Johnny, I’m knee deep in responsibility these days, and I feel like I’m wading. It’s not that I don’t want to be here. I really do. I have so much going for me that I can’t seem to put it in words.
But when you’re constantly surrounded by intense, driven academics who thrive off approval and grading and measurement of successful outcomes (after all, that is the quintessence of physical therapy), there’s this incredible pressure to prioritize every test, every little detail. And that’s what I’m lacking. Yeah it’s perfect timing, just in time for finals and the busiest time at work. I’m dragging.
It’s almost been a year since you’ve been gone, and I still talk to you in my head… when I think of how transient and unpredictable our lives are, it’s hard to believe that a GPA, or praise, matters as much as we’re led to believe. How inconsequential it is whether I get a 100 or an 80 — because I talked to Anna and Jason and Jay the other day, and it scared me shitless that people like them could be gone in a second. People like you.
But maybe it matters. What do you think? Maybe it should matter.
It’s conflicting, because a part of me is feels like I’m at the tail end of a dream; it’s like I’m playing tag with my dreams and it’s so close I can almost feel it. But at the same time, I’m wondering why I’m not –um, I don’t know– on a boat buck naked with a pina colada this second. I think, if you were alive, you’d see how much I’ve changed. You’d say I don’t need a distinguished career to help others –and you’d be right, I know.
It’s weird talking about you in past tense, like you only used to exist.
Like I said, I still talk to you a lot. But you know better than anyone else, there’s a difference between being listened to, and being heard. Sometimes, I get frustrated talking to you. It’s like being surrounded by others but feeling completely alone.
I talk to you the way I used to talk to God, back when I had one, at least. I question, I provoke, but I never get a reply. I have to use my imagination, but what’s the fun in that.
I’m really happy these days, though.
I don’t like that there’s some sort of trade-off between being truly happy and keeping perfect grades in perspective, but it is what it is. I’m pretty sure no patient has ever said, “My physical therapist changed my life; did you know she got a 4.0 in college?” and I’m banking on that.
He grabbed me with firm hands, jerking my shoulders to square up to his own. I could see his lips moving, his eyebrows were screaming, but all I heard was a deafening white noise. People were screaming, pointing at me. A woman was covering her mouth with both hands. Like I had done something wrong. Like I had killed a cat with my bare hands.
I pressed pause.
The bodies around me froze in place. Their gestures were still yet piercingly loud, hands and arms spread open to match their fury; the man gripping my shoulders had so much tension between his eyebrows I wanted to dig a finger into his skin. Help the guy relax a little. Good god, man, you’re going to pop a vessel.
I poked at his forehead, but it didn’t work. His face was scrunched into a rock solid, mean expression.
I clicked rewind, and watched the events play back. I could see myself jogging from down the block. I had on thin spandex shorts and a heavy black hood, and peaking from underneath were two green cords that coalesced together to plug into the phone in my pocket. My head was nodding to some Kendrick bit, and I was lightly bouncing to the rhythm, taking note of the blinking red crosswalk light. I still had time to cross. I waved to Jose, the neighborhood fruit stand man, and smiled at the little old lady at the end of the block, swiftly jogged onto the pavement of West 157th —
Like a homerun slugger splintering from impact, the metal body of a black Caddy caved against my frame. It dent sharply, like the exhale of a collapsed lung, cloaked in tar and years of bad habit. At maybe, 60, 70 miles an hour, the fuming machine rammed directly in my side, flipping my lifeless body in circles like dice in cupped hands. It crushed bone into dust as easily as a giant would a flea. As the screech of braking tires overtook the orchestra of horror, I pressed pause once again.
The Cadillac blared its horn as it barely missed my back. It skimmed so close to my body I could feel the whip of my clothing as the wind snapped my sweatshirt against me. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t react. I just kept running… until he stopped me in my tracks.
I faced the man then scanned the crowd once again. Their terror had quickly dissolved to anger, to shaking heads and disgusted faces. He let out, “Are you fucking crazy!?”
I mean, I think that’s what he said. (I was never really that great at reading lips.)
I removed my headphones in time to hear the rush in his voice, “You almost died. YOU ALMOST DIED.”
My heart was a steady 50, maybe 60. I shrugged. “I’m fine.”
I tugged my hood over my eyes and casually resumed my jog. The crowd shook their heads in a bitter grumble, and I left them in the cold clutter behind me.
I pulled up at the next red light, and removed my headphones once more. I almost died. I almost died?
There, standing alone, I shuddered.
