80 Heartwarming Stories From Instagram’s Humans Of NY

Started by photographer Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York is a New York City-based photoblog that has received critical acclaim from The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The Village Voice for its introspective look at NYC residents.

Armed with only a camera and an intuitive need to find compelling stories, Stanton traverses the mean streets of New York, capturing photos and tales from random individuals. We have collected 80 heart-warming stories from this Instagram account for you to read. Have a beautiful day, friends.

1. Today, in micro fashion


I wanted to be a famous author. Literature has been my passion since childhood. We’re in Paris, it’s sunny, and I have wonderful friends– maybe I should just be enjoying these things instead of thinking about how to package and share them. So I got a job in communications. And I mainly just wrote for my enjoyment: poems, notes, journals. But I never shared a thing. Not a single page. With anyone. But last year, I wrote a story. A complete story. A real story. With two characters, a beginning and an end. I thought: ‘Maybe it’s not too bad. We must test. Maybe this is the moment.’ So I submitted it to a contest in my town a few months ago. It’s just a tiny town. And just very little competition. But this morning, I got the email. I won the prize. And I’m just so happy. This weekend I’m going to the beach with my family. I can’t wait to tell my mother. I can’t believe I get to say these words–the most significant words: ‘I will be published.


“She was proud. She seemed detached. She wasn’t looking for boys. It took me a few weeks to get my first date. I learned later that she acted this way because of everything she’d been through. Her parents abandoned her when she was born. She’d lived in several group homes. And that’s why she always seemed so cold. But once I got to know her, she changed completely. She was funny. She was sensitive. Small things touched her. One day we saw two seagulls fighting on the beach, and one was getting better. I thought it was funny. It seemed like nature to me, but when I looked at her, she had tears. We stayed together for a year. Things got heavy. She was my first love. But I graduated first and went off to university. I had a new life at school. I didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore. So we lost contact. She told me there was no need to keep in touch because we’d never been friends— only lovers. Three years later, I took a trip with my friends to a city in Belgium. We went there often because it was just across the border. That night we decided to walk through the red light district. At first, I didn’t recognize her. She was older. She had on a lot of makeup. She was wearing lingerie. But then we made eye contact. She didn’t seem ashamed. She seemed sad but not ashamed. I quickly looked away because I was scared my friends would notice. That night I went back to my hotel and sobbed. I’m not sure if it’s because of what happened to her. Or because my initial reaction had been a shame. But I tried to make it right. I went back and found her. She told me her life was none of my business anymore.” (Paris, France)


My husband and I are leaving Paris after ten years. We have so many memories in this garden. Our first date was at a nearby café. We ate chicken with coconut sauce and walked down Boulevard St. Michel. We sat in front of Notre Dame for a long time. We kissed. And this is the bench I was sitting on three years later– when I called my mother and told her I wouldn’t return to our island because I met a guy. A white guy. I’d avoided telling her for years because our culture is very traditional. My hands were trembling. I’d just scored well on an examination, so I first gave her the good news. Then I said: ‘Mom, I need to tell you something. I’ve met someone– his name is Michel.’ There were thirty seconds of silence. Then she replied: ‘That doesn’t sound like a Muslim name. But if you’re happy, and he has values, that’s OK.’ I felt so much relief. It was such a beautiful moment. But it was only a moment. Because then she said: ‘Now it’s time to tell your father.


We’re eating cookies before lunch because Grandpa doesn’t have any rules.


I knew immediately. I get a breast exam every year, so I know what normal is supposed to look like. I could see the tumor on the screen. It was messy. It was black. But I didn’t feel shocked. I was calm. My surgery was scheduled for Valentine’s Day. And you know what? That was the most beautiful Valentine’s Day of my life. Because I spent it taking care of myself. I had a difficult childhood. Then I had a harrowing love story that lasted for twenty years. And when that came to an end, I escaped into my work. I was like a hamster in a wheel: faster, faster, faster. It was easy to rationalize because I work in Women’s Rights. I felt involved in something bigger than myself. But I just wrote reports about the situation. Honestly, I changed myself much more than the country.

I was worn down. I had no free time. And my children are grown, so I wondered if I had any reason to live anymore. Then four months ago, the cancer came. It was a blessing in a shitty package. It was something I couldn’t control. And I was forced to accept that. Right now, I’m not doing anything. I’m visiting with friends. I’m taking time to relax. I’m feeling grateful. And I’m asking myself big questions: ‘Where would I like to live?’ ‘What would I like to do?’ Questions I never had the time to ask. But most importantly, I’m taking care of myself. If you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my massage appointment.


 I asked Santa for a tiny dog that never grows up.


My mother got blood cancer seven years ago. But she recovered–, and we had five more years after that. Those years were the happiest moments of our lives. We never knew how much time we had left, but we knew it was limited. We’d always been best friends. I told her my secrets. She gave me advice. She cooked for me like I was still a child. But before the cancer, things were so casual. She was always around. Nothing seemed important. She was strong. She was independent. She didn’t seem to need attention. But when she was given a new life– I cherished her more. I became nicer. Softer. More sensitive to her needs. We started hugging. We hadn’t embraced since childhood, but we started hugging.

I can be difficult sometimes. I’m stubborn. I’m afraid I quickly have to disagree. But she never had to convince me again. I took her to restaurants, movies, and weddings. I found her artificial hair, so she looked beautiful again. I sewed her the best dresses ever. I wanted to make her new life comfortable. And it was. It was the happiest she’s ever been. Eventually, the cancer came back. It’s been over two years since she passed. For the longest time, I cried like a baby. In the office. In the car. At church. She was my best friend. The world feels empty without her. Even last night, I dreamed about her. But I know I must move on. I still think about her all the time. But now I don’t always cry. Sometimes I smile.”


My mom has a lot of heels, and I put them on when she can’t see them, but she always catches me because I never put them back in the right place. I even scratched the floor of her room once, but she hasn’t found that yet because I rubbed it out like Cinderella.


I’ve worked all my life as an office clerk. But when I was young, I dreamed of being an influential writer. I won some prizes in my town. But mainly, I used writing as a weapon because I was utterly in love with a girl who liked reading. At the time, she was dating another boy in class who played basketball. He was popular. Quite a bit taller than me. Eventually, he went on to play for the national team. And I was so shy. I could barely speak to her. At the end of the year, I wrote her a long letter declaring my love. She broke up with the basketball player over the summer, and when I returned to school the following year, she’d written ‘Yes’ on my desk. Everything changed. The world had light and color. There was no more rain. We’d go walking in the town center. We went dancing. But when Christmas came around, she told me we needed to talk. She was getting back together with the basketball player. So I played all my cards. I wrote a short story. It was about two soldiers competing for a woman’s love. One of them was a powerful lieutenant. The other was a simple soldier who loved her more and later died in battle. When I finished, I asked her to read it. She told me it was adorable, then married a basketball player.


Something happened in the second year of college. I grew very hard on myself. I became sad, disappointed, and angry. But then I met a girl—the first I’d ever been with. And everything was postponed for a while. I felt energized. I was even doing my homework. But now we’ve broken up, and I must face everything the relationship allowed me to ignore. I’m overthinking everything: ‘What should I do? What shouldn’t I do?’ But the actual doing never happens because I have no motivation. I’m sad all the time. It’s worst when I go to bed and realize that I haven’t done anything and won’t do it tomorrow either. Many people believe in me, but they’re getting tired because I’m not there yet. And it’s not their responsibility anyway—it’s mine. I’m afraid I’ll never return to how I used to feel—the feeling of being awake, loving myself, getting out of the house, exercising, going to the beach, and hanging out with friends on Sunday evenings and thinking just the right amount of thoughts. No suspicions. Or criticisms. Or fears of the future. These are only helpful thoughts. These are the thoughts I need at this moment.


I liked drugs, but that wasn’t the reason. And it wasn’t that I needed money either. I had money. I just wanted more of it. Back then, I could rob every bank in the city, and nobody would notice. There were hardly any cameras. I stole about thirty before I even got caught. But one night, when I was twenty-five years old, I went to rob a jewelry store. The guy was a criminal himself. He bought jewelry from thieves. Of course, I thought he’d panic and give me the money, but he pulled a gun on me. So, I shot him twice. I only meant to hit him once but squeezed the trigger too hard. He ended up losing an arm. And I went to jail for thirteen years—that son of a bitch. He should have just stayed put. Now I’m 62. I’m a veteran. I just got out of jail for the seventh time in December. I’m sleeping on this bench. Looking back, it’s been a horrible life. I should have done things differently. I should have invested the money I stole.


