All the way uptown…(My life in the USA)Blog
When I first moved to NYC, and after realizing rent prices in the city are just incredibly high, I did it like everyone else in NYC
I rent a room, sharing it with roommates. I soon found out that even people with full time jobs and even well paid jobs live like that, due to the incredibly high prices. A person, a native NYer once told me “You know you are a true NYer when you look for one of the 3 things constantly: A new job, a new relationship or a new home!” And I have to agree, living in NYC you are always on the search for one of the things mentioned!!
Since I am an introvert by heart, feeling most comfortable in a one on one situation with others or or stage, where the crowed is in the dark: present but invisible for my eyes and at least in that moment, disappearing in the dark! Therefore I decided to choose roommates I don’t know. Yes I didn’t know anyone in NYC so it wasn’t too hard! Sometimes dancers lived together with other dancers, but I decided against it. Mainly for the stated facts but also because of the business (true friends in ballet/dance are hard to find due to the high level of competitiveness) and mostly because of the ever present ED. Trying to hide it from everyone but definitely from the ones I knew a bit!
Not having a laptop or any other device I went to a little “agency” renting out rooms in NYC. I remember that you had to pay a commission in order to even get to see a room, but you had to move in first before you saw the room, just giving you 24 hours afterwards to chance your decision in case you did not like the room and move again. But who would move in all his/her things and then move again? Especially because it is incredibly hard to tell if a living situation is going well after 24 hours, when the host or renter shows its best side.
When I arrived in NYC I didn’t know anything about the different parts of NYC. The nicer ones, the ones to avoid, the different residential neighborhoods all together. And So I ended up ” all the way uptown”. I quickly learned that term, since it sounded fancy (or at least fancier). It sounded at least better than Washington Heights on 174th Street in Manhattan, West Side. Whenever I went to networking events or was invited to parties and get-togethers after a bigger project ( still went to all of these at the beginning – convincing and fighting with myself, but excited about the new chance and trying so hard to change!) One of the first things people ask you in general – after the obligatory “How are you, it is so nice to meet you!”, was “Where do you live?!” WHY because it usually tells you everything you want to know in one question: Is she successful? Did she make it? What does she work? In which circle does she operate? What character is she? Is she a city girl, a Brooklyn chick and hippy, a hard worker in Queen who just doesn’t make it…. the area you live in tells folks in NYC everything they are interested in. Since I still had to find all that out, I naively answered Manhattan. Which is actually true!….just all the way uptown….which- well you then don’t count it to the one who “made it”, but by saying MANHATTAN it didn’t reveal it all.
I remember my best friend back then was Mc Donald’s. I haven’t visit or eaten in a fast food restaurant in ages, and I didn’t start back then either, but it had internet 🙂 so my spare time was spent there, after having finally somehow enough money saved -after several months- to pay for the cheapest laptop available at Best Buy.
I went downtown to look for options and there was one no name one – at least one in my price class, the one on display, which was offered for a reduced price: My chance 🙂 I decided to get it, in order to move forward. Step by step. I knew I had a long way to go to eventually be where I wanted to be, but by getting better and better improving my situation weekly, daily I would be ok. So the next step (after I was able to buy a no name, pay to go phone without Internet) was a laptop.
Gosh, I remember it like it was yesterday! The laptop including a virus protection, words program and all that jazz was around 350 US$. I had the money, but I had a limitation on my card (after many hurdles to jump, I was able to open a bank account in the USA- believe me there where a million and one things to learn, all of them where stressful to figure out having no one to ask, because always when I did ask my parents they had no answer for me- because things are so differently in the USA vs/ Europe, and my situation was different and difficult as well! Having just a student visa didn’t help the situation! But again the plan was to go, you guessed it correctly: STEP BY STEP!!
