“There’s a certain comfort to be found in inertia, in the constancy of movement or lack thereof. As objects living under the influence of Newton’s 3rd Law, we place a premium on being able to move through life uninterrupted. When our constant state of motion is disturbed, the result is not a mere interruption of progress, it is a collision of the proverbial ‘unstoppable force’ with the ‘immovable object.’ When we collide, the linear path we’d previously acted on becomes abstract; all that was before predictable becomes warped and volatile. The equation which leads us back to linear is difficult to navigate, but there is always comfort to be found in the idea that every equation has an eventual answer.”
I wrote that gem in a college paper for a Philosophy class back when I went to Brown. Looking back, I was probably trying to impress a girl with my wisdom (vagueness) and rhetoric (use of thesaurus). Today, though, I understand exactly what I was trying to say, except it probably could’ve been summed up in something my dad told me when I was eight:
“Life’ll pull your pants down, steal your wallet, and tell you to ‘man up,’ and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. Now, go get a job.”
However you phrase it, the concept is the same. Life is a crapshoot, and we’re all either coasting toward our own immovable objects or dealing with some form of aftershocks from the collision.
I became a taxi driver five months ago in late May. You could call it part of one of my ‘aftershocks.’ Before that I was a fledgling associate at a PR firm on the Upper East Side. I took the job right after Danielle and I were married and had it for about a year. Around this past March, though, my insomnia started to kick in, and my work took a dive. All night long I’d sit in bed—sitting, not lying, Indian-style, perfectly erect spine, eyes closed, swaying back and forth, hoping that gravity would eventually lull my pendulum of a body onto the sheets. It never worked though. In that month I spent more time sitting on my bed than most people spend sitting at their desks at work. People say that kind of stuff happens with bereavement. I’m one of those people, I guess.
I don’t really know how exactly I chose to be a taxi driver. I remember watching the movie, Taxi Driver. That might’ve had something to do with it. I was at one of my low points; I thought I belonged in that underworld of street urchins. I was a creature of the night, one of those shadowy figures that travel in alleyways and plan revolutions against ‘the man.’ I was DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, minus some more obvious neuroses. It all made sense at the time. I could drive around the city when I couldn’t sleep, people left me alone for the most part, I got paid, and I could feel sorry for myself, all at the same time. If I happened to save a wayward soul here and there, an “Iris” if you will, well that was fine too. Maybe it was the idea of being an object in motion once again, only this time able to see all; movable and immovable, on a system of linear lines.
Tonight was one of those nights, though, where I hated Travis Bickle. Everything ached. The first couple of months nothing ever ached, but tonight I felt every pothole in my back. I dreaded moving and opening doors. Adjusting the mirrors pissed me off to no end. I resented every person that got in the cab. There were a few moments when I debated just driving home to my apartment, with the customer in the back seat and everything. Today was mine and Danielle’s all-important two-year wedding anniversary. Some people focus on the first anniversary, but the second year is where you hit true dedication, the lap after the victory lap. The second anniversary says, “I’m in this thing, even through the stupid landmarks that only you and I will care about, like two-year anniversaries.” I debated taking the day off, but I’d taken the past three days off. Four felt like giving up. Mutinous, maybe. I wasn’t that Travis Bickle.
My first couple of the night was straight out of a bar on West Broadway. They were freshly buzzed and their breath smelled of alcohol, lighter and fruitier, with an alcohol proof high enough to break some barriers, and low enough to leave the stamina uninhibited. They melded into each other like a pile of worn-out clothes, with elbows, hands, knees, and cheeks filling in the gaps between fabric.
“Can we go to 175 Madison Avenue?”
And with that, they were back to each other. They reminded me of Danielle and I when we were first married. We were completely absorbed in each other, in breathing the same air and wrapping our hands around each other’s hands—that crazy, incomprehensible mix of being completely content, but constantly wanting more of each other at the same time. I remembered one night in particular, walking around the city looking through different shop windows. I remember thinking how great it was that we could just walk together. We used to walk all the time. It’s how we got to know New York—how we discovered our favorite streets and shops and pieces of graffiti. As we walked I’d picture the two of us in the years to come. Just walking. Sometimes we were holding hands or her arms would be wrapped around my bicep or stomach. Sometimes she was holding a kid, our kid. Most of the time, though, we were just walking. Thinking of it made me happy—euphorically, almost smugly happy. Right there I should’ve known something was gonna happen. Once you hit smug, the universe reserves the right to put you back in your place.
