2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist
My mind had become one with New York, always moving with a frenetic energy. Things weren’t connecting like they used to- a myriad of dislocated thoughts, grandiose ideas and re-imagined memories sprouted in my brain like weeds and I couldn’t tend to this garden. I lost sight of the flowers. I desperately hoped to remember stillness. But even stillness felt like a motion. I fantasized about silence but couldn’t hear it. Perhaps death is how we find stillness, silence. Maybe it’s sleep. Well, not for me. I’d been waking up in fear, not knowing where I was or how I got there. This sensation reminds me of what I would imagine it feels like to be born or what it might feel like to be in a grave. It was like every place and it was like no place.
It is Saturday Night and I am certain that I am going to die soon. Death is a thickness in the air; never had I experienced a feeling so ghostly. My brain moves with the city; Manhattan is a dictator, after all. So I enter the underground to travel back to Brooklyn, seeking quiet. My body moving away from this other borough, with the false hope it might change the speed of my thoughts, reduce the fear that lies heavy in my chest. What I am really trying to run from are certain memories, which attack my mind. It’s a violence I can no longer take. There had been enough violence. So I thrust the trauma into a deeper crevice of my mind, but I fear it may be creeping into my muscles, making me jittery. It’s creeping into my eyes creating a hyper awareness and constant need to look over my shoulder. On the subway everyone is looking at me. They can tell something isn’t quite right. When traveling between 1st Avenue and Bedford Avenue I lose my balance and tumble down on the crowded subway car. A man helps me up and asks if I am okay but I am not certain how to answer.
It hadn’t always been this way. It being existence. This way being perplexing. It had once been clearer or perhaps I lacked awareness. Perhaps I did not yet recognize that existence was nonsensical. Additionally, my particular traumas of being a body caused me a new type of bewilderment- a blurriness.
When I exit the subway I walk down Grand Street, where I live in Williamsburg, to meet my boyfriend at The Drink hoping to do just that, hoping that this act will dull the noise. I want to consciously check out, find a dark corner. He is at the end of the bar drinking a beer with a shot of whiskey beside him. Before greeting him I take the shot, then sit down beside him and order another round. The night continues in this direction. We travel from bar to bar in the streets of Williamsburg but the drinking does not bring the faintness of thoughts I had hoped that it would. We arrive at a bar called, Night of Joy but it is far from what I experience. The bar is loud and crowded. My boyfriend’s co-workers and boss are there and he tells me to “act normal,” not like the strange self I have become and can’t hide. I dance frantically hoping to tire my mind and body but when this doesn’t work I exit the bar and call my brother. I cry into the phone slurring my words and my brother tells me I should go home. I am a ball on the sidewalk outside the bar when my boyfriend walks drunkenly towards me. He asks where I’ve been and I tell him I was doing my best to be “normal.” He sits beside me on the sidewalk and says, “Let’s go home.”
The night air is still warm even though it is October. I move down the street slowly, feeling exhausted. He, looks at me with concerned blue eyes and asks me what is wrong. I begin to cry, everything feels overly stimulating on the streets of Brooklyn, the lights of the cars, the signs on stores, drunk people moving about the streets. I can’t focus my attention or think clearly. We arrive back to my apartment but I can’t get the key to go into the hole, my hands are shaking. He helps me open the door and once we are inside the apartment I move quickly to my room. I lie on my bed but I can’t find stillness, in my mind or body. I am trembling as he rubs my back, telling me to breathe. He eventually falls asleep, once I have stopped crying. But I cannot. The movements of my body become out of control as I seize in my bed. I am concerned that the motion may wake my boyfriend, but he snores softly beside me, grinding his teeth. I don’t feel safe in my own body as I continue to convulse. Eventually around 5am I fall asleep while listening to the sound of chirping of birds outside.
