, but I thought I'd try my luck. I'd spent an hour on Sunday standing in line at her Manhattan headquarters just to pick up at ticket. I'd come too far to go home and watch it from the sofa.

The crowds were bottlenecked into a barricaded area that ran up to the back entrance of the Javits Center. For at least an avenue block behind me, all you could see were hundred of heads and people taking photos. We were a civilized, but complaining crowd. I was all alone, promising to meet up with my sister as soon as she could get to midtown. After an hour of shuffling and stopping, and a brief security check, a woman directed me to Eleventh Avenue in front of the building for the "Street Party." A jumbo-sized TV ran Clinton campaign videos and switched between the news networks. There were a few food trucks, people were complained that there wasn't any booze, and everyone wanted to be inside. A volunteer told us that no one was going inside. 

I was united with two friends from my trip to Rhode Island. A volunteer passed out American flags. Whenever Hillary won a state the crowd would cheer, and whenever Trump won one we would all boo. 

A small stage was set up on the street and the mayor, the governor and even Katy Perry spoke, among others. Trump began winning many states. People started sitting on the asphalt. By 11 pm, friends at home were texting me. If the world held it's focus on the election, then I was standing in the eye of the storm. 

"What are people saying?"

"Morale is low," I wrote. 

I overheard a cameraman saying to his producer, "We need more shots of worried faces." 

I looked to my left and right. Everyone including myself, had their jaws open, bitting their nails, near to tears, groaning, texting, calling friends, pacing. Someone even started to smoke a blunt, the smell wafting over the crowd. People stopped waving their flags.

By midnight, and without full results, me and my friends decided to go home. We joined the crowds back to Tenth Avenue and eventually reached 42nd Street. I said goodbye to them, and waited on the corner to hail a cab. Three Trump supporters from his Hilton Hotel party had made their way down 42nd Street. They were drunk. 

One of the men ran the back of his hand along my shoulder and giggled. 

"Sorry, darlin', I had to switch sides," he said. Then he burst out laughing and so did his three friends, they were all wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. 

"I mean, this is the best part," said one of the men, he stood next to me, so that we were nearly shoulder to shoulder. He held up a stack of about 50 Trump bumper stickers in bright red. 

The signal changed, and they could cross the street. 

"Have a good night," they said politely and continued down the street. A cab pulled up just then, and the driver saw my two American flags. One had broken into pieces. I'd forgotten to throw it away.

"So, what is happening down there?" the driver said. He was wearing a skull cap, he had a long but plump baby face. He turned in his seat to look at me through the glass partition in the cab. This wasn't small talk -- he really needed to know. I swallowed, was I really going to have to break it to this stranger?! This man with eyes so big and wide, it was like telling your child some very bad news. How do you do it?

"It..." I said, "it doesn't look so good." 

He nodded. "OK," he said. "OK." Then he turned in his seat, put the car into gear and we went up the West Side Highway and eventually home. I recall the small amount of money I gave to the Clinton campaign and while shaking my head, tears welling up, say to myself: "I would have given it a million times if I could have." 

I got into bed and remembered a conversation I'd had over the summer. I was working with a strategy and branding expert, and she was scrolling through this blog. 

"What is the purpose of this?" she asked. 

"I write about my life, I tell stories and vignettes," I said.

"But...why?" she asked. 

I could see the answer in my mind, but couldn't verbalize it well. My own reasons had been so self evident that it wasn't even a word -- but a feeling, an attraction. The night of the election I was able to verbalize these feelings, because I recognized the conditions from which they come.

I write because I live (and have lived) the majority of my life in sadness. There are times when everyday life is very, very hard. But the past is the only thing I know for sure. When the status quo is too overwhelming and unbearable, that is when writing has it's value. I can reach back into happy and sad experiences to keep myself moving. To escape. 

This is what art is for.

I woke up at intervals during the night to check the news. My Facebook feed fell into chaos.

"No one really cares what I have to say," I said to myself as I drafted status updates and posts and deleted them. I knew I wanted to write about that night, and I knew it wouldn't be an all-encompassing post that did anything of worth. Even with the distance from it, I could never write it right and catch it all besides saying: "I was there that night." 

But that does nothing. 

Shelter Island

A year ago, "Harry" brushed past a cactus on a hike. It was one of those cactuses that loses limbs for protection and fell into his left hand, the spikes digging into his skin. Little scars now run up the knuckles where a doctor removed each spike in the ER. I watched this same hand guide the helm of his boat, The Montauk. His heel of his right hand he used to accelerate the motor. 

"This whole bay is so shallow," he said as we turned from an inlet into a larger bay. He'd gone there the weekend before to water ski. Now, just a week or two into September, it was already too cold too swim, too hot for a jacket. A beautiful Friday regardless. I looked at the time, nearly 3 o'clock. If I hadn't taken the day off to escape to The Hamptons with Harry, I would be in the office. To think everything had started with a pineapple.

On our first date on Labor Day, Harry showed up to a bar with a pineapple instead of flowers.

"I couldn't find any flowers," he said. "so I texted my friends to see if a pineapple was a good idea. They were like, 'abort, abort.'" The date went well, the pineapple came home with me in a taxi, cradled like a baby. The next day the whole apartment smelled sweet. The following weekend we watched a film and celebrated my birthday on his parents rooftop in the East Village. He grilled salmon, I made us gin fizz's. After giving me a gift, he played Fred Astaire on his laptop.

