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. 

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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

Gender Rolls

These waves: they crash majestically
Like Canyon walls mid-avalanche.
You see, a man of passion cannot be filtered.
He is as ignorant of inhibition as a child.
His impulse moves too quickly to be made to dress in disguise;
He’s teeming at the seams,
with the “Going to explode if I don’t speak” kind of No holds barred
waves that demand attention…
He does not cry, though.
He roars, because he is a man
As defined by his dick
But moreso by his fear of conceptual male deconstruction.
He does not speak, he grunts;
He does not run, he tackles.
When the waves begin brewing
He counts the lines — rather, he snorts them —
Because they lull the sensation to a dull, numbing pattern
Of push and pull, push and pull.
Like seaweed washing onto shore and drifting back into the sea,
He finds stability in a false structure of rhythm.
He stands with bare feet trying to understand the sensation of standing on sand as it washes out from under the edges of his arches and toes,
Trying to grasp the reason for the waves that, even when calm and steady, still manage to steal the ground from underneath him.
He struggles because the current never forgets to return,
Because even with his face buried in the snow the next wave becomes harder and harder to silence.
He tries to burrow himself in a high that is so loud it quiets the world around him,
But he errs in thinking an ocean is less valuable than a lake.
The cold clutches at his lungs,
With long icy fingers that exhale a misty chill as it climbs his cervical spine,
One vertebrae at a time,
Until his breath rushes away along with the sand in the tide.
The waves recede but only because he does too.
He descends,
Unable to witness the beauty of stillness that he has always aimed for and has successfully produced.