It begins with an angry woman in a city gone mad. It begins with Amazon and poverty colliding, with immigrants driving for the first time in their lives alongside homeless people migrating across the city in dilapidated trailers. It begins with your mother calling, asking, “Were you caught in the shooting?” and you saying, “Probably not, since I’m afraid to leave the house and am not bleeding anywhere.”
It starts with you pulling over on the side of the road on your birthday because one too many cars have honked in one too many ambiguous traffic conflicts.
You pull over
You do not go out, on your birthday, or try to have fun. You do not get shots with friends, you do not enjoy a slice of cheesecake at a restaurant with a view, you do not put on a red top. You just wipe the mascara-stained tears from your face and you drive home and Netflix it because what is the fucking point.
And in the midst of all this, what is left of your beating heart is asking itself, in a desperate tone Captain Kirk might have used during the climactic scene of an old Star Trek episode, Think, Scotty, think. There has to be some reason you were put on this earth and crying on your birthday is not it.
Try to remember.
Remember what keeps your heart beating.
They tell you, doctors and biology teachers and boring health articles tell you that your heartbeat is an automatic function. Your body just does certain things without you having to think about it. But you get high enough some night and on a bad trip you will know that your heart does not beat on its own and your lungs do not expel air on their own and your blood does not circulate on its own.
They do these things because there is a piece of you, albeit a very quiet, not-yet-discovered-by-doctors piece, that wills them to. That says, Keep going fellas. We’re still in this thing.
And sometimes that little biological memo doesn’t come through as often, or it comes through wrinkled or copied on old neon paper no one can read. What is this and why is it lime green? You start to forget why you’re here, and start asking a terrible question: Why bother?
“Why bother” was the question on my mind when I answered an ad on Craigslist for a two bedroom apartment on an island you can only reach by ferry. I answered the ad and made an appointment to go see it, but that night there was a storm. The woman showing the unit called and said, “Don’t come.”
I took that as an omen that I shouldn’t pursue it further, after all, who would knowingly move someplace where a little wind and rain can make it hard to get home to your bed?
But that night I went to sleep in my bed, in my cement tower, that overlooked a park where people gathered to yell at each other, because yelling at one another at home would be too boring, so let’s go to the park and yell there. When the woman with the island rental called again the next day, I agreed to give it another try, and I got on the ferry. I drove out in the dark over winding roads. The sky was big and blank over trees and fields and little houses on large pieces of property.
Sometimes you have to go mad to forget what everyone else wants, or thinks you should want. You go mad to remember what you want, even if, especially if, what you want is very, very inconvenient. And when you do, when you’re done crying and driving and eating cheesecake alone and listening to shots fired in the street, when all the unhappiness finally just bores you to hell..
You wind up standing under that big blank silent sky, listening to your heartbeat.