I shook with fear — not because I was an inch from death, but because close calls have happened so many times they no longer phase me. This comfort I feel, is uncomfortable. My apathy makes me reckless.
After all, I’m the protagonist and the narrator — I can’t die. I have chapters I haven’t gotten to yet.
The signal turned white, so I returned the beat to my ears and my feet to the streets heading to Harlem. As I slipped past the row of cars stalled at the red, I could feel their headlights following me, testing me, watching the litter of emotion I was tossing behind.
It’s been many, many years since I decided to include in my daily ritual: a question of reflection. A means of checks and balances that is commonly absent, without the extra effort. With so much going on around us, it can be difficult to… pause… and think about WHY it is you do the things you do.
My question for the day has always been: “What are you grateful for today?”
Some days, it’s easy to come up with an answer. Some days, it’s not. And often times, I have to inquire if, by repeating the same answers, I am dulling the top coat from its shine. Like the twenty thousandth time you’ve told your significant other “I love you” you realize the words, though true, have lost true sentiment behind it — how impressively quickly novel turns to casual.
Upon waking this morning, I stared at the post-it stuck on my bathroom wall and came to the same conclusion that I am frequently led to. But no matter how many times I respond with this same answer, it still find it –to put it eloquently– really freaking shiny.
Today, I am grateful that all things I want, I already have. It is unmistakably empowering to feel satisfied. I am so lucky for this unpredictable life and the ability to comprehend how and why I’m here.
Ok, let me begin by saying I had a dentist appointment for 2pm.
I waited 2 months for my insurance company to get their act together, and today was finally the day I had approval. When they called to let me know, it was like I was Charlie and the woman on the phone was handing me the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar. Giddy up baby.
Given I was in the Bronx for an event, I had to speed bike through the rain to make it to my appointment. The winds were aggressively tugging against me, pulling me back two inches each time I gained one. It was a clever optical illusion — in the spirit of the ongoing presidential campaign — where my legs appeared to be pedaling forward, but my wheels were turning in the opposite direction. A delusional progression, you could say.
The appointment got changed to 3pm, so I grabbed some food and brushed my teeth (as if brushing my teeth right before I go in will make it seem like I have the best dental hygiene. Admittedly so, first impressions are everything).
I filled out the paperwork, and sat there organizing in my head the incredible amount of schoolwork and work-related work I had to complete by the end of the day. Needless to say, the task in itself kept me occupied for 20 minutes. At one point, the reception left the front desk unattended to speak with the dentist, so when a woman showed up for her appointment, she couldn’t get in. The door furiously rattled for a good… 6, 7 seconds before I stood up to unlock it for her. She then looked me up and down, glaring at me with a disgusted pout, muttering, “Fucking couldn’t even open the door, taking your fucking time, do I look like a fucking criminal to you? Who do you think you are?”
When the receptionist returned to the front desk, the woman’s eyes brightened as if nothing had happened. Night to day. Sometimes, I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND PEOPLE.
She then starts trashing my attire to the front desk. Alright, lady, I’m a sleep deprived grad student and I just got back from painting an elementary school; you don’t have to knock me for my sweatpants swag. Immediately, I decide it’s not worth the time effort, so I sit down silently and take a nap. An hour and a half later, I am woken up by the dental assistant. “It’s your turn to come in,” she says.
The dentist introduced himself, with a huge grin on his face. I stood in the hallway as he talked about how 93% of women with breast cancer have deformities on the same 4 teeth because they are on the same meridian lines (oh wouldn’t you love to know how this argument went), about how a man with a 1st grade education can cure cancer by the mere act of slicing skin without anesthesia, and about how Alzheimer’s is supposedly curable in Switzerland. He then asked me about my undergraduate education and seemed to inquire about my dating history (yeah right, like I’m going to stand here in the waiting room and tell you about my Tinder life with HotHead breathing down my neck).
Okay, yes, he was really nice. But he didn’t even talk about anything medically relevant for 40 whole minutes.
When the assistant finally brought me into the room, he was still talking. It was as if his brain would not allow for multitasking, because every time he reached for a tool, his eyes would light up with another thought, and he had to stop what he was planning to do, entirely. He put on gloves, which he coughed into, and then put on a facemask, which he wore under his chin like a fashion accessory (what is the POINT, my man).
We didn’t get started until THREE AND A HALF HOURS after the appointment time, because the guy would not stop talking. When he realized I was using insurance, and not paying out of pocket, he put me into a different room and had me sign off on CPT codes (billing codes, for insurance) that stated I had 16 cavities. 16 cavities? Oh, are these the same cavities that didn’t exist 2 minutes ago, when you were under the impression that I was paying out of pocket?