When I was younger, I had dreams of discovering something big. I’m a historian. I specialize at the end of the Roman Empire. And I always wanted to uncover something flashy and exciting that would fascinate people. I don’t mean that I’d dig something out of the ground. I’m more of a bookworm. I imagined myself in a reading room of the National Library, stumbling across something others had overlooked. But it never happened. I’m 54 now. I’m slowing down a bit. And looking back– I don’t think I was ever a pioneer in anything I did. I realized that knowledge is a community, and my role would be to add a tiny grain of rice to the pile. But that was still exciting for me. Learning new things was the biggest passion of my life. It was only frustrating when I tried to share that knowledge. I had to accept that my love wasn’t universal, and in the end, my work might only benefit a few people. But that’s OK. A few months ago, I received a call from a teacher in Italy. She told me that she’d read all my works. And that she agreed with my interpretations. And that she planned to incorporate them into her work. Knowing that my books weren’t just gathering dust in a library was a wonderful feeling. And that even if I didn’t blaze a path, I helped widen it for others.


People take you to fun places when you’re five, but unfortunately, you must also study complex topics. Today I had to write ‘toothbrush’ in all capital letters.


It started when she was nine years old. The first thing I remember is the arguing about food. My parents would tell her to eat. She’d say she wasn’t hungry. There was weighing of the food. My father would lose his temper, but she still wouldn’t eat. Once, he got so angry that he hit her. From age ten to thirteen, she went to a hospital in Barcelona. Occasionally she’d come home to visit, but mostly I only heard from her through letters. Nobody explained to me what was going on. They only told me she was very sick. I didn’t hear the word ‘anorexia’ until several years later. Things got even worse when she came home from the hospital. The illness was even more ingrained. She’s twenty-five now. There have been periods where she seems to be getting better, but it always worsens again. It’s taken a toll on my parents. Both of them look like they’re in their seventies. My mom is on antidepressants. The therapists have told them that the disease has gone on for so long now—that it will probably be lifelong. Whenever I try to ask my sister about it, we always argue. She gets frustrated. She feels attacked. So I’ve stopped trying. It was only two months ago that she finally admitted having a problem. We were walking home from a family dinner, and she told me everything started when she was nine. She was meeting a group of friends at the mall. And a group of boys started making fun of her. She had a lot of freckles back then. And bright red hair. And maybe she was a little bit chubby. But just the slightest bit.


We had a tough time back in Venezuela. There was no going to school or visiting friends. We couldn’t even go out on the street. All the time, I was telling her ‘no.’ ‘Can we go to the park?’ No. ‘Can we go on a walk?’ No. ‘Can we get some ice cream?’ No. She couldn’t comprehend why she was being restricted. I could only explain that the situation was terrible. I was stressed because I wanted to give her a better life, but I had no options. It wasn’t easy to get out. It took a lot of planning, but we could finally move to Madrid. We’ve been here since November. It’s just us. I’m separated from her father, so we’re all alone. But I don’t feel alone. Everyone has been very kind. And I’m able to enjoy her more. She’s more emotionally stable. We’re bonding more. I’m able to see her laughing, growing up, and accessible. We don’t have to feel afraid. We don’t have a curfew. We don’t have to watch the clock. Today we spent all day in the park– just laughing, exploring, and breathing fresh air.


It wasn’t a secret. The first day we met, I told her I was bisexual and had been with men and women my entire life. At the time, she shrugged it off. And it wasn’t an issue for the first ten years of our marriage. The relationship was perfectly loving and stable. But then I don’t know—something happened. It wasn’t a particular man. I never cheated on her. It was something abstract. I just missed relationships with men. So I told her. I was honest. But when I uttered that thing, it was like a bomb went off. She turned away her face like she’d been slapped very hard. It caused her so much pain. She lost a lot of weight. We cried and cried and cried about it. For three years, we called. We’d meet at Starbucks every day and cry in front of everyone. We didn’t live together after that. And we were never sexual again. But we were still intimate. We still took a lot of naps together. I always held her. We’d go shopping and walk arm-in-arm. She kept my last name and called me her gay husband. Her health began to deteriorate in 2007. It was a nerve disease. She lost her hearing. Then her sight. And I took care of her. She always told me to forget about her. To go out there and find a good guy. But I stayed by her side. We’d never officially gotten divorced, which helped in the end. They let me in the hospital room as her husband. I couldn’t touch her, but I was beside her as she died, breathing with her. It’s been two years now. I’ll move away soon. There’s nothing left in this city for me. But first, I will have a ceremony in Central Park and give an envelope of her ashes to everyone who loved her. I don’t know whether to call her my wife. It’s not essential to me. Alexandra was the love of my life.


I go to Miami every weekend to see my cats—Woody and Zoey. They live with my mother. I take the bus to wherever I can get the cheapest flight. Sometimes that’s Detroit. Sometimes Philadelphia. This week it was New York. The travel is exhausting but cheaper than getting a pet-friendly apartment. It was supposed to be temporary, but I’ve been making the trip for about five years now. They rely on me. They’re like my kids. And they’re getting old. I don’t know why I’m so attached. I get that way. Grey’s Anatomy has been dumb for the past twelve seasons, but I still watch it every week and cry. I could find the cats a new home, but how do you find the right person? Every fantastic person already has eight cats. My sister told me never to talk about my cats unless people ask. But you asked. Can we talk about my kidney instead? Last year I donated a kidney.


I had the usual anxieties when I was younger—making good grades and keeping my parents happy. So some elements of my personality were drawn to being a rabbi. I thought it would give me a platform to guide and make people happy. Pleasing people in exchange for adoration was a very convenient arrangement for me. But I forgot that if you’re in a position to please people, you’re also in a place to disappoint. In many ways, the rabbi is a symbol. People see you as a symbol of how God thinks. Or feels towards them. Or acts toward them. And that’s a lot of pressure. There’s pressure to be fully present for everyone—even at the supermarket or Sunday soccer games. You always want to give comfort. Or a thoughtful response. Or, at the very least, your undivided attention. And that can be exhausting, especially in the age of the iPhone. One night, I had a wild dream that all eight hundred families at my synagogue were lined up outside my office. And everyone needed me at the same time.


Even if you’re on a boat, you don’t have to fear waves because they’re just big pieces of water that come together when gravity falls from the moon and into the water. Gravity is all over the moon. It’s in the bottom of the craters, and astronauts can bring it back in rockets. You don’t even have to put it in a bucket. It just follows you. But there’s no gravity in outer space. If I went to outer space, I’d visit a planet that’s a summer planet– where the aliens are swimming and drinking milkshakes and stuff. That’s because summer is my favorite season. I know all this stuff because I do science class.


It feels like Miles has been home forever. He’s four years old now. He runs to me every time I open the door. He wants to play non-stop. He’s the master of high-fives. He’s the master of hugging the dog. He’s also the master of needing attention while you’re on the phone. Or when you want to relax and watch TV for a second. But it always goes from frustrating to heart-warming in a second. Even though he can’t express himself, he’s amazingly empathetic. He’s drawn to people who look alone. There are meltdowns. And there are days when I feel like I’m not qualified for any of this. But on the days you don’t think you can get through it— you don’t realize that you’re getting through it. And in the end, you’re getting more than you ever give. Recently my wife started sending me pictures of other children, but I always said ‘no.’ Until I saw Mile’s little sister for the first time, she’s from the same orphanage. Her name is Maddie. We submitted our papers three weeks ago.


We were fortunate. We completed the process in fourteen months and traveled to Taiwan on January 21st of, 2017. The following day we went straight to the orphanage. We sat in a waiting room on the ground floor, and after ten minutes, they brought Miles around the corner. My wife dropped to her knees and hugged him like she’d never let him go. And, of course, that broke me down. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is my boy.’ But when I went to pick him up, he started crying. I’m telling him: ‘No, no, no! I’m Baba, I’m Baba.’ But he didn’t want me touching him. I went from the top of the world to the darkest valley. I tried playing with him. I tried getting him a Happy Meal. But he didn’t want any of it. Nothing was going right. I felt so rejected. This went on for two days. Then on the third day, we were sitting in our hotel room, and my wife left us alone while she took a shower. And all of a sudden, this little boy started looking at me. And he had the biggest smile on his face.


The application process was a nightmare. It’s like a messy divorce where they examine every little detail of your life. People try to scare the crap out of you about how emotionally damaged the kid will be. The agency made us sign a contract acknowledging fourteen ways the adoption could fall through—and there weren’t any refunds. They warned it could take two years. And it’s so expensive– $32,000. But at that point, Miles’ picture was hanging all over our house. We talked about him all the time. He was already our son, but he was sitting in an orphanage. We needed to get him home as quickly as possible. I took out a loan against my retirement. I racked up so much credit card debt. I planned on using the reward points to buy his plane ticket home. Miles spent his second birthday at the orphanage. We filled a box with $300 worth of presents. It costs even more to ship. Inside we put on his very first pair of walking shoes. Hip-hugger pants to help with his posture. A t-shirt that said: ‘Someone in Fairfax, VA loves me.’ And Mickey Mouse party favors for all the kids at the orphanage. Then we ordered him a cake from a local bakery. A few weeks later, the orphanage sent us a picture from the party.