After laying awake for a long time I decided to buy some groceries to cook breakfast for my boyfriend to make up for my strange behavior the previous evening. He accompanies me on the excursion. We head down Graham Street towards the local market. While crossing the street a biker nearly hits me but I quickly dart back to the curb. My heart races as I turn to my boyfriend who holds my hand as we cross the street.
The grocery store provides another kind of anxiety. Cans of food ordered neatly on the shelves makes the lack of order in my own life feel more present. I quickly head to the refrigerated aisle and pick up eggs. I attempt to open the container to make certain that none are cracked and in doing so I drop them all. The eggs shatter on the floor yellow yolk running by my feet. My boyfriend laughs, “Something is seriously wrong with you.”
I bend down feeling guilty as an attendant of the mart approaches with a mop. I grab another dozen without checking for cracks, apologize profusely for the mess I’ve created and checkout.
On the way home I move quickly and as I cross the street where the near fatal almost bike incident occurred when something brushes my face. I scream and then turn to see that what has brushed my face was a monarch butterfly flying peacefully by. “You are a crazy little monster,” my boyfriend scoffs.
The day progresses as does my anxiety. Night time comes and drinks were had and people became tired and drifted towards their beds. My boyfriend and I moved towards mine as well and to I fall asleep. But something strange happens while I am asleep. I wake up somewhere that is not my bed.
I wake up on the roof, body trembling and exhausted, body so close to the edge. This is the first time my sleepwalking had been really bad, I’d done it in the past but it was usually more like waking up trying to run the bath, or doing the dishes, or eating a whole bag of apples. This was bad. This was an edge of a building several floors up from my comfortable bed. I call my boyfriend who is still in my bed, a million times. He doesn’t answer. I call my brother once, he answers. He helps me get down, close the roof door, find my way back to the ground floor where I live. I collapse on the couch.
My boyfriend finds me on the couch the next morning and asks if everything is alright. I feel okay, surprisingly. I feel rested. So I just nod. He heads off to work and I decide to leave the house as well.
Walking down Graham Street towards Greenpoint I am hyper aware of the things going on around me. I notice the different shops and places along the way. There’s a restaurant called Mother’s, a bar called Daddy’s, Uncle Louie’s ice cream shop and finally right under the BQE, Grandma’s Rose’s pizzeria. It’s all connected. We are all family. I am suddenly happy in a strange and new way. It seems as though my anxieties have vanished. As I grow closer to the McCarren Park I notice details of people’s faces, of things around me. I wander around for the rest of the day speaking with strangers. Eventually I head home to bed.
In my bed, another night without sleep, I feel my body shake uncontrollably. My eyes won’t s stay closed and I am unable to lie still. I want to remember stillness, even stillness feels like a motion lately. I fantasize about silence, I can’t hear it. Perhaps death is how we find stillness, silence. Maybe it’s sleep. Not for me. I’ve been waking up in fear, not knowing where I am and how I got there. It sort of feels like being born. It sort of feels like being a grave. It sort of feels like every place and no place.
Things haven’t been connecting lately. It’s like a lot of pieces, strands of things. Today was an exciting day but I can’t put it all together. Things are both absent and present. The fabric of the language behind my emotions is falling to pieces. I am trying my best to put it back together, to figure out what is going on. The stakes feel high.
I hear my boyfriend grinding his teeth in his sleep, a trait which I usually find endearing, not tonight. It has been too many sleepless nights and with this sound I will be unable to sleep.
“Wake up” I command him. He opens his eyes with a concerned look on his face.
“You need to leave.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea” He responds groggily, “You are acting strange again tonight, I don’t want to leave you alone.”
“I can’t sleep. I need sleep. You need to leave.”
“I don’t think that is a good idea. I am concerned about you.”
“But I need sleep! You need to go!”
“You are acting crazy!” He yells, “I’ve never seen anyone act this way. I’m concerned.”
“I need sleep! I can’t sleep with you here!” I am growing agitated. I need to look out for my health. I need to figure things out.
