by Alex Bernstein
I’m falling towards train tracks. Subway tracks. The F to be exact. It’s about 9:20 pm. I’m falling towards the tracks because I’ve been massively sideswiped by a homeless man and his Samsonite luggage. Just one piece of luggage, actually. Is luggage singular and plural? You wouldn’t say luggages, right? It’s a nice, sturdy suitcase – at least half the size of the homeless man himself. And sure, it’s dingy, a bit blemished – especially near the bottom. But you really feel it when someone smacks it right into you.
As I fall I notice that this is the second life-threatening transportation-related incident I’ve had in the last two weeks. And I wonder if it’s coincidence or if I’m just not getting along with the New York byways. Perhaps the city’s transit life-web is trying to tell me something – like – get out of New York already, Bozo.
The earlier accident had happened two weeks ago – the morning after I’d broken up with Daniela. As I was stumbling, depressed, across the street that morning I was run over by a bike messenger. The rider yelled at me: I rang my bell, motherf– !! sped off. Disoriented, I fell backwards, gashing my head on the metal crosswalk sign.
And as I lay on the ground bleeding I realized that my problem was that I had hesitated. Not just with the bike, but with my entire life up to that point. My life, I realized, had been one long series of perpetual hesitations. Constant unwillingness to act whenever the time was right. I thought too much. Put my life on hold. Hesitated.
And realizing this, the moment became a moment of utter clarity. I needed, I realized, to make big changes in my life. Big big changes. And I knew – clearly – that the person I needed to make those changes with was Julie.
I had run into Julie the week before at the Greenmarket on 59thStreet. Daniela was with me and, as always, was chipper, polite, and grating. Julie was with George, a doctor specializing in hair transplants, who had a real working microbrewery right there in his Manhattan apartment. Just a hobby. They looked oddly normal together – not yet in the love-hate-perpetual-fighting phase that, Julie and I had once so greatly enjoyed.
And I smiled, made chit-chat, tried to be pleasant. I can’t imagine I looked happy.
“George, this is Matt,” said Julie.
“Matt-Matt?” asked George.
“Matt-Matt,” said Julie.
“Some people triple it,” I said. “Matt-Matt-Matt. Makes it easier to remember.”
Julie smiled. George did a slow burn. Daniela stared at nearby melons.
Honestly, if not for the bike incident, I probably would’ve never seen Julie again. But now, with clarity, I decided to take action and call her. She agreed to meet me.
“Oh my God! What happened?!” said Julie, staring at the giant bandage on my forehead.
“You should sue!” she said. “Aren’t there bike laws?”
“Yes,” I said. “He didn’t follow them.”
We were at a little coffeehouse in Soho. We didn’t talk about George or Daniela, the past or the future, or how we had left each other on extremely bitter terms. We kept things light. I didn’t have much of a plan. We just talked, existed.
And it was nice.
Shopping at ABC Carpets with Kay, my life-long best friend.
“You can’t seriously be thinking what you’re thinking?” said Kay.
“Getting back together with Julie.”
“No – no – no – not at all – ”
She stared at me, incredulously.
“You remember that awful girl you went out with Junior year?” said Kay.
“Amber? No – Terry – ?”
“You were so angry with me! With me!”
“You told me – never let you do that again! Never! You made me promise!”
“We agreed to look out for each other!”
“I know – I know we did.”
“Nine months! You were miserable, Matt! And you blamed me! Because I didn’t talk you out of it!”
“I appreciate what you’re saying,” I said. “I shouldn’t have blamed you. But this isn’t like that.”
“You wanted me to warn you – so here’s your warning: this is a bad idea. A terrible, really bad idea. I know you and I know her. I even like her. I do. I think she has great, respectable qualities. But not for you.”
We pass by beautiful red velour pillows. Soft and warm. They remind me of Julie.
“Maybe she’d like these,” I say, picking them up, squeezing them.
Kay takes them from me, puts them back.
“When you and Julie were together you fought constantly. I’ve never seen a couple fight like you two fought. You were incredibly nasty to each other.”
“And one day you just walked out. Goodbye. Over.”
“And then – what – ? Didn’t her cat die?”
“And what did you say?”
“Kay – ”
“What did you say?”
“I said – I’m sorry I just can’t be there for you right now.”
“Her fucking cat died!!!”
“Kay – ”
“I mean – holy shit, Matt!”
“I know. I know! I was a big, miserable jerk! It was not a happy ending. Still – ”
“It won’t work.”
“It could. In a universe of infinite possibilities – hypothetically – it could work.”
“I know this is hard to believe, Kay. But really, believe me – I know what I’m doing.”