Ms. Purevsuren is everything to me. She’s the best special education teacher in all of Mongolia. She loves all of her students. When my mother died two years ago, my school wanted to send me to an orphanage. But Ms. Purevsuren volunteered to take care of me. She has her own children, and her salary is low, but she still takes care of me. She lifts me. She pays for all my expenses. She cooks me food every night. She even gathered a collection to buy me this judo uniform. It’s the first time I’ve ever worn new clothes. My mother would be so happy if she could see me right now. She’d be so thankful. I want to win a medal badly, but I know that’s just a tiny thing. One day I will genuinely pay Ms. Purevsuren back. I will become an adult. I will make her proud. And I will take care of her when she’s old– just like she took care of me.


I remember saying these horrible things. Just shut up. Please stop crying for a second. I even had these thoughts about putting her outside. These aren’t good memories to have. But those first years were so dark. There was no respite. No days with grandma. Nobody to tell me: ‘She has a problem, and here’s how you get through it.’ We were all on our own. And I acted pretty ugly. There were times when I hated her. There was a lot of yelling. I’d get mad when we didn’t know math today that we learned yesterday. We’d spend hours on every assignment. And then there was the movie thing. I’m not sure if she told you about the movie thing. But every time she felt overwhelmed, she’d recite movies word-for-word. And she’d come home with tears in her glasses because the other kids would make fun of her. And I just wanted her to stop. It’s not complicated. Just stop talking to yourself. Everything was so hard, and I wanted it to hurry up. It was so much work. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t get out of my head. I was never able to say: ‘F*ck it. We’re not doing this today. You don’t have to improve today. It’s OK for you to be who you are.’ I never got there. But I know I’m forgiven. The Bible doesn’t say that you have to forgive yourself. I know I’m forgiven. And Renee ignores me, of course. I’ve apologized so many times. She doesn’t like seeing me cry, so she pats me on the back and says: ‘I know, Mom. I know.’ I wish I could have known we’d get here one day. I never thought she’d find her way out, that she’d find her voice. That one day, she’d be able to tell me how lonely she felt.


My passion is movies, and I can talk about those nonstop. Some people with autism are keenly interested in birds and how fast they can soar. But for me, it’s movies. I’ve memorized Land Before Time. And a lot of Disney movies. And most of Star Wars. Sometimes when I was younger, I’d quote entire movies word-for-word because it was my way of calming down, like rocking in a chair or swinging on a swing. But I kept getting in trouble at school. Even though school was hard, I had the stuff to do, at least. Because when I turned nineteen, I just lived at home with my family, and I was pretty much left alone. I would swing on our outside swing and daydream, and while that was great and stuff– it was pretty much like my life had ended. When I first joined Special Olympics, I was nervous because whenever we played tetherball at school, kids would sigh and say: ‘Renee!’ That never helped. But Special Olympics was different. It showed me—well, actually, God showed me that there are people just like me. My teammates don’t even mind my movie quotes because almost everyone has something they love. Duncan loves sports and talks like a broadcaster. And Nicole loves to write in her diary. It’s great to be around people like me. I’m not even sure where I’d be without Special Olympics. I’d probably still be on the swing.


When I was little, I’d have like five seizures a day. It was horrible, and I was always scared. But one week after my eleventh birthday, my mom and Dad decided to get me brain surgery. Now I don’t have to worry about seizures and falling constantly. But I can only use one arm now. And because of the surgery, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know if I can do– like living alone. I met Katie at the Special Olympics office. We’re part of a program where you team up with someone who doesn’t have a disability and become best buds and stuff. At first, I didn’t know what to do because, you know, new people. But then it was like, OK– I’m making a new friend. A real friend. We only see each other every few weeks, but we’ve watched so much Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And we have so many inside jokes. And we even have our hashtag. And without Katie, I don’t know, man. It would be like before, but I wouldn’t have somebody to do this with. I’m having a tough time right now. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and is going through so much, and it’s so hard. And sometimes, he calls me names, but I know he doesn’t mean it. And it’s just so hard. But whenever I feel down, I can go into my room and think about all my fun memories with Katie.


You know that feeling when you walk up to somebody, and they don’t give you eye contact because they don’t want to talk to you? Well, some kids in school started treating me that way. Other people saw it happening, and it spread so fast. Because everyone learned that it was the usual way to behave. And everyone wanted to be expected. It jumped from grade to grade until the whole school was avoiding me. I’d get cyberbullied. My phone would vibrate all night with mean messages. I had such a negative view of myself. I was self-harming. I felt so trapped in the moment. It was so hard for me to realize that it would eventually stop. Then one day, I was out on the playground, and the usual group of kids were picking on me. And an older boy walked over. He knew me from cycling. He had a bit of power because he was from a higher grade. He said: ‘Stop this now. Don’t you understand what you’re doing to her?’ The whole playground saw him do that. And after that, things began to turn around. Because people learned that was the usual way to behave.


I wanted to quit Special Olympics after the very first day. It took me two hours to get there. It was raining the whole time. But my mom forced me to keep going, and I learned to enjoy it. We’d run in the park once a week. I was around people who didn’t tease me. Nobody called me names. I wasn’t made to feel stupid. After a few months, our coach convinced my mom to let me go to an overnight event. It was at Westchester State University Teachers College. I did three events: the long jump, the softball throw, and the 50-yard dash. I won all three. And I’ve been competing ever since. It’s changed my life so much I can’t explain. I’m more confident. I speak at schools and colleges. I own a house. I pay property taxes. If there’s something not going right in my town, I’ll go down to the city council and complain. And I’m still competing. I’m sixty-five, and I tried out for the tennis team this year. I picked weeds off a public court and spent hundreds of hours hitting the ball against a wall. But I didn’t make the team. And I’ll tell you what– I went back to my dorm and cried. And it takes a lot to make me cry. But I wanted to compete so badly because this is where I feel necessary. I think the feeling I get when I win a medal is the same feeling a President receives when elected. It’s the feeling of achieving something that you dreamed about. And people with intellectual disabilities don’t get to feel that enough.


My parents were shot when I was ten years old. My mother was a lawyer, and my Dad was an engineer. They’d been working in South Africa and resisted a robbery attempt. At least, that’s what my grandfather told me. I thought everyone was fooling me until their bodies came home to Zimbabwe. Thankfully my aunt and uncle raised me, and I kept going. But I was never able to graduate from school. I have dyslexia. I’m not good at reading or writing. The teachers couldn’t understand my problem, and I was expected to keep up with the rest of the class. Other students would laugh at me. And I couldn’t do it. Now I feel lost. I keep to myself. I have nothing to do, and I’m just sitting on my talent. I have a mechanical mind. I can understand any machine. But no engineering program will consider you unless you’re good with books. And there are no facilities for dyslexia in our country. I see dyslexic people from other countries who have achieved their dreams. And it’s painful to see. Because there is no path for me. I’m thankful for Special Olympics. They keep me from being idle, but I can’t spend all day on a golf course. I need a job. A few years ago, I discovered my father’s diary. There was a section where he wrote a page about each of his children. He noted that I was the smart one. I was the one who could fix anything. I was a future engineer.


Her history came out slowly once she learned to talk. She’d been abused in every possible way. She’d never had a Christmas. She’d never been to school. She’d never even slept in a dry bed. All she’d ever known was deprivation. But once we got her, we left that all in the past. We said: ‘This is what we have now. Let’s start here.’ Her life has been so entire since we got her. It hasn’t been easy. She was diagnosed with Autism. She needs lots of attention. Puberty was tough. My husband passed away, so I had to do it alone. The school was a herculean effort. Colors, numbers, and shapes were nearly impossible. And we still can’t tell time or do the math. But she is a master of everything physical. And we did it all. She took ten years of dancing lessons. She played on a travel soccer team. She’s a fantastic artist. We’re here this week to compete in powerlifting. Now the last thing I want for her is to get a job. To earn a living. To come home tired from a good day’s work and say: ‘Mom, I can take you for dinner tonight.’ It won’t be easy, but that’s how I’d love the story to end. If I had known twenty years ago how difficult it would be– would I have made the decision? There’s no way of knowing. And there’s no way of summing up the experience. Because it’s not an experience, it’s

my child.


In those days, there was a blue book in the library with all the faces of children who needed homes. She was eight years old. Her foster parents should have been thrown in jail. No immunization records. She’d never been to school. No language skills. She couldn’t even describe the abuse she’d been through. But she was a little ball of fire. Very hyperactive and very cute. All we saw was this little kid who had nobody. And we’re looking at her thinking: ‘What’s going to happen if we walk away?’ We had no clue how difficult it was going to be. You never do. But there was no time to be scared. If you’re getting a child with no home and nobody– you’ve got to get over ‘scared.’ You have to pray. You need to have the heart for it. Because there’s no way you’re going to give them back. Those first few days, I spent so much time with her in a rocking chair: back and forth, back and forth. I kept telling her: ‘This is what I do with my babies. I rock you in a chair.