So I decided to take the exhibit sample! And then the next problem appeared. I could not pay so much money at one time. Running back and forth between the bank and Best Buy leading to a situation (thanks to a patient Best Buy employee) that he charged my card in 10 installments of 20 $ and by withdrawing some money from the ATM. but what counted at the end (the end that appeared around 4 hrs after my decision to buy the laptop: I had the little machine and I couldn’t be much prouder of myself. My first big purchase in the USA and I made it! It’s the little things that count, right 😉
Well that’s why I ended up at Mc Donald’s on W 172nd daily. Luckily it was big enough that I didn’t have to buy anything (because I couldn’t afford it) but I just hid in the last corner, next to the huge children play ground…let me tell you: it was a very quiet surrounding to work at 🙂
The living situation was….well not pleasant. I rent a room from a young couple with a young child. I like children a lot, and I played with their daughter. She wasn’t used to anyone having time for her, since her parents were mainly working or not paying too much attention at her at all. The problem was that she soon decided that I was her new best friend, leading to the situation that she came into my room every second she was at home asking me with her big cute eyes if we” gonna play vik?” How can you say no, but how could I do all the things I gotta do when you spend half of the day at dance classes and the other one getting make up on from a 3 or 4 year old at the time 🙂 I told her I couldn’t play all the time, and she was so disappointed. It broke my heart to see the little girl that way. Again someone who “abandoned” her.
Her father spoke hardly any English, and her mother was nearly never at home. The situation downgraded quickly. The kitchen and living room became dirty (again I assume), the warm water didn’t work, it was loud until late nights because when they eventually came back home they smoke pot- which caused severe headache for me…and I didn’t know what to do, since it was too late to change and I didn’t have enough money to move. So I stuck with it…”just be patient- it will get better!” I tried to convince myself!
And then one day it escalated!
2 days before Christmas, 10 weeks after I arrived in NYC, the husband came back home drunk and high once again and it turned worse from there. He hit the woman , all I heard was glass smashing, screaming and shouting from the woman, crying from the little child, cuss words in Spanish from the guy, threatening the woman that he would kill himself if she would leave him, hitting her again and again. My Spanish knowledge was non existing but due to my love for languages and my (very) basic knowledge of French and Portuguese I could understand the basics and at least knew what it was all about!
My heart was racing and I was scared, didn’t know what to do. I decided that I had to stay out of the situation, I couldn’t help her and I didn’t understand enough to know what to do. It was in the middle of the night and I just didn’t know what to do. Frankly back then I didn’t even know the number of the police, (911- remember it people!) so I really didn’t know WHAT TO DO. I calmed myself down- at least I tried it- convincing myself that I am save. I am in my room and things will get better, as they always did in the past when they fought a bit. But then it started from there. The little girl was crying, being as scared as I am, more smashing of things! I heard the decorated Xmas tree falling, smashing into pieces, and mirrors breaking. AND THEN they came into my room: fist fighting, screaming and all i cared for was the little child. I took her to me holding her tight- being scared for my life, her life, I couldn’t think clearly I just felt the devastation of the little one, not having any clue what was going on being scared to her core. I held her and told her things will be ok, everything will stop. We all love her and things will get better. To be honest I am not sure if I said it to calm her down or to calm both of us down. The two grown ups kept fighting. He was running to the window, trying to jump, she was screaming- full of blood which was running down from her nose, a black eye. I just could take a glance at her and she looked terrible, beaten and ready to give up. ….
And then I finally heard the noise. The noise you nearly hear day in and day out in NYC. The sound of the police car. Someone must have called the police since they were incredibly loud and it was in the middle of the night! Soon after the police came in. Asking ME tons of questions, but before then the woman told me: “Please keep her, please keep her. Say she is yours, they will take away my child if they see the situation, help me, help HER please say she is yours. She bagged me!
I truly wanted to help but in this moment I realized: She is black and I am sadly very white, therefore there is no way the police would believe me, and what would I do with a 3 year old in case they take both of them to the police station? I just couldn’t!! The officer rushed in (the two still in my room) trying to figure out the situation: He asked ME who I am, what I was doing here, if i am an illegal immigrant, and if she was my child. The woman looked at me- a look that put all hopes on me- but I couldn’t and I said no. I showed him my visa, explaining that I am just here to study and renting out the spare room…..trying to protect the little child. He believed me and turned towards me to find out more info about the situation. Since I didn’t understand details and just knew all the swear words,…well I had to repeat these, stating that I didn’t understand much more…
Fast forward, they arrested they guy, encouraging the woman to file charges against him, since they couldn’t do anything otherwise nor help her. They reminded her to think about her child, her future.
I think she never filed charges because they told me 2 days later that the guy was out again, but they would put police surveillance in front of the building to keep him far away from them, and since I lived there they wanted to inform me too, advising me to move!
I took some images with my “high end” phone, original photographs from 2010:
It was enough! I was shaken to my bones and I was scared coming home, greeted by the in civil and armed police officer daily. It was just too much!> BUT where to go and what to do several days before Xmas, without money!?
