When Ceasar, my ex, first met me in college, he couldn’t stand me. He dubbed me The Girl With The Cocoa-Puff Curls and wondered out loud why I used to walk into the student offices like I ran the place.

Then he saw me in a tank top and we lived together for the next 6 years.

The kid is borrowed for maximum cuteness

If you ever meet Ceasar, however, he’s going to lie to you about two very specific things, and I’m here to set the record straight. I never pushed him out of a moving car, and I never stabbed him. Okay? He’s a dammed liar if he tells you so. The car was firmly parked and it was a swipe with a butter knife. I didn’t even break the skin.

Everything else he tells you is probably true.

All jokes aside, I do tend to invoke really strong reactions in people. They either click with me right away, or something about me grates them so much they can’t stand the sight of me. There’s also the few who notice and really don’t give a shit, but I am used to it. I had taken it for granted that there were always people around who knew me and could at least explain to the newcomers that I meant no harm and that I am actually a really cool person.

Let me be clear: I am hardly a saint. I am incredibly complex person who is still trying to figure it out. I have flaws, mood swings, a quick temper and a long memory. I try live my life in a way that I am at least an asset to the people that matter. I am an incredibly loyal friend and seek genuine people who can call me out on my crap and vice versa. That anyone who truly needs help, like me or not, can feel free to pick up the phone and call me for help at 4 in the morning. Back home there are plenty of people who clearly know this and have confided in me.

Out here, I only had Tati.

Madeline arrived within four days of me settling in. At first, it was a bit awkward for a few reasons: I kept referring to her as “ma’am” or “usted” even though she is only four years my senior. Still, she was a mother of five, and I felt really weird knowing I had moved into her apartment while she was away on her vacation.

She also brought this chihuahua with her that they immediately named Shorty but took a lot longer to paper train. That same morning Tati arrived from work and brought Shorty into our bedroom, and it immediately pissed on one of my dresses. It still had the tags on it.

I encouraged Madeline and the children to Google how to paper train a dog, but for months after, Shorty went everywhere. Shorty was also attention starved and didn’t like being alone. She barked and whined like nobody’s business, and on mornings when I was home alone and was scheduled to work the night shift, I often had to get out of bed and pick her up to have some peace. If I worked outside of my bedroom she would climb up my legs and sit on my lap uninvited.

I had been trying to sleep

Then my relationship with Madeline got awkward for other reasons. I told her about my social work background and experience tutoring. We talked about it a bit, and she, albeit jokingly, made the comment that she was glad I had arrived so I could help with her kids. Then she gave me a wink.

I immediately froze. Then I gave her a talk. I wasn’t going to raise her children for her, I told her. I was not going to usurp her role. I was, however, going to help her gain the tools so that she could interact with them better, that way whether I was in the room or not, things would still be the same. She didn’t like that at all and didn’t speak to me for a few days. I felt bad for hurting her feelings but it’s something I’ve always made very clear about me: I don’t raise other people’s kids.

It was within a few days of Madeline’s arrival that Tati got another apartment next door to her job. I was livid. We had discussed getting a place together, but I was clear that we would both pick out a place that worked for the both of us. She went and got an apartment that benefited her and informed me afterwards. When I called her out on it, she replied that I had a car, like that solved the problem. But that wasn’t it.

I still barely knew my way around, and driving in New York is a risk at all times, specially in the Bronx where I swear people hope you will crash into them so that they can collect the insurance. I was still driving to White Plains to work every day, and the apartment Tati had picked added 20 minutes to my commute.

I was also unsure of my financial situation. Although I got lucky for that first pay period, it was only because of that one customer. “It only takes that one customer to make your sales day!” Karolyn kept preaching, but that also meant I was spending entire eight hour days 1. hoping a customer would step in my department that 2. didn’t already know someone on the team and 3. wanted to buy something and not there just to feel “special”.

I was starting to spend more and more of my time cleaning the department and sizing the clothes on the sales floor and in the back. It really helped passing the time, and I was being productive.

However, being noticed as the one who’d rather clean than stand around can be a problem in retail. Andrew immediately tried to take advantage and for our first altercation, he tried to bully me into completing all of the stock even though it was a shared responsibility. Any other time I would have been happy to do it, but I knew he was looking for a sucker and told him to do it himself. He made a big show of brining the product on the sales floor and processing it at the cash register, something we really were not supposed to do.

But I had made my point, and tried to keep to myself and not get roped into doing other people’s work.

I took selfies instead

I started to realize my paychecks would fluctuate more than I had anticipated, and couldn’t commit to paying more than the $400 a month I was already paying Madeline. Tati argued that we could share the apartment with some dude she called her brother even though I had never met him before, and I wasn’t comfortable with that either. So when I dropped he off at work at night and she insisted on showing me the apartment, I refused to go up.

Tati moved out within the week. There was nothing I or Madeline said to her that could have gotten her to reconsider. I was pissed. Madeline on the other hand took it a lot harder. This chick cried to me about Tati leaving, whined about it for months, and stalked Tati on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and gave nearly daily updates about Tati’s whereabouts, friends, and plans.

I was upset for other reasons. My own cousin left me, freshly arrived, with complete strangers. Madeline didn’t know my quirks, her kids didn’t know when it was okay to play with me, and when they needed to leave me alone, and I needed that buffer.

Madeline had already started to give me some red flags: she made fun of the way I sectioned my hair to blow dry it, like she had never seen such a thing, and Tati had to tell her it was I who had taught her to do her hair. We also went on a grocery shopping trip, and Madeline showed an exaggerated amount of surprise seeing me chopping veggies and freezing them for later and separating meat in freezer bags to make them easier to cook.

This made me tense up. She was already comparing herself to me.

I spoke to my mother about this, to my sister, Charmaine, everyone. No one was surprised. Tati had always been shady. Ceasar asked if Tati had done this to leave the apartment quickly and get away from Madeline for whatever reason now that I was there, and I had to admit the thought had crossed my mind. I didn’t know anything about these people.

It was then that I learned my very first lesson living in New York: I had to be on my best behavior at all times. I was in a city full of strangers. I no longer had that buffer. There was no one in the background who could go, “Oh, that’s just Andrea,” if hijinks ensued. If I was going to survive in this city, especially now that I had to depend on total strangers for food and shelter, I had to at least learn and play along to their rules.

I was, for the very first time in my life, completely alone.