One thing that makes me most proud of Humans of New York is the warmth of the comment section. There are exceptions of course, but generally the responses to each story are thoughtful and encouraging. I joke that Humans of New York is followed by the nicest 25 million people on the Internet. Often the comment section will take on a life and a narrative of it's own. During my visit to Santiago, I received an email from a woman named Victoria (aka Sofia) who shared a story about how her life was changed by the support of the HONY community. Very proud to pass it along: (1/2) “We’d been trying to adopt for several years. We didn’t want an infant. The waiting list was too long. Plus we had one child already, so we’d already been through the experience of having a baby. We wanted other couples to have that opportunity. So we decided to adopt an older child. But everything went wrong. Our application was invalidated after three years because my husband got a job in Ecuador. When we tried to start over, the government went on strike. Then we lost all our possessions in a storage facility fire. So I was about to give up. I couldn’t do it anymore. The process was stressing me out so much that it was affecting my biological child. Then right when I was about to give up, I saw a Humans of New York post about a man who’d grown up in a group home. I thought: ‘He could have been my child.’ I wrote about my difficulties in the comment section, and hundreds of people responded. Everyone told me not to give up. My phone was buzzing all day. The ones that touched me most were the stories from adopted children. It gave me the strength to go on.” (Santiago, Chile)
(1/3) “In every sense she was the perfect mom. She always tried to encourage me when I was younger. I was really shy, so she always worried about me being alone. She would ask things like: ‘Have you met anyone at school?’ or ‘Does anyone like the same things you do?’ She always knew when something was wrong. I never had to tell her anything. But Dad was the opposite. He ignored me. He never did anything wrong. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He wasn’t violent. He was just nothing—like a chair or a piece of furniture. His only idea of fatherhood was going to work. He never reacted to anything in my life. Not the good things, or the bad things. He didn’t react to me staying out late. He didn’t react when I experimented with drugs and alcohol. I made my mom very sad by trying to get my dad’s attention. A few years ago I got hit by a car. When I woke up from my coma, I called home to tell my parents what happened. My father answered the phone. I told him everything. All he said was: ‘Your mother is asleep right now. You can call her tomorrow.’ That hurt me worse than being hit by the car.” (Santiago, Chile)
“The older my daughters get, the more indifferent they become towards me. They don’t call me. They don’t come see me. They don’t do anything unless I try. I left the house when the oldest was six. I found a new partner. Their mother was very angry so she restricted my visits. Now they are teenagers and they seem so distant from me. I have nobody in my life right now. I have nobody to share things with, so I’d really like a relationship with them. But nothing seems to work. I pick them up from school. I speak to them every day. I try to take them to my apartment a couple times each week. But even if they are physically with me, it’s like they aren’t there. They don’t even say ‘I love you.’ It hurts. I guess they are still angry that I left. Maybe one day they will have their own relationships. And if they fail, they’ll learn that everything can’t be perfect.” (Santiago, Chile)
“I came out at the age of twenty. I was trying to understand myself. It was a discovery time. I was thin and flexible. I loved to dance. I started performing in a trans show at a gay club. I wore high heels and sang Janet Jackson songs. It was wonderful. I did my own choreography. My friend Carlos designed my costumes. Carlos didn’t charge me money. He wanted me to be a success. We weren’t lovers or anything. He was more like an older brother. He was huge, and coarse, and a little bit of a bully. One night I was waiting backstage and Carlos came running into the green room. He told me that there was a fire and we needed to leave. He had been standing by the exit when the fire broke out, but he still came back to get me. We ran down a dark hallway to the emergency exit. The hallway was filled with smoke and there was a crowd of people pressed against the door. They couldn’t get it open. It was chained from the outside. Carlos lifted me up on top of the crowd, and people began passing me forward. It was completely dark. I held Carlos’s hand for as long as possible. Someone broke a window and I got pulled into the street. I was completely naked because so many people had been grabbing my clothes. When I finally turned around, I saw the whole club engulfed in flames. Over twenty people died that night. Carlos was one of them.” (Valparaíso, Chile)
“My mother was the boss of the whole family. Everyone asked for her opinion on everything. She built this business from the ground up. She made all the decisions, she set the budget, and she ordered our supplies. I just helped with simple tasks like collecting money. She passed away six years ago and left the entire business to me. I was lost. I was so nervous and shy. I’d never shown any initiative. I had no idea what to do. But I figured it out. I learned that I could be assertive and make decisions. I’ve completely remodeled the place. And the business is growing. We only had two employees when my mother passed away. Now I have twelve.” (Santiago, Chile)
“One night I was talking with my wife about how perfect our life was. It was twenty-five years ago. We had four children. We’d just saved enough money to buy a new house. We felt so lucky. I remember she said: ‘What if God takes something from us?’ The next day I came home from work and found my wife screaming. She was holding our oldest son. He’d stuck his hand in the washing machine and electrocuted himself. We couldn’t revive him. We rushed to the hospital but the doctors said there was nothing they could do. I begged them to try. My friends from the church came and we all started to pray. And the doctors were able to bring him back to life. He became a case study. Today he’s 29. He has learning problems. He can’t read or write. But he has a job as a security guard. He enjoys his life. And to this day, I believe in miracles.”(Valparaíso, Chile)
