I end up leaving the apartment at eight-oh-six, even though I woke up earlier than usual.
I walk blearily down the street, hang a right on Nostrand, and walk down to the A. I can’t really think. It’s a struggle to untangle my headphones and avoid the trash on the sidewalk, spilling out into the street. A mild 23 degrees but I barely feel it.
Ahead of me, a mother and father walk with their children, four abreast.
I dart past, but still arrive at a packed train station. The word DELAY flashes overhead, and I lose myself in music and a book.
I jump on the nearly empty car, forgetting to think, it would seem. The reek of piss hits my nose. At one end of the car a man is curled up in a fetal position, bare feet rubbing against one another. Further down the car, at the other end, a man and woman huddled beneath hooded coats appear to be sleeping.
So I stand in the middle of the subway car and try to read and not breath through my nose.
And after a few pages, the idea appears: to slip $10 or $20 into the man’s pocket. It just appears. Small. Like a drop of water. Something condensing in my brain. Give that person some small amount of money. But I try to lose myself in my book.
I glance down when the train reaches high street. He might be crazy. Who wouldn’t be? I’m not normal and I’m not even homeless. Yet.
One night drinking with Garrett. “I think I gave that guy money because I feel like one day it’s going to be me,” he confides. At that point where the drink starts to lap at a precipice of honesty jutting out into deep water.
But I keep trying to lose myself in my book.
He might be crazy. What if he makes a scene. What if you come off looking stupid, and everyone’s staring at you, the idiot who tried to give a crazy person money on the A Train when it was reeking of piss?
My brain has a million reasons not to go over there, not to squeeze among the other people, the man standing with his back to the homeless man.
Later on, when I’m at work drinking some tea and trying to make sense of my computer screen, I think about buying a bouquet of flowers and sending them to someone.
“Did you take the employee survey?” She asks. Not making conversation, just doing her job, I know.
And since the first day we met, I felt like there was this thing, awkward and tense between us, but something that could be something else. And I have that kind of gut instinct sometimes, and it’s usually correct.
I tell her I’m going to take the survey. I resolve not to. But a day later, harangued by emails from HR, the department head, and other company drones, I make a half-hearted attempt to care enough to form an opinion about where I work.
“It’s a job. It pays the bills.” I write in the first box. Then I erase it and leave it blank.
I think about buying a bouquet of flowers. Purple roses. White roses? Red? No, purple, I think. It’s gotta be purple.
Every time I see you,
I forget everything
For a moment.
I see her so infrequently. I might go a month or two without seeing her at all. And then when we speak again, casually, like I’m asking about the weather, how did you like the flowers?
But a person can tell himself all kinds of lies. And I know that.
And sitting there, trying to get my brain to work, thinking about bouquets and surveys and homeless people, it comes, like waves. And the tide pulls me out and into soft sand sliding away beneath me.
I’ve been a coward. In everything I’ve ever done. And everything done cowardly, done cheaply and badly. Once real, once feeling and genuine, stepping out with every crazy idea, and never giving a damn. Giving away things of no consequence others held dear and coveted, living in wealth or poverty depending upon the week. Loving when possible, not above hate, but never indifferent.
And here you are, telling yourself you’re some kind of person.
But you’re just a shade or a ghost, something flitting from place to place, without any shred of substance. A fake person. An impostor.
And you go around making other people think you’re something. And if they can see right through your bullshit, you must look like a fool. And if they don’t and believe you out of kindness, you’re a liar.
My heart has been hurting lately. Not my heart, my chest.
A tinge of pain, at times just a dull ache, and then again a sharper, stabbing shard of white hot fire.
I make a fist and hit myself in the chest a few times.
I smile, because I’ve been smiling a lot more lately.
I miss a cigarette, but I’ve been free from that for almost two months now. Gotta keep going. Get better.
You’re still a terrible excuse for a human being, but everyone likes you a lot better when you’re not smelling of cigarettes.
Or a million other things that could be unpleasant or pitiful about a person.
But I feel like it’s all the same thing.
All sinners. Taking trains and cabs or driving or walking. Holding our nose up like we’re better than someone else. And maybe we’re all trying to get our brains to work, and thinking we should make some change, but still trapped inside our heads about how to best go about it. So we find our distractions. We go about our jobs and we try to make stands against proxy injustices. Invent romances that don’t exist, wear ourselves out running around and doing mental gymnastics, and we go home satisfied.
But nothing’s changed, and we wake up again and do it all over.
I make a fist and hit myself in the chest a few times.
I listen to music and try to get lost in my book.
“I feel like one day it’s going to be me.”
I can feel it in my brain, the pressure building up, the weight like a block of lead, bearing down on my thoughts. And my fingers itch and my right leg bobs up and down in fits of energy. Irritability creeps into my thoughts and my speech. I’m talking out loud to myself, criticizing myself out loud for past mistakes.
I can feel it in my brain, getting ready to snap.
Something long held, something wrong and rotten.
Some diseased idea that I might be anyone or anything.
And I smile to myself.