Life at Sloane House YMCA


Lily and Dawn

Bobby called Lily and Dawn “Peter’s wives”. "Peter" was my English name. Bobby was the late shift manager for both the cashiers and Hospitality Center. He was one of my favorite people at Sloane House. In fact he was everyone’s favorite. Bobby was a worry-free spirit with a big smile on his face and a heavy Barbados accent. He was in his 50’s. He was the coolest 50 year old man I had ever met. One day I asked him where he got his jeans. He told me he got it from V.I.M.. I went there and got a pair the next day. It was my first jeans in America, also my first major purchase. Girls loved him and he loved girls too. It was almost a treat to see how smooth he was when he talked with the girls. A few young women would always make a special stop before going upstairs at the end of working day, just to say hello and get a smile out of Bobby, as if the day would not be complete without. He always said this to me: “Woman makes me happy. Treat them well and you will be a happier person. But if you can’t handle them, don’t bother with yourself. It wasn’t worthy it.” It was "grasshopper" moment. He made time went by quickly.

Lily came from Boston area. Like many others living in Sloane House, she came to the big apple to look for her opportunities. She was a dancer and had a few try-outs with City Dancers at the Garden. Lily told me Sloane House gave her space and freedom she never had. She was not just physically attractive, she was the closest thing that I could relate to at Sloane House: she was the only Chinese, or Chinese-American who lived here as a long-term student. She grew up in a very strict, old-fashioned/traditional Chinese family. i can imagine how suffocating it must be. Worse to that, she seems escaping her true fear - her boy friend. I knew how hard it was to start a life in a new environment, so I introduced her to my friends. They all like her. For whatever the reason and gods knows why, I felt like I became her surrogate brother figure. She would complain to me all the time about her obsessive, jealous, hot-tempered boy friend and how she wanted to break up with him and couldn’t. She introduced her boy friend to me when he came down from Boston to visit her in the beginning. He was the type who could blow your brains out with a gun and stick a knife in you if he found out you fooled around with his woman.

Lily was lonely for a brief period. She hooked up with a white American kid who was living on the same floor-4th floor. Her boy friend sensed something and came down to Sloane House a few times. Lily nervously told me not to tell him anything. I told her to break up with her boy friend. She shook her head with the look of nothing-I-can-do-about-it. I understood her fear: with his temper and size, he could hurt her badly.

Dawn was kind and a wild girl. Came from Buffalo New York originally, she was a fashion student. When there was no school, she worked at a fashion show room in the fashion district nearby. When night came, Dawn would always be my first customer when I open the door of Club34. With a full glass of ram coke in one hand and a pack of cigarette in the other, she was ready for the night. When Lily came, they became friends quickly.

Dawn would sit on the stool in front of the counter and telling me everything, from how many guys she slept with to how she could not get along with her boss because she was Polish and her boss was Jewish…non-stop. It didn’t take long for Dawn to hook up with a student from Kuwait – Talla, who happened to be my best friend.

I was promoted to be the manager of Club34 on the second floor during my second year at Sloane House. I worked at the front desk during the day and at the lounge at night. Keeping myself busy made me forget my guilt and loneliness. I missed my family terribly. I missed my father, my brother, sisters and my friends back home... but I didn’t want to go back, simply because I didn’t feel I accomplished anything, not academically,not financially. Back home fulks respected guys with a degree earned from colleges in the US, or a color TV bought with American dollar they earned. I had nothing to show for. How could I face my family and friends with empty hands? So I asked Mr. McAfee for more work. I worked on every holiday. What else could I do? Sitting in the small, cell-sized room would make things worse. And I did not want to spend the money I saved for any out of town sightseeing.

Lily and Dawn hung out at Club34 or the lounge next to it every night. They kept me company. They became friends because I was friend to both of them. They hung around with me no matter where I was working, the front-desk or Club34 on the 2nd floor, like my shadow. That's why Bobby called them "Peter's wives". What he meant was that the two girls like nagging wifes, following me around. They didn’t seem to mind. They liked the humor in it and even joke about it. I enjoyed their company from time to time. And I don't know how to say no to them.

One slow evening, it was close to midnight. Only Lily and Dawn were there with me in the club. I was about to close for the night. Two guys came to the lounge. I had never seen them in the building before. They might have been government voucher holders. What is government voucher? These are the people who are in need of help, due to various reasons: housing issues, suffering from domestic violence, drug rehab... Most of them stay on the 5th floor. They started flirting with Lily. In the beginning it was controllable. After a while, these two guys would come on to her aggressively and Lily wanted to get away from them and not sure how to handle it. So she just stood by my desk. I stepped in, telling them to take it easy. Two guys did not bother with me and we were very close to a physical fight. A security guard came up and broke up the alteration. These two guys were very angry at me and threatened to take me down outside. I wasn’t foolish enough to take their challenge since there was only me and the two girls in the club. Three cleaning crew came in through the lounge. The chief crew told the two guys to get lost or they would kick their ass. The two guys stared at the chief for a few seconds and left. I was touched. This cleaning crew was from Mexico and I got to know them through Gina. They were a quiet bunch and sometimes I hardly notice them. For them to even make a gesture like that I knew I was ok in their eyes.

One day it was 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I was about to leave my work at the front desk. Dawn came to me. Uncharacteristically, she was wearing sunglasses. I sensed something had happened. I asked her what’s up. Suddenly she was in tears. I saw her eyes were all red and puffy, seemed she had been crying for a long time. I took her to Cheyenne Diner just around the corner. She told me she was raped by a man she just met the night before and she was not sure what she should do. She told me the detail: after hanging out at the lounge, she went back to her room, without noticing one of the guys she was with earlier followed her into her room and raped her. He threatened her not to yield for help. She was frightened and cried the whole night after he lef. I was so shocked and enraged that this could happen to my friend. I told her I would go with her to the police station and have that man arrested. Right away she bagged me not to. I was surprised and asked her why. Her reason was if the police came to Sloane House to investigate the rape, everyone in Sloane House would know this. Worse yet, the management of Sloane House would find a reason to kick her out, since she hadn’t paid the rent on time lately. She told me the best thing I could do for her was to keep quiet and make sure that guy would not come near her again. She was scared. We stayed at the diner until 7:30pm and I took her to Club34 with me. Later that night she made a hint to me about the guy who just came in the room. I had a few friends at Sloane House, but I couldn’t tell them about this. So I knew there was nothing I could do in this situation, except hoping the guy would realize Dawn was not alone. He moved out the next day. But this incident bothered me a great deal. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything to protect my dear friend from being harmed and I felt angry that I couldn’t do anything to help her. Dawn was like a sister to me, a helpless sister. I really wanted to beat the crap out of that guy.

Dawn seemed got over it quickly. I thought it was because there was not a second soul knew about this. I wouldn't know how she felt being a victim. Dawn was a mirror of many who lived at Sloane House. There were many students like her who came to the city with a big dream, tried to make it, only to painfully find that there was a price they had to pay. For some the price might be too high. I saw many students at Sloane House moved out and moved on with their lives. Watching them moving their belongings out of Sloane House with big smiles on their face was hard for me. I was jealous of them. I wondered what kind of life they would have, hoping I could do the same some day. I enjoyed my life at Sloane House, but after a while, I worried about my future. I knew this can not be my life if I decided to stay in America. I had to do something to change, for the better. I dreamed someday I would be able to move on with my life, like those students, beyond Sloane House.


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