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A Day in the Life – The Junction – Medium


Crowded Subway Car NYC / Image taken by Daniel Schwen, Public Domain

On a warm summer day in Brooklyn, the fire department tests the motor on the Jaws of Life. It’s eight in the morning. The sound of the hydraulic pistons roar through Sarah’s bedroom window, functioning as an urban alarm clock. Sarah begrudgingly throws off her covers and gets out of bed. Like clockwork she opens the blinds in the bedroom, shuts off the air conditioner, and en route to the living room clicks on the mouse to waken her Mac.

At the console table Sarah gathers some incense. She lights four sticks at the stove, each one for a designated room. Ritualistically she places an incense stick in the bedroom, the living room alter, the kitchen and the bathroom. Then in perfunctory fashion she downs a glass of filtered water and proceeds with preparing the ambrosial nectar; coffee. The huge canister of Maxwell House sets off her skepticism about the organic coffee industry. Elijah is right. There’s little if any difference other than the price and the packaging.

While the coffee brews Sarah gets in the shower. Only vegan bath products accommodate her sensitive aging skin. “Besides,” she tells herself, “who wants to bathe in carcinogens?” The hot spray offers a soothing reprieve from daily concerns. Spontaneously she starts humming Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. As she dries off the song ignites random memories of a painful break-up followed by reckless acting out and working as a treatment coordinator at an alternative high school and drug rehab for adolescents and adults. It boggles her mind how she navigated those grueling public sector jobs while feeling so shattered by life. She pushes these depressing memories aside, intent on shifting her focus onto the impending day. Grabbing her robe from the bathroom door hook, Sarah wanders into the kitchen to pour a mug of coffee before heading to her computer.

An email from her bank alerts her to a suspicious charge. Indeed, when she calls customer service she discovers there are itune purchases for songs from Pitbull, Future and Niki Minaj. It’s a no-brainer; the music doesn’t match her aesthetic. It will take a week to get a new card issued. Returning to her ritual of scanning emails results in reading hostile rants and last minute cancellations from therapy clients. The day has barely begun and already agita has set in.

In an effort to embrace a more life-affirming place Sarah commences with her spiritual practice. She takes the book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” to her alter where she lights a candle and settles into an oversized chair. Through prayer and meditation Sarah arrives at a tranquil state. Arbitrarily opening to a page, she discovers an excerpt that resonates.

“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires.”

A glimmer of hope is ignited. The message affirms her eventual plans to leave New York.

Old Montreal / Image by Svetlana Grechkina

After blowing out the candle on her alter Sarah returns to her computer to peruse apartment rentals in Montreal. Browsing through the enormous sized apartments replete with amenities unheard of in New York for an inconceivably affordable rent paradoxically arouses a sense of comforting security and the spirit of adventure. Since obtaining her Canadian citizenship she has been counting down the days until she and Elijah will relocate. Eventually, God willing they’ll make it to Uruguay before the apocalypse sets in. “Maybe blockchain will make a difference,” she wonders.

Noticing the lapse in time Sarah commences with getting dressed for work. She selects a colorful silk tunic dress from her closet and a pair of red ballerina flats. Applying her lip-gloss and tying her thick grey hair into a quick bun coincides with bracing herself for the subway ride into Times Square. Grabbing her purse and house keys, Sarah exits the front door of the multi family row house where she occupies the ground floor. Her elderly Slavic landlord is watering the beautiful flowers in the front yard. After a quick exchange of pleasantries Sarah heads for the subway around the corner.

Sarah descends the steps into the bowels of the MTA. The stench of urine and absence of ventilation is so familiar she barely notices its presence. As her metro card is being rejected for having ‘insufficient fare’ Sarah can hear the screeching of the train pulling into the station below catalyzing the rant in her head, “WTF?! I just put $20 on this damn card.”

Scurrying to fill her card, all the machines are refusing bills, so she resorts to using her debit card, since her credit card is obsolete from the itunes fiasco. Finally she retrieves her metro card and hastily makes it downstairs to the platform. A rat the size of a healthy kitten saunters by her on the steps. Fighting back the nausea, she thinks back nostalgically to a time when the vermin knew their designated place on the tracks and in the tunnels. Now they are fearless and running rampant.

NYC Subway 34th Street / Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Aude

As usual, there are train delays due to some sort of nebulous signal problem. The infrastructure is collapsing. To bide the time Sarah trashes unwanted emails on her smart phone. The scam artist from Nigeria still hasn’t given up on sending her a grammatically bumbling notice about a generous endowment left to her by a millionaire benefactor.

Finally the train chugs into the station. Hoards of people disembark. Sarah boards the train just as the automatic message “stand clear of the closing doors” signals motion. The train is packed, but Sara targets a possible seat and settles in for another eventful excursion into Manhattan.

Periodically the train abruptly stops, accompanied by either indecipherable garbled messages or deafening broadcasts loud enough to make one’s ears bleed. Apparently the F train is being rerouted as a D train which will be running on the A line after West 4th. Standard procedure.