“Fine!” He yells, “I don’t think this is a good idea” he says as he begins to move from my bed. He throws a ring I’ve given him to the ground in anger.
“You don’t have to act that way!”
“You are acting crazy!” He repeats.
I throw the ring he has given me in response. “Go!” I scream.
He does and I fall asleep almost instantly, exhausted. But the rest is not restful and I wake in an hour feeling anxious. I need to move.
I exit my apartment and go outside. The night air feels cool but refreshing. It is still dark and currently around 4:00 am. I feel bad for having kicked out my boyfriend and I decide that I should go out and look for him, even though he left about an hour or two before. I begin to run down the street. I pass the diner a local diner and notice the lights are on. I go in and ask if I can use the bathroom. The cook, beginning to prepare for the day, agrees although he seems surprised to see me. I thank him and leave.
It suddenly feels as though anything is possible. As if anything I want I can do or have and that people will help me, like the man in the diner. If I need to go to the bathroom I could stroll into whatever the nearest building was and ask to use it. People are accommodating. My experiences earlier today also made me aware of this fact. I’m on the verge of new ideas.
The world feels as though it is trembling with the need to communicate. Every sign in the window of a store means something. There is a cosmic relatedness about everything. Papers on the ground hold secret meaning. I stop to look signs in every storefront and to pick up pieces of paper or trash I see on the ground. I assume that everything has some important message because this is a moment of change. Everyone has been talking about it. Everyone has been talking in codes about it though, which I have to decode. It is a language of puns and riddles. I am finally beginning to understand. Everything around me holds secret meaning. I have to figure out what it is. I’ve been overwhelmed by these ideas and not sleeping but things are coming together. I have a role in all of this change. I need to contact everyone that I can to tell them of my revelations.
As I run down the street my thoughts move rapidly, I think of all that there is to do and all that I have to say. There aren’t many people on the street at this time but everyone I see I make eye contact with. A man follows me for a bit and I am certain that it is because he wants to protect me. He can sense my importance. This is a special time and things are going to be different now for me. I can’t live in constant fear, as I have been. This man must be following me because he knows who I am and is protecting me. People are beginning to recognize me. My phone is recording me and streaming everything I do on the internet.
I continue down the street picking up papers off the ground and knocking on storefront doors, none of which are currently open. I find a card on the ground for a cab company. I decide to use it later today to get to school. The ride will be free, I am certain. I see a cat and decide to follow it for a while. It leads me back towards my home and I realize I should return home and prepare for the day. The sun is beginning to come up.
At home I take a bath. I watch my naked body twitch in the tub but I don’t feel concerned about my body’s uncontrollable movements. I instead move out of the tub and dance around my room, putting on wild makeup and recording a video of myself doing so. I get dressed and wipe some of the makeup off my face but there is a line of pink lipstick up my arms that won’t come off. This makes me laugh. I put on a sweater. I text a bunch of people from my phone whom I feel I need to speak to today, my parents, my brother, some friends, some people I haven’t spoken to in a long while. I text my boyfriend feeling bad for kicking him out. I then call the cab company on the card I found in the street. I give them my address.
I head out the door and the cab is waiting for me.
“This is a free cab service, right?” I say as I get into the car. “I have an apple for you!”
The man says, “You can’t pay for the ride?”
“No, I can’t. But I have an apple that you can have.” He takes the apple and accepts the deal. I feel so successful, as though anything is possible. I call my mom and leave her a message about my recent good fortune. She doesn’t answer and I call my dad and do the same thing.
The cab driver asks if I am married and I tell him,
“Yes. You have to be in this day and age,” I explain, though I’m not sure why I do this. But it makes me feel safer talking to this man and him believing that I am married. I text Timothy and my brother. The cab driver asks if he can drop me off at first and 14th street instead of taking me to my school. I agree.
“Thank you so much!” I say as I leave the cab. He smiles.