Watching the couple made me feel at ease and overwhelmingly depressed at the same time. [It was like hearing a song you used to be able to play on an instrument. The familiarity of it is comforting, but then you realize that you have no claim to it, that the notes don’t belong to you anymore, and you feel emptier than you did before you heard it.] I wish I could’ve met them under different circumstances. With Danielle. They would’ve loved Danielle. Everyone did. I could picture us all sitting in a restaurant, talking about art exhibits and politics. Ray and I (he looked like a Ray) would argue about whether or not CBGB should’ve stayed open. Danielle and Melissa (the name I give to every blond woman on the street) would discuss how they both wanted to go to Europe once work opened up. Picturing the ease of it all made me want to tell them that this wasn’t my usual gig, and that I had what they had once. But how do you bring something like that up?
“You two look like you’re in love. Speaking of love, I was in love once. Then the universe decided to rip my heart out. Ha. Good times, right?”
“Taking the cab? Yeah…my wife and I used to take cabs before she died.”
I’d learned to temper my desire to talk to people about Danielle. No one ever leaves those kinds of conversations whole. Someone always feels emptier afterward. Not lighter, emptier. Tonight, though, I thought I was allowed to talk about her. That’s how it works, isn’t it? You’re allowed to unload on important landmarks like two-year anniversaries. I’d earned the right to talk to who I wanted to talk to. For months after Danielle died, the only people I could talk to were people who only wanted to make sure that they did their due diligence after her death. Their sympathy was so calculated and geometric—gridded calendars with days assigned to bring me dinner, sympathy cards, and the business cards of recommended therapists. That was their due diligence—tiny, quadrilateral-shaped pieces of paper with their condolences stamped on them. I know they meant well, and I appreciated the effort, but sympathy shouldn’t be square. Emotions, as a general rule, shouldn’t be square.
Ray and Melissa wouldn’t have given me anything square. Ray would call the second he heard what happened. Melissa would cry and offer too many hugs. Later, Ray would take me out to get wasted and listen while I talked way too much. After a few months, Melissa, with the best intentions, would try to set me up with someone. I’d say no, and then she’d say something to make me realize that I was ready to ‘get back out there.
There would’ve been no grids or quadrilaterals. It would’ve hurt, and part of me would’ve hated them for forcing me to get over her, but it’s what I would’ve needed to cure the abstract lines. Grids and quadrilaterals can’t correct the abstract. Their straight edges only exacerbate it—utility conflicting with volatility. The only way to turn the abstract into linear again is to coax it back, little by little, drunken lambast by drunken lambast. Speaking of lambast…
“So is tonight a special occasion or are you guys just out on the town?”
I immediately regretted opening my mouth. It wasn’t going to help anything. I didn’t have the energy to carry on a whole conversation about how happy they were. Why did I think that this couple would fix me? If people saying, ‘Danielle always loved you,’ or watching movies about how ‘the dead are always with you’ didn’t help, why did I think that talking to people in love would make me feel in love again? It doesn’t. It won’t. The lines stay crooked. You lose the song. Re-learning it sucks.
“Nope, just out for the night. Walking around,” Ray said casually.
“Great night for it.”
“Yeah. We keep getting lost, though. It’s a big city. We’d been looking for that bar back there for hours.”
“Yeah, I know how that goes. It used to happen to my wife and I all the time. We’d walk around the city for hours and end up at some place we didn’t plan on. It’s funny how it happens, like you’re just moving along these streets without any control over where you’re going or where you’ll end up. It’s the way to do it, though, I think. Just keep moving and walking; it’s the best way to find out where you’re going. ”
They both smiled. Melissa’s smile was warm and sincere. Ray’s, slightly confused.
“Ha. Thanks. We’ll definitely keep that in mind.”
They got out three blocks later, across the street from an apartment complex with a red gate in front. As Ray handed me the $17.80 for the cab ride, I felt a tinge of embarrassment and regret. I thanked him. He thanked me. I wished them a good evening. They waved goodbye. I pretended that the $17.80 was from a bet Ray and I made over whether or not Joey Ramone was still alive (a tangent off of our CBGB debate). Sure it was a lot for a bet, but the man didn’t know his Ramones and deserved to pay. After they left, Danielle and I would talk about how I shouldn’t have suckered him out of the money. I’d know she was right. We’d laugh about it as we walked home.