At East Broadway Sonny shoves his way into the car and launches into his monologue. “I’m hungry and I’m homeless. I lost everything in a fire, and I can’t find work. I don’t rob or steal or use drugs. If you could spare a penny, a nickel, a dime or some food I would be most grateful. Thank you and God bless.”

Sarah is tempted to tell him to give up this routine. It’s obvious that panhandling is not working out. He’s been regurgitating the same spiel for two years now.

Langston Hughes / Image by Carl VanVechten

Instead she stares at the ‘poetry in motion’ sign, situated between the Dr. Zitz and pine-smelling roach spray ads.

The first line of Langston Hughes’ ‘Harlem’ stares back at her:

“What happens to a dream deferred?”

Sarah is transfixed by the words. Her mind randomly fixates on so many dreams deferred having to just survive and pour time and money into therapy and academia. The losses are innumerable.

The jolt of the train snaps Sarah out of reverie. Apathetic desensitized eyes stare back at Sonny who makes his way down the aisle. An older Latina woman offers him a commiserating look as she drops a coin into his cup. At 2nd avenue the train screeches to a stop. Sonny departs through the open doors and makes his way into the next car, shouting his spiel on cue.

Outside on the platform a violent altercation infiltrates the subway car, viscerally reminding Sarah of her mother’s violent psychotic tirades. Her mother’s schizophrenia made her a vulnerable target for the bullies in the neighborhood who taunted her about her crazy mother and how they were barely surviving on public assistance. “No thanks to my fucking waste of a father,” Sarah thinks to herself, as the train doors finally close.

The passengers breath a collective sigh of relief that the lunatics have chosen to kill each other at the 2nd avenue station and not within the confines of this moving metal box. Sarah chuckles inwardly as she reflects, ‘It’s the little things that matter’.

The disheveled obese woman sitting across from Sarah is staring vacantly ahead, the Duncan donuts bag deftly couched in her lap.

Banalities from Shanghai, China [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

The anxious young man in front of Sarah is incessantly checking his watch and muttering profanities under his breath. Sarah guesses that he’s running late for a job interview, given his suited attire.

At the next stop a mentally ill man boards ranting, “I’m a thinker. I’ve thunk lots of things. You don’t think. I think. You think you’re better than me don’t you? Fuck you!”

He escalates. Everyone zones out, suppressing the fear that he’ll whip out a razor or a gun and go on a killing rampage. Sarah is visited by a disturbing memory of her mother running after dad with a butcher knife. Reflexively she tucks that away. Two more stops to go. The ‘angry thinking’ man has moved on to another car. Sarah wonders if he knows Sonny. ‘Spread the love’ she snickers to herself.

As the train nears her stop Sarah squeezes through the throngs of straphangers to make her way towards the exit. The instant the doors open the whoosh of hot noxious air consumes her. Mild dissociation kicks in as Sarah leaves the subway car and commences with the next phase of her journey. With strategic skill Sarah maneuvers through hoards of commuters in the Times Square station.

She notices the homeless girl stationed in the alcove by the exit stairs. Although it is a scorching day the girl is swaddled in a parka, curled in a fetal position with her face hidden. Last week Sarah called Safe Horizons to see if they could send out a crisis unit to check on her, but the run around was maddening and ultimately she got nowhere.

Ergo, Sarah plods on, soldiering through any feelings of humanity triggered by the ubiquitous homelessness. Sufficiently numb to her surroundings she makes her way up the stairs to the outside world.

Homeless Man Sleeping / Image by Teknorat

Identity politics is thriving on Broadway. Next to ‘Cher the Musical’ is a butchered version of ‘Little Wo’Men’. In the spirit of cultural competence an all male cast in full drag will be bringing the Alcott classic to life! Elijah calls just as she scans the giant overhead billboard delineating the cast.

‘Can you believe this absurdity? Justin Bieber as Jo, Wesley Snipes as Meg, John Luguzamo as Beth and Peter Dinklage as the sister dwarf Amy.”

Keith Haring Mural / Image by Marco Pomella from Pixabay

They marvel at the lunacy and concur that NYC has lost its soulful edge, reminiscing how the NYC landscape has transformed through gentrification, displacing immigrants and working class folk so that the wealthy one percent can occupy lavish high rises. Unique ethnic character has become tamed by carbon copy development. NYC is no longer a revolutionary artists playground. The Golden Age of Graffiti Art, when you could spot a Keith Haring drawing on a subway platform, is long gone. Music landmarks such as the Bottom Line Cabaret have been replaced by empty residential high-rises. Gerde’s Folk City, Max’s Kansas City, Tramps, The Palladium and CBGB are gone. Times Square has become a place of Disneyland sterility. Iconic diners have been replaced by Starbucks. Gritty OTBs are a thing of the past.