I get that insurance reimbursements are shitty, but damn. Talk about milking the cow for what it’s worth.
And you wonder why the reimbursement rates are so low. If I worked for Aetna, I wouldn’t trust providers, either.
Anyway, he then asked (again) about the times I had broken my nose over the years. We talked about that for another 5 minutes, before I interjected, reminding him that I was way behind schedule and needed to get going soon. He, without ANY warning, injected me with FIVE local anesthetic needles, which not only numbed my teeth, but my nose as well. I’ve had this procedure done before, but never that high and that much. I just bit down and took it in stride.
And by stride, I mean whimpering for mercy, as quietly as possible.
For the duration, I had to wonder if he was doing work he didn’t need to do — I had seen 3-4 dentists/orthodontists very recently, and they all seemed to think otherwise. I got out of that chair after a grand total of 4.5 HOURS. Treatment time? 20 minutes.
On my way out, he points at his meridian chart and tells me what other health issues I can anticipate (“if X tooth is damaged, then X body part will be affected” wonky logic). I politely nod, but all I’m thinking at this point is CAN I LEAVE NOW.
He then goes, Oh by way. Your nose is fine. I checked that out for you.
He had numbed my nose on purpose. MY DENTIST. numbed my NOSE. To test how strong it is.
This man has forgotten what kind of doctor he is. Next time, if there is a next time, mind your own meridian and I’ll mind my own.
Somewhere out there, there is an inked chest that regretfully reads “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
What the proverb doesn’t mention is that if you teach a man to fish in our modern day society, he’s going to fish religiously for a couple of months until he discovers Seamless. Our culture continues in a pursuit for convenience, and ultimately, through this progression, we lose our vision for sustainability.
It is not enough to achieve; we must maintain what we’ve earned.
I realize that I am going places, I am going to be somebody, and one day, I am going to keep someone very happy, because of three fundamental beliefs that bring out the best in me. In fact, I have never been a better version of me than the person I am today. What I’m doing now is a bit of maintenance, wiping the trail of footprints behind me.
As much as I wish good things would always happen to good people, it isn’t always the case. Life is riddled with sadness and injustice. And in the rock bottom moments where it hurts to even breathe, as if you swallowed your heart whole and it’s stuck halfway down your chest, when you can’t understand why and how, or why now, and nothing feels real but the unrelenting pain — what makes the biggest difference is the attitude we choose to wear as our coat.
“Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character” has always been my favorite quote, because how we choose to react to the things around us are a direct reflection of who are, as people. A positive attitude not only adds a shine to good events, it dulls the blade of bad events. We can’t avoid getting hurt. So, the next best thing is to accept that though the wound will take time to heal, it will heal. Sulking alone doesn’t change what’s happened already; it only keeps you from patching yourself up sooner, rather than later.
If life gives you lemons, you don’t make lemonade. You man up and shove that bad baby in your mouth–the first shock of the sour taste will fade with time–and just remember that life will eventually give you ice cream. The practice of optimism directly manipulates our very being; how we perceive the world changes, how we digest bad news changes, how we behave changes, and in turn, how the world perceives us changes, as well.
I’m starting a new job, with a new boss (that I absolutely adore); I have a beautiful new home ten blocks from Columbia, my new school (which has secretly been my dream school all these years); I’m starting a new DPT program, which has solely become possible through the newly solidified relationships in my immediate family; the new class is full of amazing intellectuals (who actually know how to socialize), and I have new clusters of friends in cities across the country that make me feel at home, wherever I go.
I’m blessed with more than I am entitled to. What appreciation does for me, as it might for you, is it gives more worth to the ordinary and the routine. Everything tastes better. It even feels better. Gratitude establishes the foundation for humility; to truly sustain what we have already accomplished, we must appreciate what it’s worth and what it took to get there.
3. Fear of failure:
Fear has a functional use. It motivates our bodies to react when stressed. Why I value the fear of failure is because it suggests that no job is ever complete. An achieved goal is merely a stepping stone towards something even greater, and when we have a moderate, controlled fear to disappoint, it ignites a kind of desperation that can benefit us.
Despite the significance of attitude and gratitude, if we get complacent with what we have, we risk becoming apathetic, and rather, too comfortable with mediocrity. There is no greater waste than potential wasted. Just as you need fear to motivate you when a bear is chasing you down, you need that kind of inspiring fear to be great. Excellence doesn’t present itself to you; it is chased, through desperation.