I called the photographer I had a shoot scheduled that day ( I worked very rarely as a model at this point) explaining my situation in short, explaining that I had to cancel the shoot because I have to find a new place, asap…and he said: “you can come and live with me. I have an apartment in Brooklyn.” I was relieved yet scared to death and didn’t know what to do. He seemed like a person sent from heaven- or wherever angles are from, here to help me escape that nightmare…..but I also didn’t want to slide into the next nightmare. Depending on a man I have never have met before, not knowing his intention. And so we spoke a bit on the phone. I told him I had no money to pay him, and I spoke very openly and frank to not make any other mistake again and said: I will not pay you with sex or any other ways. He stayed calm and said: I know and I don’t want you too either, I just want to help. Stay here with me and in a few days I will leave for vacations either way!” Since he also worked as an art teacher. “You can stay as long as you have to, until you find a new place.” I couldn’t believe what I have just heard. A person who doesn’t know me, who has never met me before, is offering me his home for free and trusted me enough to let me stay there by myself. WHY? I asked myself. WHY and especially “What should I do?” Trust him and – in best case find a safe place to stay by myself or try to find another place, or in worst case trust him and come from a bad to an even worse situation. I went downtown to call my dad ( I couldn’t call to a foreign country with my phone) and my dad said: viktoria, you have to trust your guts (I didn’t tell him about the situation the nights before. I just said I couldn’t live in the apartment I stayed at anymore- I just did not want to scare him) My dad said: If you can not stay there anymore and you truly feel he is honest try it, and if it feels wrong any second- leave, leave immediately. And so I did. I listened to my inner voice- trusting my judgement and myself and I did it. I moved in!
Jeff was the sweetest person ever! He explained that he – a long time ago- came to NYC himself, needing support and someone was here for him, helped him unconditionally and so he wanted to give back. He was an artist and we connected, I offered to clean and vacuum for him in exchange and pose for him for his painting as a sign of my gratitude but wouldn’t do anything else. He said you don’t have to. Just don’t part or destroy anything, Take the bedroom and I sleep on the coach (far away from the bedroom) and in a few days I am gone either way.
I rode the subway around 4 times. back and forth, back and forth! From all the way uptown to Caroline’s garden in Brooklyn (around 1 hr+ one way) to get all my stuff: It wasn’t much, but a lot to carry for one little girl on the subway (oh how I love steps and subway stations without an elevator)
Jeff was the best!We talked he listened and he did exactly what he promised. He purposely kept his distance to show me respect and that I can trust him, he handed me over his keys, told me I can use all his things (I discovered my love for passion fruit tea from TAZO – a tea brand so good yet so expensive at that point that it felt like luxury to me.)
My Xmas 2010 was safe. That’s all I wanted for Xmas. I escaped the nightmare and found the most helpful person I knew in NYC, by trusting my instincts.
I wrote my dad that I was ok and safe (since it was already nighttime in Austria- due to the time difference) and after a day or two I relaxed realizing that I was truly safe.
The new problem was: My sisters came to visit me for the Xmas holidays. And they wanted to stay with me, because hotels in NYC are expensive and they didn’t have the money and I actually offered it to them. And so I asked Jeff if they could stay here now. It was enough space, but to offer 1 person shelter for free is already much and then 3 people you have never met…. He calmly agreed, again he said: I am leaving the day before so it is all yours. Just don’t harm anything and it will be fine.
And we were fine. Felicia and Berenice, my two sisters – one younger and one older than I am, stayed with me in Brooklyn in the home of Jeff, while he was on vacation. We all stayed for free. He never asked for money or anything else.
The only thing I did, (he didn’t ask for it either) was cleaning a bit and I thanked him with a few glasses of iced Starbucks coffee – Vanilla was his favorite!
It took me 5 weeks of constant search to find a place to live in in NYC, affordable and in a safe neighborhood. A story on its own….. I will write about it later as well as of all the adventure my sisters and I experiences in NYC ( Thank you snow storm 2010!)
THANK YOU JEFF! For recovering my trust in people, for helping me and being here for me….unconditionally!Not taking advantage of my situation. I am incredibly grateful!!!
Check out his work- it is pretty amazing as well 🙂 -> CLICK HERE
Life all the way uptown: Welcome in NYC!!
– TO BE CONTINUED_