Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work in to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe that we emit light, not unlike fireflies. Calling out into the night, our light attracts love, lust, loss, and life. While we do not consciously control our light, I do believe that if you are open to the possibilities, your glow can coax the most impactful fellow fireflies to enter and light up your life.
In emerald, I found my fireflies.
—one year ago—
On an indistinct corner of Greenpoint, I stood counting the drops of sweat cascading down the arch of my back. Slowly drenching the radiant green silk of my new vintage dress, the beads of sweat transformed the shade of jade into a dark emerald. Swaying in my heels, I adjusted the metal chain belt cinched around my waist. Pulling at my dress, I anxiously awaited my friends’ arrival. As the usual suspect of tardiness, I surprised even myself, arriving fifteen minutes earlier than the agreed-upon time. Second-guessing my choice of a wardrobe; a polka-dotted wrap dress that grazed just above my ankles with shoulder pads that soared to the sky, yellow eyeshadow, and my mother’s golden hoop earrings, I worried that I was underdressed for a Brooklyn Fashion Show. Just as I felt my self-confidence nosediving, I heard my name echoing through the night.
Grinning from ear to ear, I jumped into the arms of my best friend as she posed in her favorite red boots and kitsch graphic dress. Embracing, the rest of the girl posse swooped in for a collective holler of excitement. As we entered the venue, I felt an electricity course through my body, a mix of creative energy and youthful optimism. In hindsight, it most certainly had something to do with the lukewarm tequila chugged out of a questionable water bottle that emerged from the depths of a purse somewhere past that unremarkable Bushwick corner. However, at that moment, it felt like the start of something special. As we pushed and danced our way to the front of the runway, our group of females split into two; one searching for more liquid courage, one searching for the perfect vantage point for the fashion. I navigated my way to the second row, perplexed by the sight unfolding in front of me. Within the swarm of extravagantly dressed, thoughtfully composed, and the fashionable poised crowd, the three young men stood out, dressed painfully plain and ordinary.
As my best friend and I exchanged glances, she nodded in my direction, approaching the trio. As she placed a hand on one’s shoulder, his friend to the right dropped his beer, splattering the catwalk. Without pause, we burst out laughing as the crowd shot the men dirty looks. Without missing a beat, my friend seized the opportunity to introduce herself, aiding the men in their effort to haphazardly dry the runway before the long legs of the models graced us with their presence. As I watched my best friend, smile and charm the trio, I could sense myself beaming in awe of her innate ability to captivate anyone with her radiant glow, the brightest firefly in my life. At five foot seven, and an extra two inches from my heels, I towered over the collective group of men. Quick to point this out, one of the men motioned for me to join them in the second row, claiming I would block their view. Without a chance to rebuke, the lights dimmed and the music started as the rest of my friends slipped in the front row. Embracing the serendipity enveloping the room, we sang and danced together, strangers lighting up in the wake of joyous and luminous models.
Minutes later, my best friend and I found ourselves trotting down the street with the men, with our posse in tow headed towards yet another insignificant corner in Greenpoint, where we would then decide to step into a local pub for a few beers with the temporary strangers.
Hours later, we found ourselves laughing until we cried, sharing stories of the past and present. We spoke on the hopes for the future, unknowingly sealing our position in one another’s.
Days later, they followed up with us, asking to return to the bar where we ended up at that fateful night.
Weeks later, we began to intertwine our stories, our lights forming a collective glow, brightening all of our lives.
From hometown docks to soccer fields on Sundays, my fireflies and I have formed an unpredictably deep bond in a city of millions. We’ve lit up bars until the morning glow challenged our brightness, laughed so hard we’ve cried, cheered for one another in our successes, and loved harder than I’ve ever allowed myself before. My light has never felt so in harmony with others, truly allowing the unapologetic version of myself to flourish. Protecting and guiding, these men feel like home.
They’ve met all of those integral to my life, those from my years spent upstate in my hometown, at college, and then those who I continued to grow with here in the Lower East Side. They have defended my honor, my safety, and my sanity to any who dare challenge that, causing tears of appreciation to roll down my grateful cheeks. I have never felt so loved and accepted. We speak in the future tense, confident of our eternal and enduring glow. They have acted as big brothers when I have needed a shoulder to cry on, as best friends when I’ve had my heartbroken, as cheerleaders when I have published any form of writing, and as allies when I need help. By opening myself up to the opportunities of the night, I’ve found my lifetime fireflies.
While it may sound simplistic, the entirety of us agreed it was a unique and special moment from the night we met. Idealistic as it is to think we would have found one another again in this city of millions, it is unlikely. In the past, I’ve found myself inexplicably drawn towards strangers, however, what made these men different, was their drive and commitment towards strengthening the initial connection. It would be unjust to claim that we left that first fateful night believing we had found a new sense of home. Their motivation to establish permanent bonds was based on pure desire to know us, something that is rare and extraordinary in comparison. If they so wished, we would never see each other again, for we did not attend the same universities, have friends in common social circles, or live in the same neighborhood of Manhattan. Our harmonized light is based out of desire, rather than proximity. We understand how lucky we are, and that these types of connections do not happen regularly. What I wish to stress with this anecdotal story is proof that the most influential people in your life can still be considered strangers to you. By following your instincts, it is possible to form bonds that will soar past your expectations. In a world where free time is limited, pursuing new endeavors is far from the easy choice, however, it sometimes can be the most rewarding.
To the compassionate creative intellect, you’ve taught me how to pursue my passions with tenacity and grace, how to ask for help, and how to trust in my self again.
To the endearing “fun guy”, you’ve shown me how to let go of my personal reservations, how to live in the moment, and how to hustle a pool table like a proper player.
To the charismatic future lawyer, you’ve taught me patience, how to hold a poker face during a game of chess, and how to trust my first impressions and instincts on people.
Together, my fireflies and their closest friends will define my early years as a true New Yorker, and I couldn’t ask for finer company.
Soon, we will be celebrating our one year of glowing. If I had not been open to the opportunities of the night, pushed to my limits by my best and brightest best friend, I would have never met my fireflies. They have taught me to accept all the light that wishes to enter your life that does not overshadow or silence yours. Eradicating reservations or prejudice for your experiences and interactions in this chaotically beautiful city can open up opportunities that will change your life. Follow-up. That stranger may change your life.
To my fireflies, I will never be able to properly show my appreciation for you and the way you made me feel in my emerald dress.
Feature Image via Jessica Harrington