Dear Johnny (Part 2)

Maybe you could call it apathy. Comfort?

I don’t think that’s what it is.

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.

Otherwise, I might be screwed.

 

Oh, by the way, Trump is president.

know.

 

Miss you bud.

Jane

The 30th Time I Saw Myself Die

“Are you fucking crazy?!”

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 —

And BOOM. 

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. 

Resume.

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. 

Dear Johnny,

I’ve rewritten the first sentence of this letter over and over again, because I don’t know where to begin. Somewhere between the brain that can’t stop thinking about you and the fingers that rest upon this dusty keyboard, words fail me. Johnny baby, I hope you are reading this.

It was a quiet day. Was it a school day? Binghamton sure felt like a daydream. A soft stream of sunlight had poked its nose past the sheer fabric curtains, accentuating blonde specks of unsettled dust around us. It hung in the attic air in an ephemeral stillness; like us, the dust had nowhere to be and no rush to get there. I watched you sink into the couch groove beside me as we filled the silent room with a winding, convoluted discussion, like a tree branch with aim but no end.

In an isolated solidarity, we had brewed the best kind of friendship –if introspective minds are the perfect ingredients, we surely weren’t in short supply. I can’t recall how many hours had to conspire to drown out the sun, and I’m sure you can’t either, because in those awesome one-on-one conversations, we’d get trapped in the present like lethargic feet in quicksand. It always worked out in our favor, though, because sinking in the deep end is a hundred times better than wading where it’s shallow.

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We made a LOT of friends in college. Good ones, too. But you were one of the very, very few people I kept in touch with, because I wanted you around forever. Forever is a silly word –a selfish word, I know– but it’s a word I hung onto when I thought of people like you.

I can say, without hesitation or doubt (and I’m glad I had the chance to say it to your face): you are the most genuine and kind-hearted human being I’ve encountered on this planet. You promoted a better world. You were conscious of your actions. You led and taught others. And might I add, you did a damn fine job of doing so. My life is tremendously better because of you. Unlike most college kids, we didn’t need to smoke weed or drink beer to “have something to do” together. We didn’t discuss stupid shit; we talked about our vulnerabilities, the source of happiness, and what ways we could change the world. We had plans, Johnny.

So when I read the first half of Colden’s text last night, I didn’t understand it. It read, “Hey, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I just got word the Johnny Cass…”

The ironic thing is, I had my phone in my hand because I was going to call you. It’d make my day when we’d sporadically check up on each other and say “I miss you.” I wanted to see how your feet were doing, and if you were following the exercise program I sent you. I was curious as to know how your solar panel projects and yoga practice were going. I was going to ask if you’re still in touch with Stummer because I haven’t seen him in a minute. I wanted to check — are we set to volunteer and camp at Catskill Chill this Fall? And remember, I was supposed to visit your house in Albany so many damn times, it was starting to become a running joke. I was actually hoping to make it happen this Memorial day weekend… Only two weeks from now.

Before I clicked open his full text, I assumed Colden was trying to say something along the lines of “I just got the word that Johnny Cass… is moving to the middle of fucking nowhere,” or that “Johnny Cass broke his leg snowboarding” or that “Johnny Cass decided to devote his life to underprivileged children in India and we probably won’t see him for another six years.”

Six years would’ve sucked, but I could have swallowed it. Forever, though? It’s beyond me. I’m going through these rapid bursts of anger, curiosity, contentment, regret, sadness, inspiration, denial, and every other affect in the rolodex of human emotion. I’m feeling so much at once that I’m starting to feel numb. Sensory overload is a lot like sensory deprivation –we would’ve gotten a kick out of discussing that.

When I found out, I could’ve gone out for a drink or two or eight. But I figured you would rather have me meditate and do hot yoga (of course), so I did exactly that. But Johnny, I swear, I looked like a fucking madman, choking back tears in half moon, grilling angrily at the sad mess in the mirror for ruining my focus. Could you blame me though?


Today is a little better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be a little better than today. It sounds like some cheese quote you’d post on Instagram, so I know you’ll appreciate the thought, ha.

You once posted this quote: “If the only prayer you said in life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” I thank you, Johnny Cassaro. Thank you for loving me, brother. Thank you for having an impact on me more than most people ever will.

I said I repeatedly rewrote the first sentence because I didn’t know where to begin. We were right, Johnny; life does come in full circle. I keep rewriting the last sentence over and over again, because I  don’t want this to end.

Love, Jane

The Unharbored Harbor

15H

In a trembling hand, I held the broken edge of a coffee cup. It was stained, not with coffee, but with streaks of blood.

Glowing specks of heat –mixed pieces of ember and ash weightlessly cascading through the thick air like snowflakes from Hell– illuminated the walls of dusty ravines around us. A deafening blast from behind had struck my senses numb, diminishing my perception of the world to a muffled residue of what it used to be. I could see her silhouette shifting to view from underneath the pile of wreckage; her face, splattered by war, defined agony in textbook form.