"It took me all day to find a song for us to dance to," he said. So we laughed our way through a dance. We'd gotten along famously enough to plan a trip to his parents Hamptons house for a weekend. A week later my friend Patrick pushed a copy of Max Frisch's "Montauk" across the table to me at Cafe Grumpy. I read it in less than week, totally engrossed in the plot that would soon be my reality -- a writer taking a new romantic interest to The Hamptons.

On the evening of the 22nd, Harry and I boarded a Hampton Jitney and arrived to the ferry to Shelter Island a little before ten. I remember the unpleasant chug-chug of the ferry slowing as we pulled into the dock. I remember looking at the other side of the ferry and sighing.

"This, Ariel Davis, is the craziest thing you've ever done." Maybe I'd reached my limit, maybe I'd done something too crazy. I think of my idol, George Sands, who whisked Frederick Chopin to Majorca. I think of Max Frisch. Maybe this is just the great literary tradition.

Harry put a hand on my shoulder. 

"Made it."

A cab took us to his house, a beautiful, wooden two story place surrounded by green grass and trees and nestled so far from the street it was entirely private. I was instantly envious. Harry gave me the tour: a living room and dining room with a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows to the porch. Up the stairs, two bedrooms, ours the small one with twin beds, high ceilings and a large green plant. In the backyard, a grill and a farm. I had a glass of wine and Harry had a glass of whiskey. I taught him how to fry an egg without it burning, and we had it as our dinner.

We were up by 10 am the next morning. Harry gave me a primer on the espresso machine, so I made us both lattes. He was out in the backyard tinkering with the Vespa.

"Hey, can you come out here?" he asked. He'd just hung up the phone, he'd been talking through the repairs with his father. "I have a feeling you're lucky."

He pointed at the ignition on the right side. I tried turning the keys and the engine started to sputter, without gaining the expected hum.

"This thing!" Harry said, defeated. "We can ride bikes to breakfast."

"Bike?" I said. "I haven't ridden a bike since I was in Paris."

"When was that?"


"You'll be great at it," he said.

"Are there a lot of cars?"

"These are back roads," he said.

Back roads. One-laned roads and a traffic circle. A little residential street that passes the elementary school and the library. There was supposedly a bike path, but we never found it. We parked our bikes (without locks) at the local diner. My hands shook from the ride, I was so nervous.

"Look at that," I said, and pointed to the tremor. Harry gasped and took my hand across the table, which reminded me of what a gentleman he'd been since the trip began. We'd slept in twin beds, and he grew upset when he caught me washing dishes. There was a spider hanging over the toilet in the bathroom (Me: "There's a large, vicious spider in there!" Him: "That little guy?"). He put it in a mug, and discretely released it on the front lawn.

Harry is an environmental lawyer by trade, but spends all his time hiking and climbing mountains. Biking in the streets was easier for him than it was for me. He was always biking in cities. He joked often that he was "a caveman" even on our first date -- he was worried about his table manners. He's a pragmatist. He never wears matching socks because matching socks is a waste of time. If he can turn something into a sport or a competition, he will.

He taught me to play penny soccer until our breakfast arrived. I won.

We climbed on our bikes for a short ride to the pier. Though I was frightened by the speed of the hills, the cars rushing past, the branches in the streets, I think a bike ride is the best way to see Shelter Island. We got lost in a neighborhood of only old houses and a very old church. We stopped riding so Harry could consult the map.

I began to feel a strange, dull pain in my neck, blood rushing to the area. I'd been stung by a bee in the same spot I was stung when I was seven. When I was seven I cried and made a phone call from school to my mom. The school nurse opened a paper towel to show me the stinger. She'd found the bee laying on my shirt collar.

"You must have squished him," the nurse said. She didn't know, like I did, that all bees die after they sting someone. I still don't understand the biological need for them to die after defending themselves. Growing up, I erroneously translated this into a lesson: don't fight until you die fighting. Give up.

Now, at 32, I can be stung by a bee and not notice it.

"Harry, is there something in my neck?" I asked him. He, being six foot three, loomed over me, leaning down.

"There's something," he said. I took my fingers and pinched the spot, putting pressure on it and dragging my hand downward, like I've seen people do in the bee documentaries.

"I think a bee stung me," I said.

"We're going to the hospital," Harry said. "get you some cortisone."

"I'll be fine, I..." I started laughing. "I hardly felt it." ("I've grown up.")

We continued on. We would need to cross the island to make it to the pier. My neck only hurt when I turned it to the right, then it stopped hurting at all.



The closer we got to the pier, the more beautiful the ride became. We saw the water between the trees; the sun bouncing off of it. We parked our bikes against a garage and raced down to the boat. Harry asked me to be the Skipper.

We began to navigate the waters. Harry at one point revved up the motor and we bounced along the waves.

"This is too fast!"

"That was nothing!" he laughed. "You have to hit the waves head on."

We found an empty body of water, there was only a massive yacht bearing Australian flags beside us. Harry cut the engine and we layed down with our legs up, talking about life.

On the way back to shore I waved at the boats we passed and he let me drive her for a bit. We made it back to the pier, back to our bikes, back to the streets. At the house, the sun had drained our energy. Harry was insistent that we watch an episode of my favorite show, "Poirot."

