It was one of the hottest days of summer but perfect enough for a cruise around the city. I had borrowed my friend’s trek mountain bike for a couple of weeks and was really enjoying it. I was able to maneuver through traffic around the city without having to take the usual mode of underground transportation. Riding along the Hudson from Battery Park was my favorite bike path. I had made plans to have lunch with a friend in the meatpacking and enjoy a few cocktails on the roof of the restaurant. We weren’t there long but decided to head to another location as the place began to fill up. When we exited the restaurant I noticed the bike was no longer attached to the scaffolding bars I had it locked to. Someone had taken the pricey bike and left the remnants of the broken chain on the sidewalk. I was furious. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing as I searched for any sign of a surveillance camera. I looked up the nearest precinct and walked to the W. Village police station to file a report. They weren't much help but they took my information and said they'd call me. When I asked about the camera they said it didn't work. I walked out hopeless. I end up phoning my friend with the horrible news and promised to repay him. He ended up consoling me. He hadn't rode the bike for years and it was clear that my attachment to it was greater than his.
Determined to replace the bike, I spent the next couple of days searching craigslist with the hopes of finding something similar. Exactly one week after losing the bike, I saw a posting for a mountain bike with similar specs. The ad said that it was $65 but they believed that the bike had been stolen. They wanted to find the rightful owner, if they could describe the bike, and just get back the money they had paid for it. I called the number on the ad and told the gentleman the exact description of the bike, along with the cherry lip balm I had left in the pouch underneath the seat. A few hours later I was on the way with a friend of mine to pick up the bike in the lower east side. The man from the ad answered the door with his toddler by his side and welcomed us in. My face lit up as I saw my friends bike leaning against the wall as we walked in. There were about five to six bikes parked on a rack at the far side of the room. The man said that he had purchased the bike from a sketchy looking guy on the street, just a few blocks from where he lived. He said that he knew that the bike was stolen because it was worth much more than what he had paid for it. I gave him the $65 and thanked him for his kindness. I was just happy to find my bike!
Don’t Look Back
Everything seemed business as usual. Honking throughout congested roadways. Nine to fivers eager to get back to abandoned office buildings and fill empty desks. The highways lined with big rigs, exhausting charcoal colored smoke from horned antennas. No more silence. Quite the opposite to the norm we adopted these last nine months. It took me a good ten minutes to move the car from park to reverse out of the driveway. There was a subtle awkwardness in everything I did, moments of rehabilitation to remembering what once was. The sky was clear. The air was fresh with the scent of the morning dew, yet something was different. Around this time of year the leaves had already fallen and the earth returned to it's dormant state. There were lush green trees and patches of assorted flower beds surrounding various parts of the city. In between these forms of artificial life stood steel poles ranging up to 200ft. They spiked through the skyline like spider legs from extraterrestrial beings. These were not your average cell towers. I took the usual scenic route to the office and could see a number of them stationed throughout the parks, convention center, museum district, and other venues readily available to the public. They seemed to be strategically placed like some sort of active sentinels from the future. Losing my focus, I almost ran a red light. A group of joggers heading towards the park, some shouting expletives and one banging her fist on my hood, crossed. A cluster of nannies and small children followed.The further I drove along the more spurts I saw of people returning to their daily routines. It was as if no one had noticed the changes that had taken place. From what I could see it didn't seem to bother any of them.
The thought of returning to how things were, or would be, didn't scare me one bit. I figured the reset couldn't do any more harm than good.
I circled the parking garage for the eleventh time before finding a makeshift spot on the top floor. The fifteen minute ordeal only transitioned into me joining the cue outside of the elevator that lead into the building lobby. So much for getting to work on time. I still had about five minutes to spare. You could fit about ten people on average in each of the elevator cars. After counting up to my place in the line, I managed to squeeze past the elevator doors with the group ahead of mine. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. The idea of social distancing was a thing of the past. I was up close and personal enough to smell the aftershave of the gentleman in front of me. My throat itched and the corners of my eyes watered as I fought back trying to clear it in that moment. Pointing my mouth and nose in opposite directions, I made the most unwelcoming facial expressions. I let out an almost silent cough into my jacket before an elderly woman in the back mustered up a bless you. Everyone looked up from their phones and immediately put a halt to whatever it was that they were doing. I couldn't see the dirty looks but there was a sense of hostility that made you feel it. I would've done the same I guess, it was still early. There was an expedited vaccine out, but it was still unclear who all had access to it. One by one the elevator cleared out until there were only two us that remained. In the past I enjoyed the luxury of being on the penthouse floor, but now it seemed like a curse. I never had a problem with confined spaces but today my breathing dragged on a bit longer than usual. The panoramic view on our floor had once brought a sense of peace, now it was a birds eye view to an unanticipated future. The towers stood all over the city. Panels of silver nodes sprouted out like limbs on the end of their mechanical branches.
I had a minute left as I sat at my desk. Around this time I'd have a cup of coffee in the break room. There was banter and small talk, I had no interest in, manning the entrance. I learned how to play the piano. We landscaped our front and backyard. I built a shed for my wife. The exchange of stories and 'survival of the pandemic' were no different from the headlines on the five o' clock news. I wouldn't have shown up if it wasn't for the briefing with the top heads. My boss, being one of them, reached out on occasion and told me about the meeting weeks ago. He wouldn't be there. I had to walk past his office in order to get mine. There were folders on his desk, piled high, and sheets of paper scattered in disarray. It was just as he had left it, a mess. I opened my company email, which I checked daily, and there were no new messages. The alert from the calendar flashed with a ten minute reminder to the upcoming meeting. It was the only thing I had scheduled throughout the remainder of the year. My anxiety from the multitude of notifications I'd receive, and fear of not checking messages as they came in, became nonexistent. At one point I began resenting this new found liberation. It was all for the good I guess, even if the changes stopped there. I turned off the monitor and followed behind the rest of those waiting to hear their fate. Even in the midst of uncertainty, we were all in this together.
