You'll Be Fine
Because nothing will ever change and life will always be the same, more of the same, and even more of the same, old hurried moves, walks on the curbs with old Spanish-speaking ladies talking about their children, children running in the rain to catch crosstown buses, buses and taxis driving on the slick black road with their reflections gleaming on the watery surface, and trains coming and going underground, and people rushing down subway stairs like rats in tunnels, everything cascading in an unbroken flow as the city roars and rumbles and groans.
I stand down the curb at 23rd and Park, ready to cross the street and go back home. There is construction nearby, with clangs and bangs that rickety-clunk through the scaffoldings, ricocheting against the corner’s stone walls before thudding up and away into the vapor clouds rising from below.
The city’s insides spilled out on its streets.
The light blinks and everyone moves in one single motion, one single movement — rats in tunnels, rats in tunnels, rats in tunnels. I will have myself a drink, I think. As soon as I come home, I’ll have myself a tall glass of Jim Beam. Or a Sazerac, maybe. Or anything amber and chilled and strong.
I’m walking down 23rd among the six o’clock office workers. A young woman walks alongside me, her hair flying in the wind. I catch a glimpse of her face in a bodega window. We keep walking together. I’m slightly smiling as I take a sip of my coffee because I feel alive in the city’s clamor, and there is an eerie feeling of peacefulness all around us — from the way the rain shines on the road to how the quiet mumbles of a homeless man resonate in a building’s entrance.
The woman has an absent look in her eyes. She stares at the lights and the yellow cabs and checks something in her pocket. I’m late, she must think. I’m late, I think.
She crosses Third Avenue and disappears into the crowd.
I’m late, she thinks. That fucking rain and those fucking people.
Up Third Avenue with the college students and the delivery men whooshing past her on their bikes. Maybe I’ll order Chinese tonight, she thinks. Or I’ll ask Mike if he wants to go out instead. There’s this new place I wanted to try on 34th. She opens her umbrella when the rain starts pouring again, taking great care of tilting it every time she passes slower people so as not to hit them. She hears a familiar song coming out of a bar, and she hates that song and she quickens her pace towards the Indian restaurants and their curry smells. An ambulance from St Luke’s goes blasting, making her squint because of the loud howling siren.
She arrives at her place. The prewar building has this summer house smell when she gets inside, the smell of old brick walls and old creaky wood, the smell of mold and dust, an earthy smell she likes because it reminds her of her childhood upstate, of her parents’ house, her home, the one where she used to live and sleep and cry and play.
She checks her mail in the hallway like every day. She recalls the mailbox at the end of their alley and her father coming back with his paper in his hands, making faces and making her laugh through the window when she was little, waving his hand when she ate her cereal in the kitchen before school, then just smiling, then not smiling at all because of the pain and the headaches. She thinks of her father on her parents’ bed with her mother holding his cold and wrinkled hands. She thinks of the coughing. Of her sister crying in her room as they waited.
Her building has an elevator. Her mother likes the elevator, even though it is absurdly small. It’s a good thing to have an elevator, she thinks, waiting for the doors to open. It’s a good thing. But she loses patience and decides to climb the stairs because it's late enough already. That goddamn elevator again.
Her apartment is dark. She likes dark. Dark is nice, she thinks. Dark is warm and easy. She crashes on her pullout sofa. She bought this sofa for when her sister comes to the city, but her sister doesn’t come much there anymore. She doesn’t care for the city. She’s an upstate girl. Always been one. When they were kids, they eagerly waited for wintertime to go to the hill in the back of their house. They took plastic tarps with them and sled down the steep slope covered in packed snow. Over and over and over until their feet and hands were hurting from the cold and they had to head back home, cursing in kids’ words between their teeth as they removed their boots and mittens — I told you we should have come back earlier — Stop being a brat — Stop pushing me — No, you stop pushing me — You’re such a whiny baby — I’ll never play with you again — Whiny baby! — Only to go back in the snow as soon as they had warmed up.
Outside of the building, people keep walking down the street. The night has fallen, everything draped in shadows and half-light.
The woman looks at a picture of her as a teenager, freckles on her face and a necklace she’s still wearing today. You guys, she remembers her late father saying. You guys, I don’t know how this world is going to turn, but I know you’ll do fine, she remembers him saying the day the photo was taken. I know you’ll do fine. With those tubes coming from his arms.
The buzzer rings and it’s Mike and he climbs the stairs, she can hear him from the open door, and he smiles and he’s wearing the jacket she likes, and she greets him with a kiss on the cheek.
“The 6 was late,” he says.
“The 6 is always late,” she replies.
And he takes her in his arms and they get undressed and slip into her bed. The rest belongs to them.
Later as they search through their clothes all scattered up across the floor, she keeps silent and thinks about the person she wanted to be when she was young. I’m still young, she thinks. I have my whole life ahead. My whole life.
She stays on the bed for a while, sat with her knees up her chin, quiet and warm. There is an uncorked bottle of wine on her coffee table. Books and magazines. A dying plant by the window. Her laptop on her desk near an opened Ambien tablet.
“Have you ever thought of leaving?” She asks.
“All of it. Your job, your apartment. Everything.”
“Not really,” he says.
Someone hails a cab downstairs and a horn honks further down the street. Mike doesn’t want to hang out tonight. Mike has plans. Mike always has plans. That’s okay, she thinks. Maybe another time.
And Mike kisses her and leaves and she stays a moment at the door, waiting, but nothing happens so she goes back inside where the air smells like sex and the alcohol tastes sweet.
Massive Attack’s Dissolved Girl plays in the speakers and echoes with the pounding rain, harsh sounds she learnt to enjoy during the long nights driving back and forth to her parents’ house.
She thinks of that cop who told her aspirin overdoses were among the most painful ways to die, because of the liver and stomach failures. She recalls the ER room where she was brought in tears, with no one else but her and one nurse, rough throat and hard breathes after all the vomiting, with the image of her father engraved in her head and burning in her eyes — You’ll do fine, repeating in her head, you’ll do fine, you’ll do fine…
She looks around her and sees her past everywhere. What she was. What she meant. Her whole life in this apartment and no way out.
That fucking rain, she thinks, staring at herself in the nightly windows. She contemplates the idea of going out alone in a neighboring bar, or perhaps calling a friend.
But it’s late and she’s tired so she just finishes the bottle of wine and throws it across the room, glass exploding and shards flying up the ceiling, and she shrugs and watches a show on TV because she still has cable until the end of the month, and she swallows a couple of Ambien pills to help her sleep, and a couple of Advil for her headache, slumped on her sofa with the muted screen casting blue and white flashes on her walls, and she thinks of how easy everything seemed to be before, when the world was clear and the future was bright, how hopeful she was, her whole generation waiting for something that could never be — this common need to go further, this deep urgency in finding what lies beneath, this longing for a lost freedom, a raw and ugly and sharp freedom, and all she’s left with now is her life in boxes stacked on top of old bookshelves and the comfort in knowing that the city will consume her, because after all, that’s why I’m here, she thinks, to disappear in anonymity like a rat in a tunnel, waiting for nothing, because nothing will ever change and life will always be the same.