We come from Palestine, and both athletes live in refugee camps. The camp has a special needs program the Red Crescent provides, but that ends at sixteen. And there’s nowhere to go after that. No programs. No jobs. So right now, Special Olympics is the only thing keeping them off the streets. When we are competing, there’s a sense of focus and determination. There’s a feeling of representing Palestine. There’s a feeling of being someone who has value and contributes to society. But when we go back home—that’s all gone. They’re seen as not having skills. There’s no respect. They’re ignored. It’s like going between two extremes, and it can be hard for them to go home. Last night Saeed heard us making arrangements for the flight home– and he tried to hide.


This was the first time in my whole life that I got a gold medal in the World Games. I was very calm and controlled my emotions. When I left home, my mom said to focus hard on my training and make Egypt proud of me. Sometimes when I’m on my horse, I pretend my mom is beside me and not back in Cairo. I want to thank her so much. She does everything for me. My Dad is in heaven, and I want him to know that I miss him and love him so much. He often says, ‘Do a good job’ and ‘Take care of yourself.’ I want to thank God for helping me win a gold medal. I want to thank my brother Islam for calling me yesterday and saying: ‘I hope you win the gold medal.’ That helped so much. I also want to thank my Coach, Dahlia, because she is a person I love. She is almost like my little sister. Right now, I feel like life is so beautiful. I think a smile is all over my face. I love everyone. And I feel very much like everyone loves me because I’m beautiful.


Papa left El Salvador eight years ago to come work in Dubai. It isn’t easy without him, but I understand why he is gone. He said he was very sorry but needed to find a way for us to live. He is an excellent worker. I was so unfortunate in the beginning. I missed his hugs and the times he would sing to me. I was crying almost every day. But he calls me so much, and sometimes he sings to me on the phone, and every year he gets to come home for one whole month. I was so excited when I learned that the Special Olympics are in the same country where my Dad works. I feel so lucky. He is with me all the time this week. He gets to watch me do my gymnastics. He gets to watch me do my jumps and hang on the bars. He was so happy and clapped so much. I hug him all the time. And telling him how much I love him. And he is always telling me that he is so proud of me.


It was a problem with my memory. I couldn’t remember things. Everyone else my age was moving forward, and I kept staying behind. My heart was very sore. I loved school. I wanted to be a doctor and a lawyer, just like everyone else. I kept asking God: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I tried my best. I even went to night school. But eventually, my teachers said they didn’t want to waste my time. They sent me to a school to learn handwork. That’s where I learned about Special Olympics. I was an angry young man back then. I could not accept my situation. But one day, I met Arnold Schwarzenegger when he came to South Africa for an event. I told him my entire story, and he said: ‘Look here, I am the Terminator, but today I am your friend. Listen to me. You are not strong in academics, but that is just one thing. It’s nothing to worry about. You are a powerful man. You can’t hate yourself for the rest of your life. It is time for you to move on.’ From that moment, I began to accept myself. I now have everything in life except for academics. I work hard. I have a house. I have a family. I have a career as a soccer coach. My son attends the same school where I work—he’s brilliant. I make sure he does all his assignments. When he struggles, I bring him to his teachers so they can lift him. I tell him: ‘Tumi, I never finished school. But God is fantastic. He has made you strong where I am weak.


As a child, I tried to make friends, but it never worked out. Every day I’d get bullied. My teachers were excellent, but the only kids who would spend time with me were my cousins in a higher class. People would call me ‘idiot’ and ‘stupid.’ They’d push me over. I tried to stare at the floor and not look at people. I felt like jumping out the window. I didn’t want to eat. I became so weak that my mom would feed me with her own hands. I’d talk to the walls of my bedroom. I’d talk about my paintings. I had an imaginary friend named Amanda. She was a fairy. After school, I’d close the curtains, sit on the floor, hug my bear, and wait for Amanda to come. She was beautiful. She had an attractive crown. She’d make me laugh, encourage me, and tell me not to be sad. She’d say, ‘Good things will happen to you.’ Then one day, when I was fourteen, I went to a swim meet with my mother. I was scared of the pool, so I stood along the edge. A woman walked up to me and asked if I was special. Her name was Ronak. She had a beautiful smile. She hugged me. I never thought anyone would ever hug me like she did. It felt perfect. She looked

me in the eyes, grabbed my hands, and said: ‘Please, please, please join Special Olympics. It will change your life.’ She gave me her phone number. After that day, Amanda never came back.


Even within the Down Syndrome community, it can be hard not to compare. You’ve found a group of people going through the same thing as you. And suddenly, there are gradations. I follow all these people on Instagram that are my age and have Down Syndrome babies. And it’s easy to feel jealous. There are so many differing abilities. Some kids are already walking by now. Then there are the people with Down Syndrome who are revered. Some have testified before Congress. Some are models, gymnasts, and mothers. And that represents hope for a lot of people. But that’s also not the reality for a lot of people. And that hope can be devastating. What if your kid can’t do those things? What if your kid can’t do Special Olympics? But I’m optimistic by nature. And the only thing I truly need is that she’ll have people who love her. And I mean people who aren’t blood. I want her to be included, have friends, and have a community. I want people to say ‘hi,’ sit with her, and welcome her. If no boy asks her to prom, I will be devastated. Because I imagine my own life without friends or social connections, and it’s so sad. I can’t watch her go through that. And the most challenging thing is that I can’t control these things. All of these experiences are so dependent on other people. I’ll never be able to control how other people see her.


Both of us are shy. We were working at the same office when we met. I’d do anything to walk by her desk. And she’d do the same. I’d ask her for advice on specific projects. We were flirting the entire time, but neither wanted to admit it. Then one night, we decided to take a walk together after work. We ended up sitting on a bench just like this and had a very intimate conversation about our lives. We were so honest with each other. I talked about my weaknesses. And mistakes that I’d made. And plans for the future. We were sitting in front of the town hall and agreed that it would be a great place to get married one day—whenever we met someone. I had my arm along the back of the bench the whole time, not quite touching her. It was cold outside, but neither mentioned it because we didn’t want the night to end. When the conversation finally finished, I walked her to her car. It was a ten-minute walk. I tried to act relaxed, but inside I was nervous. The whole time I was thinking about kissing her. Should I do it? Should I not? Then finally, I decided on a hug. But it was a deep hug. Extra deep hug. That night I went back home and said to my roommate: ‘That’s her.’”


There was an eighty percent chance of miscarriage. I walked around daily, not knowing if my daughter was still alive. I went to the doctor every two weeks to check for a heartbeat. I always asked them to face the ultrasound screen away from me. I couldn’t bear to look. At week twenty-two, my placenta began to fail. I was hospitalized at week thirty. The blood flow through the umbilical cord had been reversed. The delivery took three days. Her heartbeat was dropping. The chance of stillbirth was so high. During the emergency C-section, there were thirty people in the room. My husband said that all of them had an ‘oh fuck’ look on their face. The last thing I remember is the gas mask being put over my mouth. Then I woke up asking for milkshakes. They wheeled my entire bed into the NICU to meet my daughter. She’d had oxygen deprivation. Her heart was halfway beating. I was still paralyzed, so I couldn’t even sit up to look at her. The nurse took my phone, held it over my daughter, and turned it on ‘selfie mode.’ This is what she looked like when I saw her for the first time.


He fell on his birthday. We’d just celebrated with a party. He was standing on a ladder, trying to fix a shelf, and failed. It was all very sudden. He was in a coma for a week and then was gone. After his death, I began to write in a journal. On the first pages, I wrote about his final days. I was so sad. I just needed to process what happened. But then I kept going back, back, writing everything I could remember: the walks we had together, the places we visited, museums, castles, and holidays with the children. I carried a pen with me at all times. Every time I had a memory, I’d write it down. We’d known each other since we were fourteen years old. We’d take walks in this park back then—with our parent’s permission. It’s been almost nine months since his death. I’m feeling a little better. I’m still writing, but it’s not about memories anymore. It’s more spiritual now. I think he’s still evolving somewhere. One night I saw him in a dream. It was the young Claude. Twenty-five or thirty years old. It was so real. I don’t even think it was a dream. I could feel him there. He was standing in a doorway, dressed entirely in red. And Claude never wore red. But when I reached out to hug him, the door closed, and he disappeared. I believe he’s still out there somewhere. And I’ll see him again on the other side of that door.