Ultimately, these thoughts have been relishing my mind for a reason: in order to sustain our progression, we ought to keep in mind the very principles that brought us there. Attitude, gratitude, and fear of failure keeps me focused. What about you?
“I’m never going to talk to you again. See you never,” the message read.
Following a delay just long enough to process what he had sent her, in attempts to subdue the passive aggressive anger railroading through the text –because God forbid he actually let her have the satisfaction in knowing she got under his skin– he quickly typed and sent another: “Lol.”
Because Lol says Hey, I don’t care.
Lol means You don’t phase me, though she really really does. Without even trying. Damn it.
Upon receipt of the message (she had briefly glanced at the text from the sudden glow of her screen), her long, slender, unmanicured fingers clicked the power button on top of her iPhone to hide the message from view.
Seriously? she thought, eyes rolling north to a blanket of lids. Must you be so dramatic.
The coarse brush of annoyance was enough for her to immediately decide: this kind of demeanor is not worth a response. She thought, can’t we resolve our issues like grown fucking adults…In person? Using words?
How many times —she reflected on previous encounters that all too similarly left the same sour taste in her mouth– am I going to get dumped by a friend through a text message.
She could not determine whether it was her that had become too insensitive, or if the modern digital culture forced others to grow soft, to wrongfully take 100-something character texts, in the absence of context and any sense of real human connection, to heart.
When you live in a world where lives, though consciously filtered, are put on display, it is incredibly easy to jump to conclusions that reside far from the truth. So, could she blame him? No. But the disappointment came from the fact that there exist people who breed a hatred from a subjective assumption and go the extent of cutting ties, void a conversation. Just a bitter, premature See-You-Never.
Never? Good grief. Never is hasty, you silly child — an impulse quite often regretted.
To leave the opportunity of a text reply as the ONLY venue of communication… How does one reason with an irrational mind, in words that must again suffer the path of interpretation?
You can’t, she just knew. This is why an argument on the internet has no end. This is why you cannot put sense into the head of religion. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE OVER TEXTS.
Was she lacking empathy or were they lacking maturity? She could not say it was either, because the former wasn’t true (or so she truly believed) and because there wasn’t enough juice in her superiority complex to sway her to the latter.
Good luck with your life, he added soon after. A miserable touch. It was surely meant to provoke, or to prod a response. But such petty behavior warrants dismissal.
I know you want me to, but I will not plead, she mentally noted. Why in the world would I chase after something that allows no explanation. Effort, in all scenarios, deserves reciprocation. Don’t you think? Of course you don’t. Your head is steaming, and elsewhere.
Over the years, she had learned about the brevity of relationships with the emotionally rash, but more importantly, the undeniable insignificance of such. They come, they go, like uprooted flowers in the wind –mere visitors caught in a passing storm, leaving the slightest trace of their beauty and a lasting impression of their hideous rage.
With a worried note to his call, his voice meekly carried over from a hundred paces away. “ARE YOU CRAZY?”
I had to assume it was not a question for me to answer.
Nick, along with two equally horrified passerby hikers, held their breaths as they watched me lower my body through a damaged gap in the tracks. We all stood on the burnt boards of an abandoned bridge that once supported the weight of a railroad train but has since deteriorated into a local attraction for daredevil hikers and photographers.
Fires, from repeated horseplay, and heavy Washington downpours have led this second largest railroad bridge to closure, but that has done little to deter travelers from walking across it anyway. While he and the two others from Florida cautiously crawled across the wooden planks, I skipped ahead recklessly, joyously, and a bit foolishly, one might say.
When I got to a gap big enough to fit my body, I stopped hopping. Many planks were gradually degrading; as my weight pressed down, pieces of wood would chip away like the cheap acrylic from a Chinatown nail salon. Keeping the bulk of my weight on my arms, I dipped one foot down at a time onto a small sheet of metal beneath where the tracks used to be. It feels sturdy enough, I thought to myself.
So, I did what all normal, sane, and practical people would do in that situation.
I let go.
Flirting with the devil at nearly 400ft above ground, I tried balancing one foot at a time. For some odd reason– my blood did not race in the slightest bit. My Fitbit confirmed: resting rate of 42, the usual pace at which my heart conducts its business (yes, I know, it’s weirdly slow. It’s always been that way).
I called out to the others, “Come here! It’s fine!”
But they shook their heads no and continued to watch me from afar.
I don’t blame them.
When I leaned forward, this is what I could see below my feet.