"You'll fall asleep," I warned him. Twenty minutes in, and he was out. Talk about idyllic! Harry was still holding my hands as he slept, his chest rising and falling, his eyelids fluttering from a dream. I could see out the front windows. A doe wandered on the property; it's mother not far off. Harry shifted.

"How long was I sleeping?" he asked.

"Not long," I said. He yawned and decided to take the bike to the market to get us dinner before sundown. He returned with a salmon steak, greens, an avocado and bread. We stood side by side at the counter top chopping vegetables while listening to jazz.

"Hanging out with you us just so easy," Harry said before a very romantic toast.

"I agree," I said. We took the salmon and mixed it with onions and a variety of spices and mayonnaise then grilled them like burgers. Harry whisked Dijon and lemon and olive oil into dressing.

"I'll cry if I have to watch you eat cold food," he said, looking over at my salmon burger patty resting on the counter while his simmered on the grill. 

"You're spoiling me," I said.

We turned off all the lights and lit the candelabra in the dining room. My phone rang. My mom. I told Harry I'd tell her where I was when I was back in New York.

After dinner we decided to watch a movie. I'd never seen "No Country for Old Men" and Harry wanted to see it again. With all the violence, I was most offended by the scene where the sheriff notices a bottle of "sweatin' milk" on a coffee table as a sign that their culprit has just left the house, I jumped up out of my seat. The sheriff pours himself a glass.

"You can't drink that!" I shrieked at the TV. "That milk is sweatin'!"

Harry laughed and squeezed my shoulder. I blushed. "You know how I am about expiration dates."

We went to bed around midnight and woke around 10 am. If we had gone to bed in summer, we woke up in fall. It was so chilly we wore jackets and sweats and shivered on the ferry ride back. The bus ride home was three hours, and we held hands for most of it. At Grand Central he was to take his train and I had to take mine. He gave my hand three sharp squeezes before running down the subway stair.

In two weeks he'd be in Hawaii. In two more weeks, still traveling the world, destination unknown. I felt a sort of sadness, not only about his departure but about my life. I was staring down my nose into the next few years, and there was nothing to see, nothing to look forward to. Not one hope nor milestone. Madame George Sands wouldn't have cared, perhaps? But I'll never be her. 

Unfinished Business (or, The End of Summer)

This summer, I can't even believe it. The summer of good surprises. It began with a list of plans and none of them got finished — better ones came instead. I began August in a frenzy. I didn't know that my birthday (in early September) would come with the best end-of-summer gift anyone could ask for (Harry, and our trip to The Hamptons, a post is coming) but there was a new friend to make before that. I needed to meet Kent (nickname of course).

On August 30 at 8 am waitress set before me the first soft boiled egg I'd ever eaten in public. Kent ordered the avocado toast. A pot of coffee steaming between us.

"Thanks for meeting me this morning," Kent said. He lifted up his toast and a lump of avocado went into his lap.

"Did you drop some?" I asked.

He nodded his head "yes."

"You know when you meet someone new, and you're nervous?" The two suits to our left looked over, their ears picking up his British accent from far off. Kent was petite, in both height and build. His nose, eyes and mouth reminded me of Matthew Goode. His hair was salt and pepper. He would later complain that he was losing "a bit off the top."

"Don't be nervous," I laughed. Then to change the subject: "Its really nice to be out before work. I love walking through midtown in the morning. I saw them taping the 'Today' show on my walk over. And, it's nice to have a big breakfast before work."

Kent had a piece of avocado now dangling from his mouth, struggling to get it all in. When he did, he did so with his eyes wide and his cheeks blushing. I stifled a laugh and looked down, pretending to miss it completely.

I'd met Kent online. Within an hour of matching and messaging each other I learned that he was in New York working for the US Open. He wasn't seeking dates but friends, specifically a local tour guide who wouldn't mind an afternoon in Central Park.

At first the idea was unattractive — a time suck. In my 20s this sort of thing was fun, "a new friend!" I used to say. With tourists you never see them again, two or three texts after, but you never see them again.

My heart decided there was room to play tour guide one last time. Besides, I was already closing out August like a madwoman. I had been meeting so many men for cocktails I was always sleepy from midnight cab rides home. It felt like nothing to add a new face to the rotation of faces.

Kent was running off a list of New York must-dos.

"But I don't want to do anything too touristy," Kent warned. "I like the unseen, underground hidden stuff."

I put a finger to my chin.

"There's lots of things," I said. "Let me give it some thought. I'll send you a list."

Two weeks later Kent agreed to meet me for an afternoon uptown, the last neighborhood he had yet to explore. I was impressed by his itinerary without my help: so far he'd walked all through Williamsburg, made a pass through Queens, crossed a bridge on foot and did the dinner and drinks thing in West Village. Together we'd had a time trying to get into a speakeasy on Labor Day (it was closed) and had to suffer at an empty spot nearby playing the Open on a big screen.

I planned the usual uptown tour: jazz at Marjorie Eliots, a walk to The Highbridge and the Little Red Lighthouse, and drinks somewhere near 168th. At 3:30 we buzzed Majorie's apartment and entered the wide, white marble lobby still done up like something from the 1920s.

"Every Sunday she opens up her home and gives a free jazz concert. It's the coolest thing in town. The only tourists that know it exists are Norwegian," I said as blondes filled the little folding chairs of Marjorie Eliot's apartment.