We’re from the tiny island country of Vanuatu. I don’t know anything about sports, but nobody else wanted to coach the team. So I volunteered. Special Olympics gave me a list of sports, and I chose the long jump. But two of my athletes couldn’t jump. So we moved to the javelin throw. But that was too hard to throw, so now we’re competing in the shot put competition. When I first met Monica, she’d never really left her house. She couldn’t look me in the eye. And she was afraid of the shot put. She’d drop it on the ground whenever I handed it to her. She’d hide her hands behind her back. But I invited her whole family out to train with us. Everyone participated. And that gave her confidence. Her mother gave her coconuts and rocks to throw on days we weren’t training. Nobody knew if she could get on the plane when it was time to compete. She was so scared. She was crying and clinging to me the entire flight. Once we arrived, we had to drive straight to the stadium for qualifications. Everything was so new for her. She’d never left her island before. The stadium was so big that she had to go out on the field alone. On her first throw, she forgot everything she learned. She dropped the shot put immediately, and the referee raised a red flag for disqualification. But then she looked back at us. She calmed down. She remembered being back on the island with all her family. And she threw it so far on the second throw. When the white flag was raised, we all went crazy. And she won the silver medal.


I’m here to support my older brother. You’d never know he has special needs by looking at him. But what you can learn in one hour might take him three or four years. Even though I’m younger, he’s always looked up to me. He writes on my Facebook wall all the time. He’s so proud of my accomplishments. On this trip, he’s been sleeping in the bed beside me, but he still texts me that he loves me so much. My mom says he was so happy when I was born. He saw me as an example. Anything that I did—he wanted to do. He learned to feed himself after seeing me eat. He stopped using diapers once I did. It’s getting harder for him to copy me now that we’re adults, but the desire remains. He wants to drive like me. He wants a girlfriend like me. He wanted a job at the grocery store so badly that he cried during the interview. He wants a family. And a house. And a car. And I want him to get there too. But I’m not sure he realizes how difficult those things will be. There’s another level he has to get past. Cooking is still tricky. And washing clothes. And he was counting money. We’re just not there yet. So I must be ready for him to live with me for the rest of my life. And I have to hope my future family will be OK with that. My brother wants to be independent so severely. And all of us want him to get there. But if he doesn’t, I’m here.


I first met him when he was thirteen years old. He lives in one of the most remote regions of Brunei. You can only get there by the river. There’s no running water, no electricity, no utilities. Indeed no special education facilities. He came alone to our city looking for assistance. When I first met him, his trousers were torn entirely. He was so small for his age. I’m a special education teacher, so I said, ‘ I’m going to help this boy.’ He lived with me for four years. It was the only way he could get training. I coached him on the Special Olympics soccer team. I tried to give him structure. I told him: take a bath every day, sleep early, always go to school. The advice had to be continuous because he forgets very quickly. But I did everything for him. He became like my son. But he never called me ‘father.’ Always ‘teacher.’ And I never forced him to stay. He’d leave home for a few nights at a time, but he’d always come back. I was hoping he’d live with me until he got a job. It’s dangerous for him to be on his own because he needs guidance. His family has many bad habits. But last October, he turned eighteen and chose to go home. He reaches out to me sometimes when his family runs out of food. Or when he needs money. He knows that I can never say ‘no.’ At first, it wasn’t easy. I worried nonstop. I’d always ask his friends: ‘Where is Azril now?’ But I have to accept I’ve done all I can. He has become an adult. When we return from the games, I think it’s time for me to let go.


On a unified team, each athlete is allowed a partner to support them on the court. We make sure every athlete gets a chance to participate and score. We control the tempo. Since basketball games can be chaotic, it can be helpful for athletes to have a teammate who can guide them and keep them calm. Unified sports are lovely because they allow us to play together as brothers. Giles always used to watch us playing at the local club growing up. He wanted to join us, but the level was too high. Giles can have problems reaching specific goals. So many times, we have to tell him his plans are impossible. It’s frustrating for all of us. But this time, we got to say: ‘Yes, Giles, it is possible.’ Every Friday, we get in our car together, drive to the river, listen to our favorite songs, and then head to our game. It’s our favorite day of the week.


I have twenty superheroes that I keep in a folder on my phone. I take it out to look at them and pretend I am the leader of an entire superhero team. The team is counting on me to get as strong as possible because I am the team’s muscle. Being the biggest is like a way to take charge. It doesn’t matter if I have superpowers because I can use my proper strength, and the barbell is like a weapon. It’s essential as a leader to always listen to your team. Our whole team decided together that friendship was more important than winning. Nobody will be mad at me if I lose. They don’t care if I bring home a medal. My family, friends, Coach John, and everyone in the Philippines will be proud of me, even just for lifting weights.


We are the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia. It makes us feel wow. It’s one of the most excellent moments in our life. I must be happy and positive because I am the basketball team captain. Whenever we make a shot, I clap. I also clap if we miss it. And I clap if the other team makes it. If somebody is sad, I tell them don’t be upset, my sweetheart. And then I rub their shoulder. This is my teammate Dahwia– I am her friend, and she is my friend. I love her so much. She loves food, and we dance together. We blow each other kisses during the game. Yesterday we won. But it doesn’t matter if we lose because, in the end, we always dance.


MDadad plays with Barbies and does anything I want.


I came here to buy Christmas goods and return them to Finland to sell in the markets. But I was stupid. I left my hotel with the cash in my pocket, had a few drinks, met a woman, and woke up in an alley. I don’t remember much. Even my ID was gone. I’ve been here ever since. There’s nothing left for me back home. The divorce was finalized in May. The money’s gone. I’ve got nothing waiting for me but debts. This isn’t my first time in Paris. I’ve been here one hundred times before– but always on the other side of the wall l. The good side: friendly hotels, excellent restaurants, plenty of money in the pocket. Now I’m seeing all the shit. All the crap. The alleyways are filled with young men who should be defending their own homes, families, and countries—but now they’re here, and they don’t give a shit about anybody. Three times my clothes have been stolen right next to me. Sometimes when I’m awake, they don’t say ‘please.’ I’m stressed as hell. I’m not sleeping. Last month I had a heart attack right in front of the hospital. Everyone turned away when I asked for help. They could tell that I’m a street person. I tried to keep clean, but my clothes were in a plastic bag. So they knew. I was on the ground for several minutes before a Nigerian man finally stopped to help.


My name is Ariel, and I’m from Costa Rica and dream of being a journalist. I have an Instagram page where I will put all my interviews. This week I would like to cover the feelings of the athletes, parents, and coaches. I ask questions like: ‘Are you having fun?’ And ‘What is your favorite sport?’ And ‘Are you enjoying Abu Dhabi?’ My mom is helping me think of the questions to ask. I don’t know what I would do without her. She tells me to be patient and says that if someone is busy, we must wait until they are finished before asking questions. She reminds me to talk slowly. And to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ And to love people. And not to say bad words. I want to thank her so much for all her help. I would also like to thank my job at the IBM infrastructure department for letting me come here. I would also like to thank my grandmother, who has come to help us. It hurts for her to walk, but I feel confident when she is here. Her job is to have fun. I want to thank her so much. Thank you so much for this interview.


I haven’t been able to work since my heart surgery. It’s been several years since I lost my apartment. Now I have memory problems. I can remember things from my childhood, but I forget many things. I’m about sixty years old, buI t lost my social security card and ID. When I have a thought in my brain, I forget it before it comes out of my mouth. I sleep on the street. I come here every day for warmth. During the day, I can’t go anywhere else because they don’t let me inside. There’s a lot of provocation out there. I can’t stand anywhere for long. People call the police. They don’t trust me. They think I’m a terrorist. I have to keep moving because my heart can’t handle the confrontation. I get fragile—my whole body trembles. Sometimes I pass out. People approach me from agencies, but I don’t trust them. I don’t trust anyone. They want to get my benefits so they can steal them. When your memory is terrible, they steal your benefits. I need to get healthy so I can remember exactly what happened.


We’re just going to the city to celebrate our fifth anniversary. We met in a college theater production. It was a dark comedy about the Catholic Church set in the middle ages. Our characters were engaged to be married, but then I thought she jumped off a bridge. So I became a monk. And she became a lady of the night. Luckily we reunited when she tried to steal relics from my church by pretending to be a corpse. We did have a kiss scene. But she couldn’t kiss back because she was pretending to be dead. The director envisioned an upside-down ‘Spider-Man’ kiss because that had just come out. I leaned in over the top of her forehead. It wasn’t much. No tongue. At least not on stage.