I drunkenly stumbled sideways, submerged by a deepening ring resonating in a spiral of disorientation and chaos. When the body is faced with shock, it either gears into action or shuts itself down. Mine seemed to linger in limbo, undetermined whether to pursue the former or the latter. Had I been trained, or had even expected the slightest bit of danger, I could have been better prepared.

But I wasn’t.

It was early Sunday morning, and I was sitting across the patio table from the woman I’d like to call my wife. As the silk of her robe danced with the gentle breeze, I admired the soft curvature of her womanly frame. Her features were mild, but pleasant — even the fragrance in her hair cast a hypnotic serenity over me.

As I drew the mug to the edge of my nose, I consumed a large waft of coffee vapor, but the fumes of espresso turned to fumes of burnt flesh before I could process the slight of hand.

“Glenn, darling!” she cried out to me, pointing to my periphery. I turned in time to see a flock of bombers headed directly our way. The aircrafts were shedding lines of missiles in a similar manner of water droplets trailing a wet bullet against the wind.

I knew, in that moment, the house was not enough. The naval base, the doberman. Oahu was supposed to be our home in paradise. I had promised her a sanctuary for our child, but it dawned on me that he will only know the inside of his mother’s womb.

Clutching both shoulders, I dragged her lifeless body behind a pile of bricks and held her up to my chest. She had fallen unconscious. I could feel her breath slowing, so I grabbed her tighter, as if somehow I could contain the oxygen within her body using the width of my own. If I could give her life, I would.

Panic shrieked as missiles struck around us; in a crumbling terror, I closed my eyes and guarded the only two in the world I was too late to save. To this day, I am still afraid of the dark.

December 7, 1941

First Slam Performance… I Forgot My Lines On Stage. Oops

Ribbons of red line the streets

Illuminating parallel strips of tar that weave neatly into crosshatch stitches;

Bleeding from the horizon, a soft scarlet.

Ambiguity rests in the color within, the paper thin skin of the city of sin: The Big Apple

The signal says Don’t Go, the backs of cars say we’re resting,

and I say when did objects learn how to speak. Am I tripping?

Playing with death in this life of sin, red coats the city like leather on skin —

I was waiting at the light

A lucid victim of a jazz so fine it made my heart skip twice

As nice, Man,

Brass cuts the string that connects me to you, me to this world, so I float

Drifting from the boroughs like a bright red balloon,

Lost in the current, in the rhythm of song.

Mind digressing, thoughts undressing,

I slam on the gas to race my own heart, zooming through the streets as a needle does to cloth

I hone in on the sound, rather than the sight and I…

Just don’t see you.

Contorting and spinning, colliding by joint. Chest up, arms down, tangled in ribbons of red

A stumbling puppet, drunkenly falling into a slumber that can reach no end.

At 90 miles an hour, metal beats bone like paper beats rock

Because paper means nothing when you’re etched across a stone.

A stone that I threw,

I’ve been caught red handed, life disbanded,

I’ve been staring for so long I can only see red

A color stained so deeply that I must tread

Through these ribbons of red that line the streets; I’m dragging

My hands but I can’t get it off —

The last remaining traces of what used to be you,

A brilliance reduced to a hue.

Scared to Death

 

I’m a fucking pansy.

No, it’s not what you think, though. r-KINETIC-CLOCK-large570

I’m not afraid of spiders (don’t let the surprised squeal fool you; I can beat them all up, I swear), terrorist attacks, being alone, my credit score, the apocalypse, heights, or other top common fears we’re told it’s Human to have.

You know what I’m afraid of?
Time.

I know, right? Of all things.

Take a stopwatch and hold it in my face, and I’ll wet my pants faster than a sexually amped sixteen year old at a Justin Bieber concert.

It terrifies me to know how fast time is. It’s much faster than I’d like it to be.

I know –and you know as well– that we will expire some day, but when the time actually comes, the rest of us find ourselves in shock. I’m more surprised at how surprised we feel, despite attempts of mental preparation. It’s like bracing ourselves for an impact that makes us flinch and tense up, regardless. Expectation itself fails to soften the blow, and time makes the inevitable punch swing faster and harder than you originally anticipated.

Lately, it feels like the Big man has been messing around with my calendar. He’s been twirling the months around his fingers like he owns the damn place (well… uh… even if he does, that’s not very nice), and it’s making me feel irritated. Disturbed. A tiny bit lost.

I’m scared of how brief a single second is. It’s gone before you can finish reading this sentence, and it doesn’t have the courtesy to ever come back. If I weren’t so deathly afraid, I’d hold it by the collar and teach it some manners.

Pun always intended.