Says the man with a gash in his head falling towards the subway tracks.
As I fall, the irony of being sent to my death by a destitute man’s suitcase doesn’t escape me. But really, the bag seemed somehow inappropriate for him. It’s cumbersome – can’t be easy to lug up and down stairwells or get through turn-styles. Maybe it’s more of a status thing. Maybe Samsonite elevates him to world traveler?
Two days after we met for coffee, I coaxed Julie into meeting me for a drink. Cautiously, I dangled the idea of us getting back together.
“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” said Julie.
So, Kay had pretty much nailed it.
“It’s a shitty idea,” said Julie. “An incredibly shitty idea. What were you thinking?”
“Well, actually – ”
“I would never ever ever get back together with you, Matt. It’s not just a bad idea – it’s – it’s upsetting.”
“Then why did you meet me? Did you not think I wasn’t thinking this?”
“I – I don’t know what you were not thinking. I had no idea. I thought it was just a friendly, seasonal thing.”
“Julie – you can’t be happy with that guy. He takes undead hair scraps from people’s armpits and buries them in their scalps! He makes beer in his living room! Is that what you want?”
“This has nothing to do with George.”
And just like that it was old times all over again – arguing loudly in public places.
“Julie – when I was hit by that bike – I had a moment of utter clarity– ”
“I don’t care about your clarity.”
” – that we should be together! It was an epiphany.”
“Your epiphany was wrong.”
“It can’t be wrong. It can’t be right or wrong. It’s an epiphany! It just is what it is. I’m not going to defend my epiphany!”
“Yours! Your epiphany! I had nothing!”
“Julie – ”
“Where was your epiphany when my cat died?!”
“Julie – if I could go back – if I had a do-over – ”
“Look,” I said. “I – I – it just – my point is – it just – it felt right. That’s all. It made sense. It made sense to me. That’s all I can say.”
And she stared at me, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she said. “You know how long it took to get over you?”
“I – ”
“I don’t trust you, Matt. And I will never ever trust you again.”
I wanted to let it go. And I knew I ought to. But of course I couldn’t. I had conviction. She was upset, emotional. And I knew she didn’t mean any of the things she was saying. I knew that after she had a chance to calm down and think about it – she’d know what she really wanted.
Or – or – maybe it really wasn’t the right thing? Maybe I didn’t know what I was talking about. Maybe we weren’t meant for each other. Of course I knew if we got back together there would be yelling and screaming and fighting. But I didn’t care about any of that. I wanted her despite all of that – because – because – in that moment of utter clarity what I knew was that
I was still in love with her.
George couldn’t make her happy. But me, in all my excruciating, miserable boorish crankiness, I – I– would bring her joy.
So I called. Unabashedly. Many times. I followed them to a few places. Stalked them, essentially. Left numerous unanswered messages. Her message to me remained clear: fuck off. Leave me alone.
And Kay underscored that idea. Move on. Get on with your life.
So today, two weeks after my bike crash – at 9:15 pm – I had new clarity: I would let her go. Abandon my stalking.
And for the last time I followed them down to the F train. The subway platform was bustling. And they saw me across the crowd. George looked like he wanted to slug me. But Julie held him back.
And our eyes met and I knew it was over.
And as I turned back towards the exit I ever so gently grazed this homeless gentleman. And you know what happened next.
Now, in an effort not to appear overdramatic, I will tell you that no train was coming. But three things happened quickly:
· Time around me slowed;
· Julie yelled out: Matt! and
· I managed to swing my arm out, grab onto the nearby metal support beam and pull myself back onto the platform.
So, I never actually fell onto the tracks. I don’t know why I didn’t. But I didn’t. The homeless man disappeared into the crowd, lugging his luggage behind him. The crowd on the platform gathered around me, concerned and generally freaked out. Was I okay? Was I hurt? And then Julie and George were there too.
“Are you okay?” asked Julie.
“I – yeah – I’m fine – ”
“I can’t believe he just hit you like that! He could’ve killed you!”
“I’m fine, really – ”
“He’s okay,” said George. “C’mon – ”
“Stop it, George!” she snapped.
And they exchanged a look, signaling the sure, eventual heat-death of their relationship.
“You’re okay?” she asked me again.
“I am. Really. I’m fine. Thanks.”
She smiled, breathed.
“Take care of yourself, Matt,” she said.
And they were gone.
And I came back up onto the street, feeling not so bad after all.
No, I didn’t get Julie back.
But I’d gotten under her skin.
And I could live with that.
Alex Bernstein’s work has appeared in many publications, including the New Pop Lit site and in our print version. See our interview with him.