Never Say Never
I had a feeling it was coming to an end, but not like this. Closing my eyes shut out the pain, but I could feel the blood seeping through. He got me good. Losing sensation in my hand, I opened my fist and pulled out the syringe. The act of it felt so foreign. Something I routinely did lifetimes ago, was something I promised to never do again. My fingers blossomed back, the tips stone in color and ice cold. The gauze had turned bright red, still taut around the center where the opening was the worse. The blade carved through several layers of flesh, barely touching the bone. He drew a nice line from the outside of my wrist to an inch above my elbow. I didn’t notice the amount of sun spots on my arm until now. They were now scarred blotches of leather, stained by flakes of dried blood. I can’t believe it had already been twenty-four hours. At least the pain would be gone for now, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Robbie.
It’s hard to believe a year ago I didn't give a damn about anyone. After ma’s passing, my sister stopped answering my calls. It was as if she had buried me along with our mother. I tried reaching out to her during the few times I got sober, no luck. Back then I had gotten better at jumping the turnstiles in the trains. I'd finish a morning of feeding pigeons in Central park, then roam around the fancier parts of the city. One day I chose Soho. Robbie overheard my conversation walking down W. Broadway and chimed in as I turned on Canal. It was the first time anyone had ever interacted with me as I thought out loud. He pointed at a bodega up the street and said he needed a maintenance guy. When I asked what happened to the last one, he shrugged and said that his visa ran out. He had an accent himself but you could tell he had been in the city a long time. It was nothing more than running light errands, keeping the shop clean, and helping stock deliveries. I guess he thought it was something I could do. I looked down at the tattered soles on my shoes. He didn't seem to notice the frayed holes that had turned into air condition vents at my feet. I told him I'd ask around and kept it moving.
I started making what seemed like permanent changes on my own then. I had fewer run ins with the authorities and I had quit the drugs cold turkey. I had my fair share of rumbles but it wasn't about being a tough guy. It wasn't everyday we got noticed for being human, or even a hero. Figured I'd do some soul searching if I had any chance of making it off the streets.
About two weeks after that encounter I found myself along the same path, in the realms of the same thought process. This time I remembered the conversation. He agreed that God gave us free will. Robbie was just a few steps behind me. "Why don't you come in tomorrow?" he asked, "You look like a handy guy." He stood right at my shoulders, and reminded me of my grandmaster in junior high. I shrugged not wanting to make any promises. I proceeded to wave my salute but before I could, he shouted, "See you tomorrow!"
A year later I'm tackling some kid who robs his store. The punk couldn't have been a day past nineteen. I contemplated taking his life with that bullet. My prints were all over his gun anyway. It wasn't my decision to make. There were shards of broken glass everywhere. Robbie's blood leaked from behind the counter towards the entry way. We grappled a bit before I was able to free the gun from his hands, flinging it about a foot away. I held a tight grip even though he had managed to pull out a blade and knife me. Kicking him to the floor, I pinned him down as I reached for the gun. I fired a single shot to his arm before he could run away. The place was a crime scene. I ran behind the counter but it was too late. There was a puddle of blood surrounding Robbie's lifeless body. Time was running out for me too. The least I could do was dial 9-1-1 before the cops came. I took one final look at the place and limped out the bodega.
The Hudson was beautiful than normal tonight. You could see the moons reflection sitting along the pier. Depending on the day it was also a great place to watch the sunrise. I’d be moving into my place in a week if Robbie was still here. We were meant to finalize everything today. The longer I sat here, the more comfortable I became with my decision. I drew back the syringe one final time, doubling the amount. Battery Park was a rare quiet for the city, but just the quiet I needed right now. The water had even grown still, sending out a sense of comfort. This wasn't the ending we had hoped for. I knew I had made the right choice, only this time Robbie wouldn't agree.
Broken hearts felt like dried thorns pricking at the soles of bare feet. It was a dark love, a dark world. She didn’t mean any harm. A momentary relief etching beauty towards bright lights. She had a mind full of questions with equal answers, yet there were still doubts. She paid her dues with cold hard passion ignited by sparks of fury and weakness. What was left were memories. Good, bad, and flighty ones, the ones we tried to forget. The truth made an appearance through words laced in silk, dripping from the lips as sweet as honey. The worries kept her up past midnight and only made sleep look like a distant dream. She wanted parts of him to make her feel whole, to fill the emptiness that had been there long before. She would only question her own motives and analyze intentions played by both parties. Time was too much of a valuable thing, and to waste it was ludicrous. She took on the challenge with vigor and made sound reason in that judgement. She had to wait for the suffering to end. The pain cut deeper than a slit wrist, and stung like a wound being cleaned by an alcohol soaked pad.
She might have lost the only friend she thought she knew so well, but it was for her own good. It would be months before she could muster any courage for contact. It was better if he didn’t exist. Saddening but true.
She wanted to travel to an outer galaxy with no one but him. He promised her riches on the finest china and offered great bearings of lavished gifts. The inconsistencies went unnoticed for some time. It carted scraps of blood, sweat, and tears into revolving doors of eternal agitation.
It was like having too much air but you still couldn’t breathe. The dark was comfortable and easy. It became a habit of believing the lies. She didn’t want to see it. She didn’t want to end it.