My mom had her issues, so I was never really parented. I spent most of my time alone. Cereal out of the box. Packets of ketchup. She’d bring the occasional cold chicken finger back from a night of partying. I left the house when I turned twelve and started staying with school friends every night. By thirteen, I was making money from acting gigs and extra work. And by sixteen, I was entirely on my own. I couldn’t balance school and work, so I dropped out in the ninth grade. I worked in record stores. I started photographing bands and then moved into photography. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years. Lots of commercial stuff. Lots of happy family nappies in the park. But these last few years, I’ve moved into fine art photography. And the whole ‘art thing’ requires me to put myself out there. It’s personal. So I’ve had to confront my past. I’m sensitive about my lack of education. I don’t have a degree or the sense of entitlement that comes along with it. Sometimes it can feel like a closed door. Like I don’t belong. It can be challenging to self-advocate. Or stay confident in the face of rejection. Or own my space when I’m dealing with someone difficult. Ironically my husband and I have a lot of friends who are authors, professors, or film directors. They’re all very educated. I just never had the chance. I had to zig and zag and do whatever I could to survive. But I got here. I’m attending my art show this afternoon. And you know what? Talking through this stuff made me realize that I’m proud of myself.


My entire childhood was geared toward college. My father worked at IBM for thirty years and expected me to get a degree. It was never toxic. He didn’t push me toward a particular career. He just always wanted me to work toward a goal. I made good grades in high school. I studied chemistry in college because that was my favorite subject. I planned on being a teacherThe first year went great. But soon, the classes got more specialized and complex. I tried working harder, but that didn’t seem to help. I began to feel like a failure. My behavior changed. I started skipping classes. I overslept my alarm. Some days I wouldn’t even get out of bed to eat. If I did get out of bed, it was usually to play video games. My grades began to drop. But I remained in denial for the longest time. I didn’t think I deserved to be depressed. I had a great childhood—a great family. I did well in school. But the denial caused the depression to snowball. Because over and over again, I’d ask myself why, and I could never pinpoint the answer– which made me even sadder. My best friend suggested that I leave school and get a job. He thought it would force me to get into a routine. And he was right. I started working at a silicone plant in Albany. S wanted to die some days, but it got me out of bedailyay. And that had always been the most challenging thing. Soon I was going to the gym and hanging out with friends again. It’s been six years since I left school. I’m feeling pretty good. I manage a liquor store now. I work hard. I make decent money. Maybe going back to college is the next step, but I’m not hurrying to find out. Right now, I’m okay with not progressing– because I feel content where I am. If I’m stuck, it’s

not a bad stuck.


I’m on my fifth job in eleven years. It’s not that I don’t do good work. The layoffs have always been tied to company performance or being in the wrong position. But the instability has caused me to rethink my relationship to work. My first job out of college—I lived and breathed work. I managed a team. I was always available. I’d answer emails at midnight. I took work calls on my wedding day. And I never minded. I felt like the magical cog that kept everything going, and that indispensability was a big part of my confidence. So I took it pretty personally when I got laid off. Dozens of people lost their job that day, but I still saw it as a personal failure. After that, I was forced to separate my identity from work. I’m trying to measure how I interact with friends and family. Or how well I support my husband. I’m not checking emails right before bed anymore. Or right when I wake up. I’m offline during the holidays. Because I know the company will be excellent without me. And the work will always be there when I get back.


Venezuela always seemed safe to me. I grew up in one of the valleys. We lived in a gated community. As a child, I always felt secure. We’d walk home from school. We’d stay out late. Nobody I knew had ever been robbed. But when I was ten, my mother got kidnapped on the way home from the grocery store. It was only for twenty-four hours. The guy just wanted drugs. But things seemed to change after that. It didn’t feel safe anymore. I was fortunate because I’m a swimmer. I broke a national record when I was fourteen. So it was easy for me to leave the country. I emailed my times to many coaches in the United States and ended up getting a full scholarship to a school in California. We were privileged. So most of my friends were able to leave. My dad and his brother got out with tourist visas. But my mother stayed behind. She doesn’t speak English and wants to remain with her friends. We support her as best we can by sending money home. She doesn’t tell me much. She protects me from the specifics. I feel so helpless about the situation. I try to avoid the news. I stay off social media. I’d rather not know if people from my childhood are eating out of trash bags. Or if they’re dying because they can’t get medicine. I can’t handle any more stress. I already spend 75 percent of my day thinking about it. Right now, I’m on my way to swim. It’s the only way I can escape the thoughts.


I’m from a small city in the south of Spain. It’s known for skydiving. In 1991 there was a massive event with delegations from all over Europe. I was a twenty-four-year-old interpreter then, and they assigned me to the president of the skydiving union. His name was Michel. He was a retired soldier from France. He’d been part of The Resistance and still had a number tattooed on his arm from his time in a concentration camp. We spent four days together. Nothing romantic happened, but there was something forbidden about it. He was forty years older than me. We’d walk arm-in-arm. He was dignified. He was fascinating. He was charming. And after he went home, we began exchanging letters. It became a beautiful friendship. It lasted for years. But my husband didn’t like it, so eventually, I stopped responding. Michel wrote a few more times but finally gave up. I never gave him an explanation. Recently I discovered the letters while cleaning my room. I decided to look him up on the Internet, but all I found was his obituary. He died four years ago. He was eighty-eight. I’m on a journey through France, collecting information on his life. I found some military records already. Today I’m going to call his wife and ask for an interview. I want to put everything into a book—a tribute of sorts. I don’t know what I’m looking for. It’s just something I feel like I have to do. I want to end the story.


We’ve been together for twenty years now. She stays the first half of the week alone in Paris, and when her last Egyptology class is finished, she joins me in the countryside for the second half of the week. We’ve both been married. We both have grandchildren. And you’d never know by looking at her—but she’s even a great-grandmother. We’re not young anymore. Our lives are behind us. So labels aren’t necessary. From the beginning, our only rule was respect. Friendship or love—we don’t make a distinction. Everyone cares except for us. The key word is ‘happy.’ We are happy. And that’s all that matters.


Look at my sister; she is so cute. I miss her so much when I go to Grandma’s house. She is so sweet. I give her toys, and she gives them right back to me. All she says is ‘blah, blah, blah.’ I don’t understand any of it. Maybe she’s speaking English. I am so proud of her. Look at her.


I want to be a musical theatre actor. I have six auditions tomorrow. Five the next day. Everyone says this, but you do hear ‘no’ every day. It’s not even a ‘no,’ actually. It’s just silence. They never tell you that you didn’t get a part. You hear nothing at all. Audition Update’s a website where people post if they’ve gotten a job offer or call back. It’s a way to let everyone else know they haven’t been chosen. I used to be on the site all the time. I kept refreshing the page for each of my auditions, waiting for someone to post about a callback. Then I’d check my email to see if I’d gotten on. All I ever wanted was to be the person who could finally post. It was pretty toxic. It made me feel inept. I could see the people getting all the jobs I wanted, and rejection became this tangible thing. I’ve stopped going on the site. I’m focusing more on the process and less on the outcome, putting all my energy into my phone and putting it into my journal instead. I write things that I love about myself. I write everything I can remember about each audition: who was in the room, what was said, something I did well, and something I could have done differently. But once it’s on the paper, I let go of it. It helps me stay in the moment. And it helps remind me that the whole reason I’m acting is because I love it.


My excellent great-grandmother was a vaudeville dancer. Her husband would do the backstage work. And that’s what every man in my family has done since. My grandfather was the head of the NBC electric shop. My father was a carpenter for Ed Sullivan. My uncle was the lead carpenter for All My Children. And anything you see on CNN, me and my team put together. It’s something different every day. My favorite part of the job is the emails from producers and directors thanking me for a job well done. Recently they were doing a story on the chicken tax for CNN Money, so I brought in my chickens from home. That earned me an email with the subject line: ‘You’re the fucking man.’ Once I know somebody’s happy, I move on to the next showI’ve done my job correctly if the audience doesn’t think about my work. Years ago, I was working at the opera, and we were performing Figaro. One of the buildings collapsed during the storm scene. It wasn’t supposed to happen. The whole thing came down right as the curtain was closing. Almost hit the lead singer. Luckily the audience thought it was planned. The critic for the New York Times said it was the best storm scene he’s ever seen on stage.


My father is schizophrenic. As a child, I lived with him every other week. During those times, I acted like a second mother. I did everything for him. I’d make all the decisions—even the difficult ones. He lived in the past. He’d bring up fights he had during his childhood. And he was paranoid. Mostly he was paranoid about losing me. He’d call me his ‘soul mate.’ His ‘sunshine.’ It was all very confusing. I was only ten years old. The most hurtful thing was seeing him destroy himself. He could get a job, especially when he took his medicine. But he was always drunk. He had a lot of homeless friends that took advantage of the situation. They’d take his money. They’d sleep over. And I was the one who had to kick them out. Everything was on my shoulders. I was losing weight. I couldn’t concentrate at school. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. One night he got so angry that I locked myself in the bathroom and stopped talking to him for four years. No more worrying. No more headaches. I felt a bit guilty, but mostly I just felt free. I could work on my problems. I could learn about myself. I’m seventeen now, and we’ve started talking again recently. But on my terms. I decide when I want to see him. It’s still complicated, but it’s easier because I’ve learned to accept that my father has no interest in improving his situation. And that it’s not my responsibility to make him.


