In-Between-Speed City

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I’m sick. Really sick. East-Coast-sick.

I haven’t had a cold-flu-bug like this in ages. Apparently everything was milder in Portland — including viral illness. — Meanwhile, back in New York…The weather. The people. The attitude. Not one thing is laid back. Not one. Even influenza cannot be bothered with a “mild” setting. Here — it’s all or nothing.

And, maybe that’s what I missed so much about this place. The limitless energy. New Yorker’s don’t have to gear up like we did back on the West Coast. Because, here, there is only one gear — Badass.

I remember when I first arrived in Portland, how people were taken aback by my candor. I said what was on my mind. To the point. I never pussyfooted around. That bothered a lot of people out West. They expected something more dilute and demure. They also thought that I walked too fast. And, even though we adjusted to each other, I missed New York City’s edge. Its speed. — Its sense of urgency. — There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.

I’m considering moving up to New England, or at the very least, a bit further out of the city — maybe the Hudson Valley. I need an in-between-speed city. As much as I love the hustle, I also feel worn down. I want something easier. Quieter. I try to plot it out sensibly. But it’s difficult. What criteria should be used when selecting a home? I evaluate how I arrived at all the places I’ve been and the things that made me want to stay or go. It seems easy. But, it isn’t really. There are a lot of variables. And, while nothing is permanent — it’s still a big decision. Place can be everything. Mean everything. Place can define you. And, place can make or break your sobriety. — I’m starting to feel that as I slip here in Brooklyn. — I have to be careful.

What does my heart say? I wait to feel the pull.

I know it will take a special place to set my heart ablaze again. I guess it’s just a matter of time.

So, in the interim, I nurse this badass-East-Coast-cold and I tell people it like it is and I walk to work at record speeds.

Because, time — I got.

 

 

 

 

A Temperature I Can Live With

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The last time I felt like I was on fire — I was bonafide crazy.

Holy. Hotness. Boiling over. And, that’s how I know things have gotten bad. — The heat.

It’s been building. Pressure. But, I’ve been preparing for this moment. — The moment where I miss Portland. The moment where I wonder if I made the right choice. The moment where I have my doubts. And, I knew, I knew this moment was on it’s way — so, I readied myself. And, when it arrived, as planned, I embraced it like a lost child, dropping everything to find a place to go cool down with it.

When the hot iron of crazy strikes, and, it’s happened to me several times since getting sober — I know that I have to stop everything. Completely cease. Mentally rest. I tend to run on fumes. In this state, my mind will go ape-shit and find itself creating the worst possible outcome — every time. I let small obsessions take over. I’m curt and angry. And, I show it. I hate showing it. I feel like I might lose my mind. So, this time — I was ready. And, when the moment hit, I made a beeline to the nearest place I could be alone. To sit in it undisturbed. — Silent. Silent. Silence.

The church was empty. Marble echoed the squeaky sound of my black Vans. I looked up at the alter. And I let Jesus know — “I’m back.” But, I’m not really here to pray. So, I tell Jesus that too.

“I’m not here to pray, Jesus. — I’m just crazy.” And, I’m pretty sure, he’s heard that line before.

The last time I sat still, with intention, was back when my ex was kicking heroin then using heroin then kicking heroin then using heroin then kicking heroin. I felt like I was hanging on for dear life. So, every night, I lay in my Portland bathtub and I waited while the water turned from scalding to tepid. My mind, still. I’d be hot and then I’d be cold. And, so, so still. I’d move the water back and forth slowly with my shriveled fingers — but everything else would remain — calm. I let all my thoughts go. I allowed my sadness and my confusion and my pain and my fury and my forgiveness and my hope to coexist in that white, rectangular pot — all ofΒ  it, just steeping in the water. I let it come to a boil, and then, I let it cool. I let it cool down until it was just so. Just bearable. A temperature that I could live with.