Marjorie Eliots Parlor Jazz. 

Marjorie Eliots Parlor Jazz. 


I'd always gone to Marjorie Eliots in the winter, when the sun set early and a darkness overtook the room. In the summer the parlor windows were open, the breeze lifting the curtains. The music was as good as it always is, I closed my eyes and swayed in my seat. We left just before 5.

"That was really nice! Can you imagine, it's so nice that she's able to do that every week," said Kent as we walked north on Edgecombe, past the prison.

"Hey! I see you!" shouted an inmate from a window. We could barely see the face, the window was laden with bars.

"Who said that?" Kent asked.

"That's a jail," I said. "A prisoner just yelled at me from a jail cell!"

"That's never happened to me before," Kent laughed.

"Hey!" yelled the voice again. "When I get out I'll come get you! That man ain't doing nothing for you! Don't you want a piece of this!"

"Well," I said to Kent, "it's not like he can get out."

"I'm getting out someday!" yelled the man.

"I can't believe this is happening," Kent said, beside himself. We'd now made it to the end of the block, turned down towards Highbridge Park, where two adult community teams were playing basketball. He pulled out his phone and started snapping the large, animated crowd.

"Is this local enough for you?" I asked.

"This is amazing," Kent said. He put on a face I'd seen so many times before, the wide-eyed wonder of a tourist. A face I'd made when I was still "just visiting." The face I still make when New York surprises me. Before moving here, all the art I'd ever seen about the city I thought was just exaggeration for arts sake. Then you get here and you see the train rats, the public pee-ers, and the jazz bands, the lights, the couples, the sparkle. It's all very, very real.

I took Kent to the Highbridge that connects my neighborhood to The Bronx. Then we went East so I could take him to the see the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse.

He was in awe of the fire hydrant that was left open so the neighborhood kids could splash in the heat. He was in awe of the elderly woman dancing to bachata with a cane balanced on her forehead. A documentary film crew followed a couple arguing down the street ("We'll be the faces waffled out when that thing releases.") He was in awe of that too.

We started the path to the lighthouse just before sunset. It was my first time there, and I was glad Kent was with me. The walkways were dotted with teenagers smoking marijuana and small tunnels covered in graffiti. We caught a couple being lewd in the woods, and when they saw us, directed us to take a left to make it to the lighthouse.

The view from the Little Red Lighthouse. 

The view from the Little Red Lighthouse. 

"I hope it's worth it," I said to Kent. The sun was setting, so the sky was getting it's color. The whole area by the Hudson River was quiet, the water was low enough to wade in. There were big rocks on the shore, we climbed from rock to rock. You could see all the way to downtown.

"Why couldn't it always be summer? Always beautiful weather, a day or two just before or after my birthday, why couldn't I eat fish everyday and drink rose, just keep pretending," I said.

"But it's so hot," he said.

"I like it," I said.

We walked back and Kent wanted to buy me a birthday drink, my birthday had been the day before. I'd celebrated with Harry on his roof (post to come) but otherwise wanted it to be very low key. We had a horrible pair of cheap cocktails at the local spot. A homeless man, overhearing my conversation and clearly mentally impaired, yelled at me from the sidewalk.

"You're a fucking vampire!" (Clearly, he's been reading my blog.)

I just shrugged, as if I'd been living here 25 years instead of just nine. I'd heard it all before.

I walked Kent to his subway stop, hugged him goodbye and watched him descend the stairs. He would return to London in a couple of days.

He hadn't exhausted his to-do list yet.

I hopped on an M3 bus and recalled the days when I had a "list." Every trip I made to New York (which was twice or three times yearly after I began college) the list got bigger. Counting down to a flight home was the most depressing thing on earth. I couldn't wait for now, when I would finally have a forever in New York to take my time, see everything, do everything.

To know that I have that gift now? The thought eased every anxiety. On the bus I let my legs stretch out in front of me. Sunk into my seat.

I got a text from Kent, he'd made it to the hotel. A few days later, a text before his flight. Then they stopped, just like I knew they would.

Montauk Journal (or, The Young Man and the Sea)

We are on the train. Specifically the LIRR.

"You have a type," Philippa says.

"I do not have a type, none of these guys look alike!"

Philippa pulls up a picture of an Edwardian man in a morning coat with a flower in his lapel button. "This is your type."

"What's your type?" I ask. I can't stop laughing.

"Byronic hipsters who are also assholes."

Our train rolls into East Hampton, and the majority of the passengers rise and exit. A girl in all-white is standing in front of us.

"Everyone wears all-white in The Hamptons," Philippa says.

"Why?" I ask.

"I don't know," she raises her eyebrows in the direction of the girl. "everyone just wears all-white."

Around 11 am, Philippa and I alight with a bunch of 30-somethings carrying Everlane weekender's. From the stop we could see our hotel on the top of a hill: The Montauk Manor. Kennedy, our hostess and the organizer of the trip, walks us through the Tudor style entry way through the grounds, where there is a spectacular cliff overlooking the Montauk Pond. She couldn't have picked a more perfect place to stay. I am in disbelief that such a perfect turnkey vacation has fallen into my hands.

"I don't deserve to have this much fun," I find myself whispering to Philippa many times over.