I was a teller at a bank. I was working the front and couldn’t talk on the phone, so she texted me. She sent two texts. The first one said, ‘I’m pregnant.’ And the second one said: ‘It’s twins.’ We weren’t even living together at that point. I was only making $28,000 a year. I wasn’t ready. They were born three months premature. But if my wife was scared, she never showed it. She went from nothing to Mom in no time. She told me exactly what to do. It was never domineering. She just knew. The first months were terrible. We were sleeping two hours a night. I was waking up for work at seven. It felt like I was living in a dream state. And I kept thinking: ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ And that feeling stayed for a long time. Things are a bit easier now. But it never feels like I’m done. I go to work, then come home, then it’s homework, then it’s bed. I’m dead tired at the end of the day. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job. I never felt like Dad. I just felt like some figure they called ‘Dad.’ It felt like my wife was their mom, and I was just there for support. I felt like a babysitter. Like I was watching someone else’s kids. I never knew what a dad was supposed to be like. It wasn’t in me. I didn’t know how to show it. I took care of them. I loved them. But I didn’t hug or kiss them. I wasn’t comfortable with it. Probably because it was never done to me. But I’m different now. I embrace and kiss them every night. But that’s because they taught me. They’d approach me and say, ‘Daddy, I love you.’ And they’d hug me and kiss me. So that’s what I do now. But it didn’t come from me. Everything came from them.


I’m from a town with one traffic light. It’s primarily antique shops. There aren’t any bars, and all the restaurants are close by eight. So there’s not much opportunity socially or professionally. I thought I’d have a house by now. And a wife. And kids. But I’m still living in my parent’s basement. Mostly it’s to save money and pay off loans, but it’s also comfortable. My family is Italian. We eat dinner together every Sunday. My sisters bring their families over, and I see my nieces and nephews. Everyone I love is there. It’s essential to me. I had an opportunity to work in Chicago a couple of years back, but I turned it down. I told them my family needed me, which was the perfect excuse. Because who’s going to question it? But I don’t think it was the real reason. I think I’m leaning on my family to avoid taking risks. Every night when I come home, my dinner is waiting for me. I don’t have to struggle. I don’t have to progress and grow and get past problems. I’m beginning to feel stagnant. So I already told my boss: once an opportunity comes to move to the west coast, I’m taking it.


I’ve made my name now. I’m a journalist. I live in a nice neighborhood. But it was hard growing up in Paris as a black girl. I’m from the island of Martinique. It used to be a French colony. Our island had no jobs, so I came to study in Paris at the age of twelve. Things were complicated. I was one of the only black students at my school. There was a lot of racism. One teacher especially made my life difficult. She taught economics. It wasn’t my best subject because I was more interested in literature, so I occasionally talked to my friend during class. And the teacher failed me by ‘disrespecting her.’ She told me to go back to ‘the coconut islands.’ She said I’d never amount to anything in life. I ended up pursuing a more artistic path. And a few years later, I became the principal dancer in a big musical. It was a showcase of music from my island. Many famous musicians participated. I convinced my white friend to invite that economics teacher to the performance. She had no clue I was involved. When the show was over, I entered the audience, found her seat, and asked: ‘Does this count as doing something with my life?’


We’d get into these blowout fights whenever she asked me to stop drinking. She’d try to tell me to slow down. Or that my behavior was ridiculous. Or that she loved me and she wanted me to be healthy. But it just seemed like she was trying to interfere with my life. Your selfishness becomes completely invisible when you’re that addicted. And the more a person cares–, the more they become an obstacle. It isn’t very pleasant because you start hating them for loving you. It would be so much easier to escape if nobody cared. But somehow, she stayed. It’s hard to imagine why because she had every reason to go. But this summer we’re getting married. And I’ll be three years sober this April.


You can do things when you’re six that you can’t do when you’re three, like my little sister is. I guess one thing is ice skating, which I’ve done maybe twice. I fell a lot, and it felt quite frustrating because it’s pretty frustrating when you keep falling, but you have to keep your eyes open even if you’re scared. On the fifth or seventh time around, I didn’t fall, and I did a fancy twirl jump, but not in real life, just in my imagination.


I’m unsure if you’ve heard about the accident at South By Southwest a few years back. A car plowed into a crowd of pedestrians. Four people died. Twenty-five were injured. I was the twenty-fifth. I broke my back and neck in four places. The driver was fleeing from the police in a stolen car. He was twenty-one years old. His name was Rashad. Many people in my life thought he should get the death penalty. But I never had strong feelings about it. Maybe I disconnected from my emotions. Perhaps it’s just my personality. But I mostly felt sad that he’s so young and I’ll be in jail for the rest of his life. Recently I looked up the address of his prison. I purchased a PO Box. And I wrote him three letters. I’ve held onto them for months without sending them. I guess I’m struggling with the fact that empathy is a privilege. I’m still alive. I’m still able to walk. Some people lost more than me and might be upset that I’m showing him compassion. But I find it curious that I know nothing about somebody who profoundly impacted my life. All three letters begin similarly: ‘We’ve never met, but we were in the same place at the same time.’ I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I figure there’s something to be said. And I’d like to figure out what that is.


My dad came to America in the ’90s. He worked at one of those stalls on 34th SDadet selling ‘I Love New York t-shirts and plastic Statues of Liberty. One of his coworkers had a sister back in Bangladesh– my mom. The whole thing was arranged over the phone. Even the wedding was done over the phone. Everyone was on the line: my grandparents, uncles, and Islamic priest. My parents didn’t even meet in person until five months after the wedding. I’m the oldest child in our extended family. I’m the first to grow up in America, so everyone is watching me. I’m like the lab rat for the American Dream. I was initially told that I was going to be a doctor. One of my earliest memories is sitting in my SpongeBob chair, practicing my numbers and letters. In first grade, my parents hired my kindergarten teacher to tutor me after school. My mother would negotiate with my teachers during parent-teacher conferences. When I didn’t have a perfect grade in 5th-grade science, she convinced my teacher to let me build a baking soda volcano for extra credit. We didn’t have food coloring, so we used Bengali spices for the lava. Right now, I’m in my first year of college. My parents have let go of the doctor thing. They trust me now because they’ve seen me accomplish many things. But I still feel a lot of pressure. A lot of people are watching me back in Bangladesh. The sense of family is so big there. If one person gets lifted, everyone gets lifted. So everyone wants me to do well. And I want to do well for them.


I don’t know why my mother hated me. She had a sickness that you could not see. But she convinced me that I was sick. And that everything was because of me. And that I’m a monster. She criticized everything. My way of eating. My way of speaking. My way of dressing. Anything that brought me joy– she would deny me. If I defended myself, she would hit me. I was terrified of lunch and dinner because that’s when I had to face her. I spent my entire childhood alone. I just played with my cats in the garden. Or I sat on the floor of my bedroom. I’d try hard to leave my body because I didn’t want to be on Earth. And that’s when the spirits and fairies would come to me. Even Mother Mary came to me. I was never afraid of them. They’d comfort me. I remember being seven years old, sitting alone beneath a tree, talking to the fairies. Another little girl walked up and asked what game I was playing. That’s when I realized nobody else could see what I was seeing. And it’s been a very lonely existence since then.


We dated for two years. He looked great on paper. He was a composer. He was tall and handsome. He convinced me that we were soul mates. And he was big into grand gestures. Once, he rented a convertible, handed me a foldout map of Canada, and said: ‘Pick anywhere you want to go.’ He did keep cheating on me, but he’d blame that on his bipolar disorder. He’d tell me that his high sex drive was a medical condition. And I believed him. Because I was young and stupid and in love, we would take a vacation to Seattle for my twenty-fifth birthday. He’d just gotten back from a two-week trip to Israel. He was reticent on the train ride to the airport. And just as we arrive, he tells me he met someone in Israel. I start crying. He’s stone-faced. If we can just get on the flight, everything will be fine. We go all the way through security and get to the gate. At this point, I’m a musical theater girl sobbing. Our flight begins boarding.Everyone is staring at us. Eventually, we’re the last two left, and the gate agents are waiting for us to decide. So I decided we should go home. But he insisted that I let him buy me a ticket to Chicago so that I could spend my birthday with my family. So that’s what I did. And the next day, he calls me to wish me a happy birthday– from Ncouldville. He’d flown out that same night. To visit the girl he met in Israel. That was the last I spoke to him. But he emailed me a few years ago to tell me he’d written a musical about his life. The airport scene was included. And he wanted me to attend the show.