I leaned back against the broken wood resting on the small of my back and scanned the view around me. I inhaled the greens and blues with a voracious greed in my eyes, because I knew, once I returned to the City, I wouldn’t be able to consume this kind of sight.
I don’t normally advocate for gluttony, but in this case, I certainly do.
Nick and I crossed the entire length of the bridge, and then we decided to climb the trestles that make up the bridge. We skid down a hill and made it up a decent height before acknowledging it’d be stupid to keep going without any rope support.
Using our hands and knees, we made a nearly vertical descent down to ground level. There were logs, embedded rocks, loose roots, and one tattered rope that helped us steer our way down. I have to admit: this part, though tame in comparison to the bridge, had me extremely nervous the entire way down.
It wasn’t the height. It wasn’t the close snake encounter.
What scared me was the chance of injury. Nick and I are opposites in the sense. He can scale down these dangerous paths with no hesitation, because he knows he can survive the fall, whereas he cannot if he were to fall off Vance Creek bridge (where we started our hike). I, on the other hand, having had many close encounters with death, think nothing of dying other than “I hope my parents don’t waste money on a funeral” and “did I ever send that email reply?” but am riddled with intense anxiety when I run the risk of breaking a leg.
We develop our fears through exposure and maintain our fears through avoidance. What oddly balanced creatures we are.
At the end of our descent, Nick and I were welcomed by a stream of clear water flossing and weaving through a bed of rocks. We took off our hiking boots and long socks to dip our feet in painfully cold water. Why? Because pain becomes tolerable over time.
Just kidding. It was because we thought it’d be warmer than that.
At the bottom, we rested, occasionally dunking our feet in the icy cold (as tolerated). We refueled our heavy breaths with lush, fresh oxygen. It was then, with a clearer mind, that we could see how far we had come, but simultaneously could calculate the equivalent distance of how far we’d have to travel to get back to where we had started from.
Some metaphorical shit, I know.
In times of taxing, physical exertion –believe it or not– I tend to hurdle over elementary thoughts of “When’s lunch?” and “That looks amazing,” for grandiose symbolic ideas that can be applied to the phenomenons of life (or used at the conclusion of a blog article).
It’s an obnoxious habit, but a habit nonetheless.
I usually try to keep it to myself.
We hiked back uphill through an endless pile of thorny bushes. The dry foundation of dirt and sand would crumble away from our feet when we pulled our weight upward, so as we slid back down, we’d make an illusory progress — this is how I presume it would feel to try and run from quicksand.
Aaaaand good thing I wore shorts that were three inches long, because I really wanted to end the hike looking like a lotto scratch ticket.
We then jumped back in the truck and headed home to pick up Nick’s bike.
By bike, I mean a bike.
I’ve always wanted a motorcycle license, so spending the afternoon zooming around town was as close to perfection I could’ve gotten.
Speeding, even against still air, helps you understand the undeniable force of a bullet: so minute in relation to the rest of the world, but able to penetrate, without bias, a crisp sheet of steel that has yet to be touched. She growled, snuggling against my thighs, and it shot pulses of adrenaline through my veins in a fearsome way no man ever could.
Does this make me gay?
We pulled into Chambers Bay, which was the golf course in University Place, WA that once hosted the US Open. It housed a beautiful bridge and a small, sandy beach riddled with beachwood. I told him the hills reminded me of velvet, because they looked soft enough to touch.
We found a hut made entirely out of gorgeous, smooth branches.
On the bridge, there were clusters of locks with faded initials, hinting at lovers that had passed through the same grounds and wanted to leave their mark.
He said, “If your lock gets cut, it means you will break up.”
I said, “Let’s come back with lock cutters,” like the good Samaritan I am.
Love is forever (temporarily).
As the sun stretched towards the Pacific, we made another pit stop at his garage to exchange the bike for a kayak. In my bag, I found battery powered Christmas lights (intended for the upcoming camping trip *which I recently found out was canceled), so I tucked it across the kayak skin to keep us illuminated in the dark. I strapped a headlight across my forehead, and we set sail.
There is no beauty quite like the soft dance of yellow lights on blue waters.
Nick pedaled for about 40 minutes to get us away from the other speed boats and cargo ships. We then let ourselves float in the pitch black, inky waters, as fireworks began painting the sky from multiple directions. We had gotten there just in time for the show.
Directly ahead were lights sparkling along Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, to the right we could see Seattle’s show from a distance, and on higher ground were small clusters of fireworks coming from rich homes in the woods and along the shorefront.
I will post a couple video clips on Instagram, so you can see it live.