By noon, I was twisting a can of Montauk Summer Ale into the sand at Ditch Plains. I ate a fish sandwich, we caught the end of a surf match and sipped my favorite rose from a solo cup. A man starts digging vertical lines in the sand.

"What do you think he lost?" Kennedy asks.

"That's says more about us than it does him," says Philippa.

The Crowe's Nest.

The Crowe's Nest.

Kennedy has made us reservations at The Crowe's Nest. Philippa and I agree to go early to secure a table, it is the most beautiful restaurant I've ever been to. Tables for 8 were arranged under little thatched roofs on a lawn overlooking the pond. String lights hung above an outdoor lounge with firepits and couches. Philippa and I drank watermelon cocktails and sunk into a sofa. By 7 we had our very own thatched-roof table sharing whipped ricotta and rose and scallops. The best evening I'd had in a long time.

I fall into a deep sleep at the hotel.

The Surf Lodge.

The Surf Lodge.

Philippa, Irene and myself take a car into town for iced coffees and exploration. We meet up with the other girls for brunch at The Surf Lodge, a place so insta-famous I know it before I see it.

There is a woman dining at the adjacent table who says: "This is the second Shaggy song they've played in an hour, so that means it's time to go."

I swim and sun for hours. Philippa sits at the edge of the deep end of the pool and smiles.

"Goodbye," she whispers, before diving in.

Dureya's Lobster Deck. 

Dureya's Lobster Deck. 

More rosé and lobster rolls at Dureya's. Kennedy and I leave there and head directly to our scheduled sunset sail. (The anxiety of knowing that I'll want to write about said sail, creeps up on me.)



"You said you were going to sing with me," says the sea captain, he's playing guitar. I laugh, embarrassed.

"You'll lose all your customers," I say. I look at each of the passengers on the boat. They are sitting in small groups -- an Irish family all blonde and smiling, six Chinese tourists sleeping off the end of a beach day, a young couple on honeymoon popping a bottle of champagne. None of them laughed, the captain did not laugh. The joke doesn't translate.

My friends are the last to board, and I see them dashing up the pier from afar. We all greet each other and sit on the floor of the catamaran. The captain stands to put away his guitar and turns on the motor to start towards the ocean. My second sail of the year.

The captain is able to steer the catamaran by a large pole connected to a rudder at the back of the boat. He and his skipper take turns pulling up sails, catching the wind and eventually pulling us out of an inlet and into the sound. Me and the girls open up a bottle of rosé.

But then something happens.

The conditions are favorable enough that we're able to coast at 8 Knots, and the captain as he wipes his brow, is beside himself. This is a rare ride, normally a sail isn't as smooth.

"If we keep going this fast we'll be in Bermuda in two days," he says.

"Let's keep going," I laugh.

"I'm doing a sail all the way down the coast in October," he says.

"By yourself?" I ask excitedly, having visions of what that pure solitude out on the water would be like.

"No!" he laughs. "That's why I'm telling you."

"All alone for a week?" I say.

"Yes. You just sail during the day—and then sleep—it's nice."

"Do you put down an anchor?"

"No, you'll get a feel for the water and see how she moves through the night. No need for an anchor."

We change directions and head back towards our pier. The captain looks at me and sighs.

"I hope you felt that, I hope you felt what just happened. That was the best sail I've had--" he stops because he's starting to cry. "The best sail I've had in the last 25 years. I mean, it was just..."

In his excitement, he reaches down for his conch and blows it triumphantly. People dining at a waterfront restaurant turn and wave to us. Tears are streaming down his face. I start to cry too, at the realization that he was someone so devoted to his sport and craft that he was willing to do it even if a good day only came every 25 years.

What does it mean then, to truly be passionate? Let's say I hadn't had success writing at all, would I still be doing it? Would I do it for 25 years like this man? And to have a hobby such as his, that depended so much on the sea and the air, and the nature? These are the things I thought as I cried.

"I learned how to sail when I was seven," the captain says, "from a boy who was seven years old. I built this boat myself. I spent so much time." He is still talking through puffy red eyes. He looks out at the other passengers.

"I hope you felt it, I hope you realize what just happened out here," he says. One of the Chinese tourists lifts up a fist in the air.

"I felt it."

Philippa and I are reunited at the hotel and went back out for tacos. Monday was coming and Philippa and I will be the first to depart Montauk on the 1:35 am train.

"I feel like by riding the 1:35 am train we like, 'go hard' or something. Like this train is going to be full of drunks," I laugh to Philippa as we sat on the empty train platform. I suddenly feel very bonded to Philippa and appreciated that she was also an easy traveller, making no complaints. It is announced that the 1:35 am train is delayed by two hours. We decide to go back to the hotel and take the morning train.

We sleep for two hours, hit the train again at 5 am. We arrive at 9:15 am to a sunny, hot Penn Station, thick crowds that move like schools of fish (an undulating carpet of heads and hats and cars). It feels as though I've been in Montauk for weeks and not days. I flop into my desk at the office, there's no time to go home and freshen up. I feel sun kissed. There's sand in my shoes. My hair smells like chlorine. I enjoy this little reminder.


The Green Light -- Rhode Island Journal

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

— "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald


"We got here early," said a sporty looking 30-something man on the Megabus to Providence, Rhode Island. "So we thought we'd just like relax. We're usually late -- "

"Usually really late," said his partner, leaning over from his seat. 

