The Cube by Emmy Favilla

I didn’t have a lot of friends at college.

I grew up on the Brooklyn–Queens border. When I was accepted to NYU, a 40-minute commute away, I had to decide: Do I rack up the student loan debt to live with a slew of hopeful, wide-eyed freshmen crammed into a Manhattan dorm building, choking down cheap beer with a sweet but sheltered roommate from Wisconsin? Or soldier on like a loser in my parents’ house, ending each day meeting up with jaded neighborhood friends at the bar that had no concern for IDs at the door?

I settled on staying at home. This is how my friendship with a motley assemblage of “vampires” in the East Village who hung out under the Alamo sculpture — a black steel cube mounted on one of its corners, 8 feet long on each side, aptly dubbed The Cube by locals — was established. To the naked eye, these teenagers and twentysomethings appeared to be your average downtrodden goths; if you dug a little deeper, as I did, you’d learn they believed they were truly vampires, with a complex familial structure in place. (There was the “mom” and the “sons” and don’t ask me how they figured out who was who, because they all seemed to be roughly the same age.)

They also seemingly had no home; The Cube was home. It was across the street from my stop on the 6 train, and often I’d run into the crew on my way to campus just before 8am, as they were returning to home base after an all-night rave, or whatever shadowy gatherings self-identified vampires regularly frequent in the earliest hours. My getups of fluorescent plaid pants and feather-accented patent-leather jackets may have caught their eye, or perhaps I simply held my first curious gaze for a moment too long. Either way, our dynamic escalated quickly after initial words were exchanged. Sometimes I’d stop by to chat between classes, or before heading back home — and maybe buy them a few items off the McDonald’s dollar menu, because who doesn’t want to be regarded as a goddess of sustenance by a throng of teenage vampires?

It sure beat my second-best option for regularly passing the time with peers on campus: hanging out at NYU’s Commuter Circle, a “social club” comprising four kids I went to high school with and five other strangers who trickled in and out over the course of the semester at their leisure. Every month, we ate pizza on NYU’s dime in a sad, beige, windowless room in a building across from Washington Square Park. Sometimes we watched TV.

Vampires, however.

I shared what one could most accurately call an intense acquaintanceship with a “vampire” who, like the others, appeared to be homeless and introduced himself to me as Seven — a thin, handsome teenager with deep brown skin and slumped shoulders who hovered around six feet tall. He wore all-black, as vampires do, accented by silver and leather accessories, and a black du-rag. (He only sometimes, it is important to note, sported fangs.) Seven had a slow gait, with an air of perpetual despondence, rarely smiling despite an otherwise warm and gregarious demeanor. One evening, he lamented that he hadn’t had a shower in a week, so I offered to take him to my neighborhood. I believed him, of course, because he was charming and he gave me a shred of his attention, and also because he smelled alarmingly similar to a person who hadn’t showered in a week.

“Hey, Zach is a freaky weirdo too,” I figured, certain that my boyfriend, who identified as a Juggalo, would be cool with letting a kind fanged stranger use his shower, if a bit skeptical about why I was hanging out solo with another guy. (While I like to think my intentions had been pure, Seven’s comment about how perfectly shaped my hips were as we were waiting for the subway made my chest feel warm and my heart race for just a moment before I brushed it off gracefully. Was I really the kind of person, if only for a second, who would entertain the idea of cheating on my chirpy Juggalo boyfriend with a mopey vampire?) I was confident it would all go smoothly, because we trusted each other, and Zach had a big heart, a parentless apartment for the night, and a functioning shower.

We arrived at Zach’s, and all hypotheses proved true. Post-shower, Seven alerted us that he’d engaged in a full-blown conversation with Zach’s two pet ferrets; his detailed report confirmed they’d been feeling a bit anxious and also divulged details about their former iterations as various forest creatures. It turned out Seven had the uncanny ability to communicate with domesticated weasels and uncover information about their past lives. …Cool.

Weeks later, I spotted Seven walking with his mom, each holding a grande Starbucks cup, just blocks from The Cube. She was a tall, gorgeous woman, dressed in a sharp-looking all-white suit, on her lunch break. He introduced me to her and I discovered Seven wasn’t homeless after all; he merely liked to party with his friends and sleep on the East Village streets when the weather was accommodating.

I didn’t believe in vampires, so the news wasn’t entirely shocking, though still I felt the sting of deception. Whatever façades he was putting up to navigate life in the way that suited him best wasn’t for me to judge, I suppose; perhaps he had a strained relationship with his family. Never reached the verdict on whether he was indeed an animal medium.

I’m certain there’s nothing like living in a building with hundreds of teenagers having parallel experiences, curious, terrified, thrilled to figure out this college thing collectively. But I’m certain there’s nothing like commuting to school as a teenager in New York City either. My subway rides these days each blend into the next, the glimmer of the city’s magic still within eyeshot, just a bit dimmer.

Emmy Favilla is a New York–based writer and editor whose work has been published or is forthcoming in BuzzFeed, Tenderly, Teen Vogue, Pigeon Pages, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and other publications. She is also the author of a book about the intersection of language and technology, “A World Without ‘Whom”’ (Bloomsbury, 2017). You can find her on Twitter @em_dash3.

Image via