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When I visited New York somewhere around the age of ten or twelve, I could not fathom the sheer volume of stories I saw spilling out around me everywhere. It’s funny how it's only now, exhausted by my own self-examination and with the bolstering of serotonin that my pills provide, that I can see this again.
It’s like I am awake now, and aware. I can see again the dizzying array, perpetually unfolding. It always will, whether I’ve managed to realize that I matter a little, or not at all. I'm a speck, a wondering dot. The least I can do is open my eyes.
I am trying to take it all in. Everything is big and loud and alive. The stories are like organisms themselves, and I feel them crawling all over me, invisible but impossible to ignore. It’s creepy, it’s exhilarating.
Right now I’m sitting on the F train. It’s around noon. It’s Thursday. I work from home and once a week I journey into Manhattan to see my analyst.
Riding a train into Manhattan, the F train in particular, the stories can't ignored. There’s a short but well-built bearded man taking up too much space on the corpse-blue plastic bench. He’s reading the Federalist Papers and sneaking glances at this woman’s crotch a few seats over. They are separated (in addition to the ample space his wide-stanced thighs have carved out for himself in deference to his cock and balls) by the vertical metal hand-rail.
She’s wearing black short-shorts and black tights. I’d guess she’s around my age and the man is about 40. She’s also wearing sunglasses and a sour expression. She's letting a lollipop melt in her mouth. I stopped eating lollipops in public the same time I started realizing boys snickered when I would dare to eat a banana in front of God and everyone. Once you sprout breasts or start to bleed you can’t really mouth anything in public without locking eyes with a man who is imagining that it’s his penis you’re savoring. Which sucks, really, because lollipops rock.
The woman and her candy are already off the train and he’s back to Federalist Papers. That’s probably because being so short and well-dressed and ball-having he identifies with the founding fathers. Now he’s staring at the beautiful woman next to me. He’s intently scowling at her and she’s reading McSweeney’s and doesn't notice that he's furiously pondering just how the strong the buttons on her shirt are.
He doesn’t give money to the older woman who has come on to the train and begun to walk its length talking about her homelessness and diabetes. Neither does the woman reading McSweeney’s. Neither do I. I don’t think anyone does. She gets off the next stop, and a wiry guy with a guitar and a strung-out look gets on. He sings a lyrically weak song about the national debt and the saving powers of Jesus Christ. His voice is like Cookie Monster ate Neil Young, it’s strange and disconcerting. He's got a ponytail which reminds me of this guy with a ponytail I thought I loved once. It's strange the stories we tell ourselves, too. We aren't innocent in this.
“Peace and love,” says the singer when people give him a buck or two. I'm not one of them. He gets off at the next stop and a group of twenty-somethings in matching yellow pants step on. One of them has inexplicably covered every visible inch of her skin with lime green makeup. When a person has painted their whole body green you expect them to be interesting, but she’s just painted green, chewing gum and bitching to her friends about some guy they all work with. In my mind he is lethargic and entirely purple.
A woman I can’t see laughs loudly and for a long time. It’s a sexy sound, and it goes on and on. I finally spot her, head pressed against a man’s head. He’s got that really wonderful look men get when they’ve made a woman laugh on his face. It’s like he knows he’s accomplished something relatively easy and the payoff was greater than he ever thought it would be. She is scratching behind his ear like he’s a golden retriever and the phantom smell of sweat, sex, and cherry lube hits me in the face and I just ache.
I want to spend the whole day in bed with someone who makes me laugh like I am coming in public. I want to waste hours exploring the odd marks of another body, one that is bigger than mine and can keep my busy extremities still for long enough that listening to each other breathe becomes like lifting a conch to the ear, you hear oceans. Universe, give me one day of that. I just want a day.
Next stop and the couple leaves.
Two more stops until mine. I don’t want to get off the train and talk about myself. In the dark of the tunnel I see, now that I’m standing, my own face in the glass reflected back at me and I duck away from it. I want to sit back down and stay on this train in this spot for the rest of the day until the tiny, flickers of stories lift me up and out of myself altogether. Until what I think and feel is made entirely inconsequential in glorious riptide of lives being lived.
But I get off the train.
I’m blasting Maximo Park. “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again, you start all over again,” the words whine in my ear and I feel the specific elation and drive that fall and a catchy rock-pop song bring with them. I duck from my reflection in every surface and instead I stare at the stories: She is hesitating in front of the door, should she go in? He wonders if today, after this delivery, he’ll drive away and never come back.
I’m thinking about T.S. Eliot and I’m walking through Koreatown feeling like Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim. I don’t fight the thick crowd surrounding me, I just tilt my imaginary grayscale fedora to a jaunty angle and I dance through it, seeing where there aren’t bodies as vividly as I see where there are. “'In a minute there is time',” I think, spotting the group in the yellow pants as I pick up the pace, “'for a decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.'”
It is all so quick and so changeable and I matter so little. That’s sad and wonderful and terrifying and great and there is space for all of that inside my noisy guts. You can be sad and happy at once. You can be lonely and so done with people at exactly the same time. You can be braver than you’ve ever been and also terrified.
I am opening the door to the building and getting in line to go upstairs. I am in the elevator now, traveling up to see my therapist. She will buzz me in, and I will pick at the pillows on her couch, and we will both be smiling because it feels like something is happening, all at once and just like that but really after lots of work. She will ask me how I am, and I will say, “getting better.”