Creative Commons Image / Photo by thenails @ Flickr

Suddenly their commiserating is interrupted by the intrusion of the daily grind. Elijah’s supervisor signals him back to work and Sarah needs to pick up some food. They bid one another adieu and return to their workday routine. Down the block Sarah steps into a sleek Whole Foods prototype, replete with juice bar, salad bar, and coffee bar. She selects a variety of sushi and grabs a bottle of smart water after opting not to pay ten dollars for organic coconut water. “Outrageous”, she mutters to herself. The line moves quickly. This is one perk of NYC that Sarah will miss. It’s a city of speed, albeit she tells herself it will be healthier to cultivate more patience.

Back on the street Sarah comes face to face with a fellow pedestrian. They are gridlocked in a ‘showdown’ due to the massive congestion of 9 million people navigating the city streets. Awkwardly they wait for an opportune moment to make their way down the block, smiling in shared recognition of the predicament as they part ways. Sarah thinks of the E.B. White quote,

“It’s a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible.”

Sarah proceeds to her office two blocks away. Upon entering the commercial building she discovers that the elevators are down again. Two out of three are working and the swarms of people waiting to get to their offices means she will need ten minutes to get to her 14h floor suite. Fortunately her first therapy client of the day leaves a text that he’ll be delayed. His lateness will give her ample time to recalibrate.

Sarah unlocks the front door to her office and steps into a small cozy waiting area adorned with Angel artifacts and Buddhist prints. A dark Turkish rug graces the floor, and colorful cushions alight two storage benches. She automatically activates the small table fan and the white noise machine as a prelude to entering the main area where she conducts sessions. The scent of fragrant lavender wafts towards her as she opens the door to the larger room. Streaming light from the massive windows occupying an entire wall brighten the room and envelopes the flourishing Ficus tree that Sarah has tended for the past 15 years. She picks up the large watering can and begins her routine.

Office / Photo by Sheri Heller

It feels grounding to water the tree and the flowerbeds on the sill. Sarah moves on to select sweet orange oil to put in the diffuser and then places her food in the compact fridge. With minutes to spare, she sits in her well-worn brown leather ‘therapy chair’ and takes in the space. Shells, semi-precious stones and healing crystals beautify the large round wood table nestled between her designated seat and the large comfy couch where her clients usually settle in. The armchairs flanking the right and left sides of the table form a snug circular enclosure, ideal for groups.

Her eyes rest on the psychology books resting on the cherry wood sideboard in the left corner of the room. It gives her pause as she considers all the work it took to achieve a private practice laboring through college, graduate school, and institute training without any familial support. The professional and personal workshops and her own therapy grappling with a traumatic history that left her decimated, spanned over three decades.

She considers the parallel between the thirty years she invested in the mental health and addiction fields and the thirty years devoted to her recovery process. One couldn’t have happened without the other. A moment of gratitude graces her and leads her to reflect on what it will be like to leave this all behind to make a home in Canada with Elijah.

A smile flickers across her face. She gave up believing she could ever have the sort of relationship she desperately longed for. It’s still astonishing and surreal to consider that they have been together over eleven years. Sarah’s grin fades as she considers how much time she wasted trying to procure love from malignant narcissists. It’s a reminder of how deeply her father shattered her. It was a debilitating cycle that crushed her and eventually led to taking a respite from dating for five years. Recognizing that she healed sufficiently to attain the love that eluded her for most of her life is humbling.

The sound of the front door opening in the waiting area gently prods Sarah back into mindful awareness. Adam’s exuberant energy is palpable as he enters and takes a seat on the sofa. Sarah notices that he looks particularly polished in a slim fitted grey blue linen blazer and complimentary seersucker trousers. The teal collar of his shirt highlights the green of his eyes. His childhood was brutal and his sex addiction tenacious. Eight years later he’s now stable, regulated and intent on prospering with his wife and their expectant child.

Eager to begin Adam announces, “ I’ve got great news! Remember that new boutique hotel I mentioned in midtown? Well, I met with their interior decorator and I secured a very considerable commission from them for my collection of mixed-media abstract paintings!”

“Wow! That is phenomenal and such great timing with the baby on the way! Congratulations!”

Knowing what he’s been up against, Sarah feels deeply gratified to be a part of this meaningful victory.

Their session progresses onto themes of social isolation, cost of living largely rooted in sky high housing costs, and the inherent pressure of competition rooted in an industrialized ‘caste system’. Generalized anxiety related to an absence of space, mass transit mayhem, and rampant violence, rudeness, and endemic homelessness, are also covered. Ultimately Adam wants to provide a better quality of life for himself and his family. It seems everyone is looking for a way out.

Muffled sounds in the vestibule signal it’s time to wind down and segue into a clean slate for the next meeting. Sarah and Adam promptly nail down their upcoming appointment and wrap up with pleasant repartee. Sarah turns to greet Dahlia who is seated comfortably in the waiting area, and tells her she’ll be with her shortly.

Returning to her chair, Sarah drops in and gets centered. Through decades of discipline it’s an automatic, immediate transition. With a twist of irony she realizes that each session requires a relinquishment of what was so as to allow for a fresh start. If only life were that simple. Still, she wonders, there must be a way to extrapolate from this habituated practice.

With that thought in mind she rises and heads to the door, affirming with conviction that letting go will be painful, but she’s ready.

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