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. 

I Can’t Feel My Nose

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.

The Text Message Break Up

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“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 don’t. 

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.

You Son of a Kitchen

Elbows in, I reminded myself, watching in the mirror the course of my knees tracing the length of my body. I squatted as low as I could, tucking the 70lb dumbbell into my chest, as the metronome of J. Cole and Kendrick kept pace with my steady heart. 

I was simply putting some work in at the gym, isolated in a decent radius and minding my own (as per usual) when a neighboring beefhead got up from his bench to wave a pair of massive Russian banana hands into my field of view. I turned to him, removing a headphone from the right ear just in time to make out “–fucking space.”

“Excuse me?” I said, pulling the other plug from my left, “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”

He tensed his eyebrows tightly together and repeated, “I SAID, you’re in my fucking space. I need my space.”

Say what?

In the past decade of lifting, the only times I have ever been interrupted mid-set were when men wanted to ask for the number of sets I had left on the bar, or for the number they’d have to call to get me TO a bar. So, you can imagine why I, without processing his message, instinctively reacted to his hostility with a “My bad, I’m sorry,” and consequently shifted my belongings further away. 

Only after he resumed pumping his weights into the air did it occur to me that I had been standing, at the very least, a good 3 feet away from his bench. I wanted to stomp about 6 large steps away, to sarcastically curtsy and say, I’m sorry, Nancy, is that enough space for you? 

But I didn’t. 

One, because I often find it difficult to be an outright dick, but mostly two, because I thought of the quip a tad too late and it would’ve been weird for me to say it after that much time had passed. Eh, you win some, you lose some. Half of wit is timing.

Every time I re-encountered a glimpse of his smug face in the wall reflection, I could feel myself growing a tiny bit angrier. I removed myself from the dumbbells to the power rack, so I could put the negative energy behind me.

I finished up, then I left the facility shortly after to hop on the green line. Little did I know, as luck would have it, he was trailing right behind me. 

I caught the subway train as the doors were about to close, wedging my body into a pocket of commuters, and when I turned to face the other way, I saw him running to fill the last bit of space by my feet.

I couldn’t help but immediately think of Elaine with no toilet paper, when her stall neighbor does her dirty by saying she doesn’t have “a square to spare.” And how, at the end of the episode, Elaine steals all the TP from the bathroom before the chick walks in so that she can taunt the infamous line back to her.

Karma isn’t a bitch; people are.

Now, what I could’ve done in that moment is step forward a couple inches, and say as the doors closed on his face: “Nope, take the next train; I need my space.” How deliciously sweet would that have been — well, I’m not all that sure, because I didn’t do it.

If an eye for an eye makes the world blind, I don’t want to forget that I have another to spare. The unnecessarily rude can take out my eye, but at least I have sight, and that’ll do more for me in the long run than petty revenge. 

Although that would have been pretty fucking fun, too. 

Who’s Your Daddy?

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“Excuse me,” he called out, extending an arm towards a freshly ironed blazer hurrying in the opposite direction, “do you have a light?”

Startled, the young suit backed away. “Um, what, no–” he began to say, but upon noticing the lit cigarette pinched between his own two fingers, he realized his cover had been blown. He dug through the clutter in his pockets as small clusters of tourists and business men worked to dodge their stagnant presence in the middle of the busy sidewalk. “Shoot, hold on, I have it here somewhere,” he said. He pulled out a receipt, a crumpled dollar, a set of keys.

The other man waited patiently, tugging at the loose strings of his worn clothing, smiling meagerly at the effort. The corners of his eyes wrinkled when he smiled.

“There,” –with the flick of a lighter, a weak flame appeared at the young man’s hands– “do you need a smoke, too? I might have an extra.”

Before he could reach back into his jacket pocket, the gentleman in rags shook his head and reached down for a box by his feet. He carefully unconstructed a light green box, wrapped with pristine care and a silky bow. As passing bystanders craned their heads back in curiosity, the man removed from the box a small cupcake with a candle on top. Leaning in towards the young stranger to light the candle –the suit had forgotten about the flame in his hands– the older man smiled proudly and said, “Happy Birthday, son. Now make a wish!”

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