"So we just wanted to like," the man tilted his head to the left, then to the right, he exhaled. "let ourselves take our time. We took a cab." 

This conversation was being directed at the couple sitting two seats in front of me, directly across from their row. Eavesdropping, I learned that they were all staying at a friend-of-a-friends family home in Providence. 

"The basement is among the least desirable rooms for the weekend, to be fair," warned the 30-something man. He had a way of speaking that was highly democratic, almost to the point of being distrustful. "But the single people always use every excuse they can to get the single-bed rooms upstairs." 

Two of their friends sitting in the front came back to visit them. 

"We're freezing," the girl said. She was in socks, Birkenstock shoes and a onesie. 

"A onesie was an excellent choice," says her hipster friend, without sarcasm. 

"Here's a sweatshirt for Michael," the democratic man hands her a black sweatshirt to carry up to her boyfriend, but returns and hands it back to him. 

"He doesn't want it," she says. 

"Is there something wrong with it?" he asks. 

"No, he just doesn't want it," she goes back up to the front. All four of the friends shrug. 

"What's wrong with it?" asks the hipster girl in the seat in front of me. "It's Everlane for christ's sake." 

And in my seat, thumb of my left hand pressing furiously into the palm of my right, I was itching for my pen and paper. 


Stimulus. Traveling, as a writer, is like having lived in a desert and suddenly arriving at an oasis. Everything is worth being written about when I'm traveling. Every view, every long walk, every overheard conversation (a hipster on a bus). The temperatures, the mistakes. The new views out of new window panes. 

When I agreed to join Madeline (aka, Maddy), her boyfriend Preston, and his friend Vronsky on a Fourth of July weekend in Rhode Island, I had no idea that on top of the normal stimuli would be my own social fears. I hadn't travelled with friends or family since 2011. It was almost like coming out of the dark. 

"It really puts your friendship to the test," Maddy said once while we waited on the boys to finish in the bathroom at the beach. 

And if it was a test, then we all passed. I had a wonderful time. 

We arrived in Providence on July 2. We had lunch at a tourist trap not worth our money, then drove to the capital building for photographs. Brown University was our last stop that day. 

"I dated a cad who graduated from here," I said as we crossed through the school gates. The campus was beautiful, like most Ivy League schools. Near dinner time, students with take-away boxes gabbed under trees. Preston mounted his foldable bike and rode the pathways. Wild rabbits came out of the bushes to greet us.

Dinner in Warwick was spectacular (Preston's pick!) lobster rolls at the Rocky Point Clam Shack. We had ice cream just next door. The elderly proprietors talked to us about the town and recommended ice cream flavors. (Strangely, about 2,000 moths had taken residence at the place. I would later tell everyone that it was like a scene out of "The Twilight Zone.") 



July 3 we had brunch and toured downtown Newport. At a bar on a pier I drank a Bloody Mary with Tito's gin and admired the boats. (One can feel some strange commune with the ocean drinking a Bloody Mary made with fresh clam juice on a pier). Two of Maddy's friends who lived in Newport took us to The Breakers, one of the opulent mansions once owned by the Vanderbilts. On the back lawn we listened to the sound of the crickets backed by the waves off the ocean. How lucky the Vanderbilt's were, not because of the house but because of the location. I could have stayed on that lawn forever.


The Breakers (the following three images also from there as well).

The Breakers (the following three images also from there as well).

That evening, we had burgers and beer at a bar and Maddy and the boys went for a dip in the hotel pool, but I was exhausted and fell asleep. 

On the Fourth of July we woke up early and went to the beach. Maddy and I waded in the 66 degree water and shivered when the sun hid. We had a sailing trip at 4 pm, and by 8 I'd need to take a bus back to New York. I'd miss the fireworks. 



I didn't need any more stimulus but sailing provided it -- the sun was setting, a chill crossed the ocean; blowing the bill of my summer hat, there was beach sand in my shoes. I tried to keep balance while facing the port side of the ship; clutching everything important to me. Especially my phone, my bag still hanging on my shoulder. I don't want anything overboard. 



"Arg!" giggled a woman to our left. I could only see parts of her face uncovered by sunglasses and her straw hat.

"There's a ship," says a member of her group, a man in his late 70s, wearing a windbreaker and sneaking sips out of a cup filled with wine. He has a New York accent. "I say, you know, we try to take it."

"We'll give them our credit card," says the woman who was making pirate noises.

This is the most offensive thing the man has heard all day.

"Credit cards?" he hisses. "We're pirates, we don't do that. We just go and we just" he lifts his chin up and I'm positive behind his wrap-around sunglasses he's making his eyes wide. "We just go and we take it. What the hell are you talking about 'credit cards?' You've got it all wrong."

Port side erupts into laughter.  

We are interrupted when the skipper arches his upper back and rises on his toes with the sway of the deck. He starts to shout to the crowd.

"If you remember the opening scenes in 'The Great Gatsby' when Robert Redford looked across the water and saw the green light flashing in the distance," he says. "that was here." He motions behind himself, to the grassy green lawn we're approaching. "In fact, the entire film was done in Newport, and all the scenes from the water were filmed here to make the Long Island Sound look good." 

He smirks, and a few snickers are heard from the passengers. We're sailing in the inside of a crescent shaped bay. There's land on all sides of us, except south, where the water we're charting opens to the Atlantic Ocean. 