I sit in an empty church pew because I don’t have a bathtub anymore. I explain this to Jesus. And I apologize for using his space. I tell him how I just need to let the water cool. And, then I let him know that I might need help with that, “you know — if you have some time.” And then, I feel like I need to explain that it’s not about my junkie ex-boyfriend, or anything super serious like that. It’s just me. Me and my shit. I had to clear all that up for Jesus. So, I told him about being homesick. And, — “I know, Jesus, I know — that sounds funny, because I was just homesick for home and then I moved home and now I’m homesick for Portland — which was home — but wasn’t.” And then, I apologize again, because, — “I know, Jesus — it’s fucking confusing.”

After about a half hour, I realize that I’ve asked Jesus to assist me with quite a few things. I wonder — were those prayers? Did I just pray to Jesus? Nah. I turn my head around and, behind me, I see there’s another man praying now. He’s on his knees about ten pews back. I whisper to Jesus — “Help that guy first.” After all, I’m just here to cool off. “Really. Don’t worry about me. I’m good.” — It’s quiet here. That’s all I need.

Cool air blows in from the side door when a little, Latina woman shuffles in with a black and white shawl wrapped around her shoulders. I watch her shove a few dollars in the copper collection box and she lights two red candles. A chill creeps up the sleeves of my hoodie. Cools me down. I feel my blood go from boiling to tepid.

On my way out, I genuflect and, then, I stand in the aisle and tip my black-knit-beanie up to Jesus. “Yeah. So. Thank you, for the space and the air, I mean, for everything. Amen.”

And then, I try to begin again. — With a brisk walk back home.

 


 

Artwork: “Just Ducky”; Beth Carrington Brown;

Just Ducky: A bathtub painting

 

 

 

The Coffee Shop

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I watch the sun come up in the window of the coffee shop where I work.

I got the job a few weeks ago. — A barista.

I arrive at 6:25AM, five days a week. I brew big carafes of coffee, set out pastries in a glass case, and watch as the Avenue begins to open its eyes and welcome the day. The coffee is the best part. It smells warm and sweet and I breathe it in as deeply as I can throughout the day. And — I know — that when this time in my life is over, I will walk into some cafe, any cafe, and the smell of coffee will remind me of how the light splashed down Third Avenue in the Autumn of 2015.

After the morning rush — a parade of school teachers, mothers and fathers with sons and daughters keen on a breakfast of doughnuts, chocolate croissants and macaroons, crabby little-old-ladies, suited business men, and a suave Italian who always orders a cortado with “just-a little extra milk” — things slow down. It’s still. One regular sits at his computer quietly, for hours, eating his giant, cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I stock white paper cups and stamp white paper bags with our shop’s logo. I look out the window and I ignore the elephant in the room.

I’m just taking cover here, in Bay Ridge. Other parts of Brooklyn still lay in ruins.

I avoid the subway lines in certain neighborhoods. I decline invitations from friends who are headed into different parts of the borough. I’m still walking around in a mine field without Kevlar.

It’s not just that Brooklyn has changed. Change — I expected. It’s what hasn’t changed. The places that still remain — as if I’d never leftΒ  — a skeleton of a city that I once shared with someone else. When I left Brooklyn in November of 2009, I wasn’t an “I.” “I” was a “We.” We left this place. It had been ours. Everything. Parks and street corners. Restaurants and bars. Cafes and clothing stores. And Avenues. So many Avenues. I cannot escape how the light falls here. It’s like a time machine. Brooklyn, B.P. (Before Portland) and Brooklyn, A.D. — the two blur, in some strange warp.

Seven years later, I pass the same places and I want to melt into the cement. — To disappear. — All these little things I once loved, still living in the same space. Some are gone, too. My heart aches — for all of it.

But, here, in the coffee shop, I’m safe. The faces are, for the most part, kind. The Brooklyn accents, comforting. And, the smell. Oh, the smell. I grind the beans and I lean in as I pull the cleaning lever, watching, as a little cloud of fine, ground coffee puffs out into the air — flakes of fragrant, roasted perfume. I pour creamy espresso shots into little, ceramic cups and its aroma wafts up and into my nose. The little metal spoon clinks. The machine drips. drips. drips. the drip coffee into a steel carafe. A woman tears the top off a pack of Domino sugar. Everything feels calm and manageable.