“When my business started doing well, I made the mistake of hiring my friends. Now I have no business and no friends.” (Santiago, Chile)
"He fell in love with me because I used to have a huge ass." (Santiago, Chile)
“If I did something wrong, it was out of ignorance. Maybe I was too strict with him. I was in the army for twenty-seven years so that’s all I knew. He’s really pulled away lately. He doesn’t go to church. He doesn’t care about school. He thinks he knows everything and that we don’t understand anything about his life. So he always locks himself in his room. Recently he told me that he hated me. And I lost my temper and told him that he was no longer my son. Both of us apologized but things are still difficult. I think he’s just very uncomfortable with life. Maybe he feels like the black sheep of the family. My wife and I are professors and both his sisters are doing well. I just don’t know what to do. I’m trying to pull back now and be more lenient. I punish him less. I stopped taking away his phone when he doesn’t do his schoolwork. I don’t want him to rebel any more, but when I back off, it’s hard to be strict again and provide structure. So I just don’t know. I’m reading books to figure out how to reach him. I want him to understand that it doesn’t matter to me if he’s successful in a professional way. I just want him to have some sort of purpose.” (Santiago, Chile)
“I’m going to tell you a family secret. We hated each other in college. We were in the same history class. We argued over everything. I’d make a point in class, and she would argue the exact opposite. At the end of the year, our professor forced us to work together on our thesis project. Both of us asked him if we could choose different partners, but he refused. We made that professor the godfather of our children.” (Santiago, Chile)
“If there was anyone who cared about me, God already killed them. My mother died when I was eleven. She had heart problems because of all the drugs. These two tears are for her. I can’t even remember her face. I remember going to her funeral but I don’t remember her face. When I dream about her, all I hear is her voice. There’s no dialogue or anything. It’s just her voice, saying: ‘Come here, Jeff. Come here, Jeff.’ After she died, all that mattered was surviving. Nobody showed me love. Maybe things would have been different if I had parents. Maybe I’d have a place to live. Maybe I’d have accomplished something. So I don’t feel guilty for anything. Why should I? God doesn’t feel guilty for killing my mom.” (2/2) (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
“I was walking up the hill with my soccer ball one night and the police and drug dealers started to shoot at each other. I jumped over the wall and ran all the way home. I told my mom what happened, and she got so mad at me. I told her that I was just playing soccer and I didn’t do anything wrong. Then she started to cry. And I started to cry. And then we went to the church and prayed for a very long time.” (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
“My father and his cousin created the first drug dealing territory in this favela back in the 60’s. It was a very violent place back then. Before my father came along—anyone with a weapon had absolute power. There was no law. There was no police to turn to. There were many homicides, burglaries, and rapes. My father played an important role. It was a cruel role, but it was important. He had to clean up the favela. The criminals weren’t just going to leave. They had to be erased. And my father did that job. He was a tiny man. He dressed well. He was educated, and polite, and humble. To many people he wasn’t a good person. But he was a righteous person. I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps. I became a photographer and an activist. But I don’t see my father as a bad man. He brought rules to this place. And today’s drug traffickers enforce those same rules. This favela is one of the safest places in the city. Stealing is not allowed here. You can’t rape. You can’t hit a woman. Yes, there is violence. Because the police are always fighting the drug traffickers. But if the drug traffickers were gone tomorrow, the favela would be a far more dangerous place.” (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
“My mother died shortly after I was born. So my aunt is the one who raised me. I’m the black sheep of the family. I used to do drugs. I raced motorcycles through the streets. I destroyed my face. I lost my teeth. I spent eighteen months in prison because I accidentally killed someone with my bike. My aunt is the only one who never turned away from me. Right now I’m going to fix a bike by her house, and I’m going to bring her some bananas. When I walk in the door, she’s going to insist I eat breakfast. She’s going to hide the sweets because I have diabetes. She’s going to take the skin off the chicken because she knows it’s my favorite part. And she’s going to ask me if I’ve been taking my medication. Recently she got very sick. And I’m scared. Because I can’t imagine life without her. If something ever happened to my aunt, there will be nobody left to worry about me.” (Salvador, Brazil)
“After twenty years of marriage, I caught my husband cheating and had to leave him. But honestly, I wish I’d gotten my divorce much sooner. For so long I’d been denying my right to be an individual. The family had become so much more important than my dreams. I had small joys back then: getting a brand new car, having our 20th anniversary, when my son got into college. But now the intensity is so much greater. I’m doing all the things I love to do. I studied nutrition and got a job at the hospital. I buy whatever I want. I watch cartoons. I never miss a Shrek movie. I go to the orchestra at least once a month. And right now I’m coming back from a class on finance. I’m going to invest in the stock market and get a house by the beach.” (São Paulo, Brazil)
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