I've never seen either version of "The Great Gatsby" and I realize now that Newport, Rhode Island is all about it. The movie theater in the town square is showing it (with free dinner and cocktails). Every local knows every filming site. Visiting The Mansions in the movies is the Thing To Do. 

It would be three weeks later that the phrase, "The Green Light" would have any significance. Last Saturday I sat down and decided to watch the 1974 version of "The Great Gatsby." The critics don't agree with me, but I felt it sufficient enough for the story. Sure, it has it's oddities, but I loved seeing Sam Waterston as "Nick Carroway," he was a charming anchor and made it worth the watch. 

I recognized the mansions in the film and the Newport bays we sailed on. In numerous scenes Robert Redford, as "Jay Gatsby," stood on the waters edge watching as a green light across the bay glowed.

"If you had been there, if you had seen it in real life," I wanted to say out loud. There was something about such an empty looking green lawn by a house where a single person can look across a quiet water. I can't even describe it well.

It's just a scene, but many times this week I sat in thought and when I closed my eyes I only saw The Green Light.

After returning to the pier we went back to the car and drove to Providence, where I would meet my bus back to New York. The others were staying in Rhode Island one more day; as usual I was too busy at work and needed to return.

Unlike the ride there, the bus on the way back was silent. Everyone slept. Through all the New England towns we drove past, fireworks exploded in the sky.  

This is How You Make a Black Sheep

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

The best decision in my life was made at 15-years-old. I told my mother and father that I would no longer wanted to "go to Pensacola." Which meant, never seeing The Family, the extended network of cousins, uncles, great uncles, and once-removed's. More importantly, the cousin who had sexually assaulted me when I was five years old. He had threatened to burn down my house if I told anyone and kill everyone I knew. 

My parents said that it was OK. "Understandable," was the word my mother used. 

I had won something that day; got a little bit of my power back (much like I have today, as I write this). The years between five and 15-years-old we visited Pensacola once a month since it was only an hour East of where we lived in Mobile, Alabama. I remember the drives very vividly, because the nerves would build up the moment it was announced that we were going. It never occurred to me to tell anyone for fear of him making due on his threat. If you can imagine a 5-year-old who cried herself to sleep, stuffed of PTSD (yes, diagnosed by several professionals) and anxiety and worry and fear of a second assault, thats exactly what I was. Once I was caught with homemade pepper spray that I'd stored in an empty bottle of cleaning fluid and took with me to Pensacola. Everyone asked: "Who are you going to use it on?"

There might not be a relationship, but I've always believed it were those experiences that turned me into the sort of nervous, shy child I became. In my teens, I was so envious of the people who were allowed to grow up without grave worry. There would later be two other incidents with other people (one in adulthood, one at seven years old) that also defined my life. People never realized that when they asked me, "Why don't you want to have kids?" the answer to the question was, "Because my own childhood was fucking hell on earth," but I always answered, "I'm selfish," or made up a canned response I'd heard women on TV say.

Wrongly or not, then and now, I directed a lot of anger at The Family. I formed a vision of them that looked like the villains in cartoons. Its a strange shift that could only happen with childhood logic. I only knew how to lump people as "good or bad." I took one bad person and lumped them the whole lot of them with the "bad" people. It begot the kind of preteen who hated the Christmas and Thanksgiving Holidays, (which are known to me as multiple days of sheer terror), and who rolled her eyes at news from The Family.

"Those ghetto idiots," I was known to say down the bridge of my nose. I was always "better than." To the outsider, this paints me as a villainous snob who never visits, who doesn't show up to funerals, who doesn't give gifts or phone calls, because my hatred seems without reason. It proves my favorite quote to be true: "Villains are just misunderstood." 

When I met more of my family based up north, great aunts and great uncles, I was sad to hear that there was reports of sexual assault among some relatives, totally separate people and apart from my own incident. I wasn't surprised at the news, this was the same great-uncle who tried to pull down the sleeve of my zip up shirt at a party, "I want to see that body," he said drunkenly. No one really reprimanded him, besides a "cut that out," and no one ever confronted them about the incidents. Being a silent bystander was never in my list of personality traits, watching and saying nothing is complicity in itself; so I always knew one of these posts would come. One day, I'd be pointing a finger in their face. If I ever had advice for anyone, it would be that when you avoid conflict, the conflict only continues inside of you. 

So far, it's been 15 years since I've been back to Pensacola. I say this number proudly. ("15 years! 15 glorious years!") I've enjoyed being the unseen and unheard of relative who callously cares nothing about you or your kids. The black sheep.



As much as I love Facebook, I hate and love the gap it bridges between myself and my relatives. Sometime in winter, a Facebook event invitation arrived. It was the bi-annual family reunion, this time on the west coast. I scrolled down the faces of invited relatives and my heart did some strange thing and my gag reflex activated -- the face of my assailant. I don't know where he lives, or what he does. I'm afraid of what that information might mean to me. He hadn't responded to the invite. 

"We're all going to go!" my parents said excitedly that my sister and I could go and we could have a family trip out of it. I had such glowing things to say about the Bay Area and none of them had gone yet. I would have loved to take them to In 'n Out burger for dinner and show my father the redwoods and see their faces when they got their first glance of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

"I might have to work," I lied. 