Eighteen is when I started fully dressing up and doing make-up. I came out to my girlfriend when I was twenty-one. I told her, ‘I think I might be trans.’ And she said: ‘I know already. Because you’ve always looked at me like a woman looks at another woman.’ She began to address me as my female name. She’d come with me to the make-up counter so that I wouldn’t feel awkward. But I’d still only dress up at home. I felt ashamed. In public, I did everything I could to suppress that side of me. I’d wear baggy jeans and plaid shirts at work. I grew a long beard. I’d laugh at homophobic jokes. But inside, I felt like an absolute depressed shit. I started keeping a private Instagram account where I followed people in the trans community, and one day I saw a post from a girl in Queens. She was looking to make some trans friends in real life. When I messaged her, she invited me to a party in New Jersey where many cross-dressers rent out a bar. I didn’t even consider it. I didn’t know these people. And I’d never even gone outside of the house before. But she video-chatted with me as her guy self and talked me into joining. The night of the party, I was scared as fuck. I’d laid out all my clothes: ripped skinny jeans, a Johnny Cash T-shirt, and a red and black wig. I had my make-up picked out. But I didn’t think I could do it. I felt like I was going to throw up. But I managed to walk downstairs and get into her car. She was pumping me up the whole way there. I smoked one last cigarette in the parking lot and followed her into the party. The first thing I heard someone say was: ‘Oh God. She brought a real woman with her this time.’ I was over the moon.


I grew up on a farm in Florida. It was almost like we lived in a time capsule. Nothing but ass whoopings and hard work: raking the yard, feeding chickens, tending horses, planting fields. And my family was Jehovah’s Witnesses. So we had to follow the Bible. We had to do every single thing. There was no room for metaphors or interpretation. It was almost cultish. I only had two guilty pleasures: playing in the woods and horror movies. Once a month, my older sister would take me to the mall. She’d pretend I was her daughter and sneak me into horror movies. I was only nine or ten, but we saw them all: Poltergeist, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street. She’d cover my eyes when there off, but everything else I saw. I just loved seeing out-of-control maniacs on the screen. My entire life had always been so controlled. I loved the feeling of being afraid: everything runs through you, spine-tingling, fight or flight. It made me feel alive.


We worked in the same IT department. I think our colleagues knew earlier than we did. Whenever we’d go out, they kept trying to sit us next to each other. She always seemed interested in me. She’d ask me a lot of questions. But I felt nervous because I’d never had a girlfriend before, and I didn’t want to mess it up. So I kept things professional for about eight or nine months. But then, one night, we went to the club. We all had fun until a tall, blonde guy asked her to dance. I had to think quickly. I knew it was a move. Somehow I needed to separate them, but I didn’t want to escalate the situation. This was a very tall man. So I thought: ‘It’s time to dance. You need to dance now.’ I wasn’t quite ready because I hadn’t had enough to drink. But thankfully, I’d just learned some dance moves from the movie Hitch. Slowly I wedged myself between them. I backed in– butt first, using my special activities. I didn’t even make eye contact with the guy. Thankfully he gave up. We danced together for about an hour. At some point, the rest of our colleagues went to the bar and left us all alone. That’s when she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.


I grew up in Colombia. There wasn’t much to watch on television back then because we only had a few channels. Everything was black-and-white. But every night there was a famous music show. All the big bands came on that show: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Always my nose would be stuck to the TV. I went completely crazy. My parents could not understand. Sometimes I’d get so excited that I’d cry. I grew my hair long. I told myself: ‘One day, I will be in a band. I do not know how. But I will do it.’ A few years later, my father got the opportunity to manage a dairy farm in Spain. From there, I was able to get a visa to London. I was nineteen, and London was almost too much for me. It was so exciting. All the time, I was crying.I worked as a dishwasher and started going to all the nightclubs. I loved punk music: Sid Vicious, Billy Idol, and The Clash. They made me dance like crazy. So many times, I cried. Blovedanted to be on the stage. So I found two guys and started a band. We were called The Ridiculous. For two months, we played on the street outside the club. But it was more complicated than I thought. We never were invited inside. Our drummer found another band. Then the guitarist found another round. And then it was just me. That was forty years ago, but I still keep the punk alive. One day I will try again.


We’d been friends for three years. We’d mostly see each other at the Catholic Center on campus: picnics, group outings, etc. But then we started hanging out alone. And one day during finals week, we spent an entire day together. We talked for six hours straight, and that night we ate burgers at Five Guys. Remember, it was finals week, so I was stressed, sleep-deprived, and not thinking clearly. I started telling him that he was so great and that I’d never felt so comfortable with someone, and suddenly I realized that I was practically telling him that I liked him. And he’s got this blank expression on his face. Total poker face. So I panicked and said something silly.“She told me, word-for-word: ‘But don’t worry. I could never date you.’ My heart sank. I’d been planning on asking her out after finals. I had a whole plan. Suddenly it felt like I’d misread the last three years and especially the last few months. I tried to keep a straight face. No crying. And after we paid for the check, I dropped her off at the dorm and walked the entire two miles home. I kept telling myself: ‘You can recover. She’s still a dear friend. Life has its ups and downs.’ Two weeks later, I helped her move into a new apartment. And we kept hanging out as friends for the next few months. But then, on Valentine’s Day, she sent me a neuroscience card. It’s a bit of a tradition because we’re both neuroscience majors. The card said: ‘Are you a neuron? Because you have an action potential.’ Then she followed up with a text: ‘If a man wants to impress me, he’d bring me pancakes and yellow roses.’ Suddenly things were looking up again.


Right now, I just feel confused. It’s fear. I’m scared. I’m graduating in a year. I still don’t know what I want to do. I’ve always wanted to be a leader in something. But I don’t know exactly what that is, and I feel like if I’m not doing it already, then I’ll probably never be a leader in it. So it’s a lot of stress. The one thing giving me solace is the thought of being a mom. I’ve wanted to be a mother since the age of four. I used to put blankets under my shirt to pretend I was pregnant. I love taking care of people. And if I can’t conceive, I’ll adopt. I’ve got everything figured out. I didn’t think about it much in high school or middle school. But now that the future is in such close proximity, motherhood has become my security blanket. I think about it whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Since everything seems to matter so much right now, it’s my way of saying: ‘Nothing matters.’ Because at least I’ll have a family.


I owned a frame shop in Atlanta for thirty years. But whenever I went to a theater and sat in the audience, I felt God had come and left without me. I just knew that I was meant to perform. Then a woman walked up to me in a health food store and asked: ‘Do you always talk like that, or do you have a cold?’ I said: ‘Excuse me?’ approached me that she wanted to cast me in a BMW commercial. I thought it was a freebie. But they asked for my social security number on the way out of the studio. $750 for three minutes on the mic! I thought: ‘I need more of this.’ I started taking acting classes. I got cast in a few local plays. I moved to New York on my 50th birthday. I wasn’t about to sit around later, wondering if my soul had gotten what it needed. I drew unemployment for the first time in my life. But by 2003, I was a member of SAG. By 2005 I had a speaking part on Law and Order SVU. And at 62, I was given a full scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Things have dried up a bit since then. I had to take care of my mother for six years. And it’s hard for women of a certain age to get cast. But it isn’t over yet. Things happen when they’re supposed to happen. And I firmly believe that nobody can get what is yours to have. And I will tell you this: I’ve already envisioned what I’m wearing the first time I get invited to the Oscars. A red mermaid dress, fitted from the waist to the knees and flaring out at the bottom. A stand-up collar that frames the back of my head. Stunning neckline. And a king’s ransom of rubies on loan from Harry Winston.


We had dorm rooms next to each other first year. We mainly just played many board games: Risk, Scrabble, Scattergories, a Trivial Pursuit game from the 1980s– which everyone sucked at. But we became best friends, and the following year decided to get a house together. That’s when things started to get tense. We began sitting closer together. We’d play with each other in the following year’s hands. Never holding hands– but playing with needles. And we’d even fall asleep in the same bed together. There was a time that she told me goodnight, and I swear I felt her brush my lips, but by the time I opened my eyes, she was out of the room.Neither of us had ever dated a woman. And I was terrified to try anything. We were such good friends. There was always this fear that it would ruin our friendship f I voiced the desire. But one night, we were out for drinks, and I always feared it. I was feeling pretty drunk, so I leaned over and said: ‘Sometimes I feel like I want to kiss you.’ And she replied: ‘Sometimes I do too.’ I didn’t say a thing. I wasn’t even sure that I’d heard her correctly. I just kept thinking: ‘Oh my God, it’s happening. It’s happening.’ Then once we finished our drinks and started walking home, I stopped her in front of a bridge. I said: ‘Shall we do it here?’ It was December 12th, 2002. And even though we got married five years ago, that’s the day we celebrate as our anniversary.