I hand a little boy a clear bag that displays his little, coconut macaroon. His father buys one for him every morning. He tilts his head and smiles at the cellophane bag and the gold sticker that secures it. “What do you say to the lady?,” his father asks him. The little boy teeters back shyly into the wall opposite the counter and mumbles, “Thank you.” His father smiles at me when I hand him his cup of coffee. “Come on bud, let’s go.” He ushers the small boy out the door, but, the boy always looks back in. First, to me, then, to the case filled with macaroons.

I know that feeling. Looking back into a place that’s so hard to leave — so inviting. I feel his melancholy — forced to leave his dreams on the wrong side of a glass pastry case. But, it’s all just a part of growing up. He will learn. The necessity of leaving things behind. Too much sugar. He’ll know better. He’ll know what he can return to, and, he’ll know what he has to abandon. Yes, he’ll know. — Gold stickers will not always hold things in place.

I wipe down the counter where a few drops of coffee have spilled.

When I remember this time in my life — I know — I will remember the smell of this place.

I breathe it in deeply. Warm and sweet.

Coffee.

 

 

Jesus and Our Marbles

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Sunday. — I’m on my knees in a church pew, and — I’m waiting.

Sometimes church seems like the only appropriate place to go when my head feels like the inside of pinball machine. Voices are echoing and the organ is humming. And I’m not sure that anyone’s really listening, but, truth be told — I may not really be praying.

At St. Patrick’s, in Bay Ridge, the crucifix is painted on the wall. It’s a weird sorta mosaic. In most churches, it’s a statue or pillar — something three dimensional — just so you know that Christ is hanging right there in front of you. He’s solid. His limbs are smooth and round and the nails in his hands and feet are these tiny raised bumps that you can reach out and touch if you’re so inclined. But, not here. Not in this church.

I think about that — the dimensions of Christ — while I try to pray. I attempt to slow the thoughts that race around my brain. Today, there’s a lot going on. There are too many prayers. I can’t pick out just one. There isn’t enough time. I try to pray for everyone else and find some way to ignore all my crap. I mean, that’s what I should be doing. But then, where will I put it all? — All this stuff I brought here to iron out?

After the priest reads the gospel, our hearts spill all of their contents onto the floor like giant bags of marbles. Rolling wildly under the pews and across the aisle. No one else hears or sees them. — Well, maybe, mosaic Jesus does — but, if he does, he doesn’t move or change his expression. He’s still just casting his eyes down at Mary with that sad-face that all church Jesus’ have — I mean — he’s dying. And us, we’ve only lost our marbles.

At the end of the homily, my friend, who joined me for mass, grabs my knee. It was like everything that the priest said was tailored to us. With a sideways look, we silently acknowledge this. The strange thing is, we’d only walked down to St. Pat’s because Our Lady of Angels, twenty blocks away, had the wrong fucking mass times posted on the their website. So, when my buddy and I arrived at 11:30AM — missals blazing like spiritual gangsters — the priest was already sending parishioners off, in peace, to love and serve the Lord.

So, here we are, at St. Pat’s 12:30PM mass. Praying and not praying. Spilling our marbles. Waiting for JC to give us a sign that something good is headed our way. But, neither of us gets one. — JC is still motionless up there on the wall.

The mass ends, and after the priest and his posse file out, we follow suit. We leave our marbles scattered across the church floor. Because — it’s better that way. We know they’ll get sorted out here, even without us.

We walk down Third Avenue, where there’s a street fair in progress. There are bagpipers playing and little kids with painted faces and it smells like funnel cake and Italian sausages and my buddy keeps stopping in the middle of the street to adjust his shoe.

For some reason, around Eighty-Third Street, he and I both start to laugh. I’m not sure what came over us. I’m not sure what happened in that church. What we took. What we left behind. But, I will say this — even though I couldn’t say a prayer to save my life — I’m almost certain that one was answered.

 

 

Artwork Photo Credit: Jesus Christ, Painting in a Catholic Church in Maseok; http://d-roamingcat.blogspot.com/2013_02_01_archive.html?m=1