"Well, can't you just request off?" my parents asked. "We're all going to go!"

"I'll just have to see," I said vaguely. 

When I hung up the phone I turned on "The Bachelorette," a show full of midwest-American values and traditional gender roles. The good matches all tell The Bachelorette: "family is so important to me." I always snicker out of jealously. 

"You're so lucky you have that choice." 


Strangers with Candy

A little after midnight, an A train rolled north. I'd been in Brooklyn, had a few drinks at a party, and had my late-night whiskers on (read: no iPhone gazing, no music playing, making shifty eyes at the other passengers on the ride). The A train, normally the fastest of the fastest, was going local for the rest of the run. I sunk into my seat. It was going to be a long ride home.

At 59th Street a wave of people entered, including a short man in a pair of jeans and a coat. His visage was like a Billy Goat, a long face, accented chin with a tuft of brown curly hair, prominent cheek bones and eyebrows. He sat right next to me. He turned to me at his right, looked me up and down, and then asked about the train.

"Is it going local?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I just left seeing my son, such a long day, I can't wait to get home," he said. Expressing disdain for delayed trains or local trains is like the New York equivalent of complaining about a suburban car accident that locks up a lifeline bridge. 

I could only nod at this. I never was one for complaining about delays.

"It was my baby's mother's birthday, so I brought her some gifts," he said. Then quickly after, "we're not together anymore but, you know, to thank her for everything she does."

"Oh that's really nice," I said. We continued to talk, sharing bits of information about ourselves until he held up his cell phone.

"How about I show you something, but you have to pick one," he said. I turned my head away.

"I don't play this game," I said back, imagining a dick pic in waiting. 

"It's not bad, it's not bad, I promise," he said. He uncovered his screen with his hand, and I slowly turned back to look at it. It's a picture of 10 diamond and platinum solitaire rings in a velvet ring display case.

"What is this?" I asked. He laughed.

"Pick a ring," he said. "I'm a diamond designer."

"Wha?" I said. He chuckled and looked down at his t-shirt and baggy jeans, it was apparent to him that he looked more like a rapper and less like a diamond designer. I flushed instantly, realizing that I had put him into a box.

"I went to prison a few years back, and when I was in there I met a guy. He got into a huge fight and I backed him up. Turns out, he was the son of a famous jeweler. Gave me a job. Now I design for all the rappers," he said, and trailed off a list of names I knew very, very well. He flipped through his photos to a gold chain with a gigantic piece of gold hanging off the end, the diamonds hadn't been put on it. "I did this one, it's not done yet. Costs a couple hundred thousand."

"Wow," I said.

He flipped back to the first picture of all the rings. 

"So pick one, come to the store, I'll make it for you," his lips parted into a grin. 

"Ah, no, no, no, no," I said shaking my head and laughing nervously. We all know a mirage when we see one; a stranger on the train offering diamonds seems like a trap. The New Yorker in me wants to say, "I wasn't born yesterday." 

He laughed. "I don't want anything in return," he said. The train slid into 125th street. "You're beautiful, you deserve a ring."

"I have a boyfriend," I said with hesitation. This wasn't the usual annoying stranger on a train, I actually worried about making him sad. There was a softness to his personality that differentiated him from the drooling men in the bars. 

"Bring him in," he says. He stands up as the train pulls to a stop. Then he takes my right hand to shake it, but doesn't let go of it. "You promise me you'll stop by the store?"

"Yes," I said.

"I'll get your number?" he said.

"I'll just--"

"Come by the store," he said finishing my sentence. He released my hand. Then he exits. 

I already know: I'm not going to visit his store. 



A few months go by and spring arrives. The diamond designer's boss is front page news in the business section of the New York Times and the story the designer told me, checks out. I tell this to a friend, including the part about the article in the paper. 

"You have to go to the store," she said. "Those are probably sample rings he makes, and probably doesn't need anymore. I work in retail, I know these things. Just go check it out, just go see. I would go." 

My other friend, equally as cautious as I am, shook her head. "I disagree. Why would anyone offer free diamonds without anything in return?"

"They'll sit in a locked room forever, probably or get thrown away," my retail-friend said. 

Two more months passed after that. Summer came and with it my office summer Fridays (in Manhattan the media companies let their employees off of work at 2 pm). On June 3, the first one of the year, I took a typical walk through midtown east, crossing 56th street to go west. Without realizing, I landed in front of his jewelry store. The window signs had pictures of their most opulent designed rings. I didn't even pause there, I kept blazing my trail west. 

This Friday, the same thing. The same accidental run-in, but this time with there newest store under construction closer to Madison Avenue. The writer in me itched to push the button with all the warning signs and hazard tape, just to see what was on the other side. It's a typical problem. To go, or not go. To make a story or to be safe. To buy a plane ticket, or not. To go on a date in Paris, or hole up in an apartment and write. To party with strangers at the Hong Kong Sevens, or go to bed early. To walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or settle on reliable old Manhattan for an afternoon. 

I was early for an appointment at Le Parker Meridien, so I flopped in a Starbucks to kill the time. My head was spinning. I know when a soon-to-be post crosses my path. This was it. This was the deciding moment. 

"Ariel, this is easy," I said to myself. I took out my phone, opened up a blank Evernote screen and typed in: "To do: Buy your own damn diamonds." 

That was that.