It’s Always Nice to Have a Paycheck

Things never happen quite like you expect them to. I was sitting patiently at my desk the other day when my supervisor stopped by and asked if I wanted to go grab some coffee with him and check in on things. Work’s been slow lately. I was relieved to have something to do. The company’s been trying to move me into a new department. Like I said, my sales copy hasn’t been pulling quite as well as some of the other writers’. But this transition hasn’t been the smoothest in terms of flow.

We stopped by Starbucks and sat down at a table in the park amid our office complex. “I might take tomorrow off,” I’d been telling my supervisor. “I have a bunch of things to take care of before Cora and I go out of town this weekend.”

“That’s cool. Where are you guys going again?” he asked.

“This cabin in Southwest Virginia. Past Charlottesville, I’m not sure where. Should be pretty cool – remote, isolated. A chance just to get out and relax. Things have been pretty hectic here lately.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

This is the same man who told me two months ago I might be losing my job at the end of the summer. Not a week before this conversation, though, he’d amended that statement to say I was good for at least another month or so while the company’s higher ups decided if I was a good fit for this newest position. That was a relief even though I’d already started looking for a new job. It’s always nice to have a paycheck… especially when you aren’t sure any longer when your next one might come through.

He went on, “So I was just talking to Kat.” Kat was the manager of the team I’d been in the process of moving to.  “And she says she needs a writer with more design experience than you have.”

“Okay,” I said, “What’s that mean for me?”

“It means what we talked about,” my supervisor said. “You’re gone.”

I looked around at the sun reflecting off metal chairs, scintillating across concrete and blinding my pale eyes. I squinted. “Okay. When’s my last day, then?”

“Today,” he answered.

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When Will I Get Back to New York?

I left my dad’s old car, the one I’d driven from Southern California to New Mexico all the way back to the East Coast at my mom’s place in Richmond. My stepdad offered to give me a thousand bucks for it, which was fine with me since I’d gotten it for free, and I needed the money. Then, he offered to drive me from there all the way back up to New York City. But first, he said he’d take me to Virginia Beach so I could say I’d traversed the entire continent.

At the sandy beach’s edge, I took off my brand new motorcycle boots and my socks, rolled my jeans up and touched my right toe into the Atlantic Ocean. In the shore break, the water was so warm. I reflected back on the fact that my dad’s ashes had been scattered across the Pacific. That meant, in a sense, he was there, too. In a sense, he was a piece of this entire earth – in the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the rain, the soil, the plants, the beasts, me and you. Before we left the Beach that day, I bought a “Virginia Is for Lovers” tee shirt at some tourist shop along the main drag. My intention was to arrive back in New York City after my six-year hiatus wearing that tee shirt completely ironically.

I don’t know if this is true or not anymore. The memory might have been morphed by time, but I remember sitting at a diner in Richmond back in 2002 – the same diner where I’d first recited that poem to James that drove him so crazy when he was going mad about the Occupy movement. I didn’t have enough money to pay for the fried eggs and toast I was eating. My last unemployment check had been spent outlining the still-fresh demon wings tattoo stretching across my back. When I was done, the waitress had me sweep up and roll some napkins to pay her back for the food I’d more or less stolen. But before I finished my meal, while I was sitting in that diner’s wooden booth, I begged the universe, “When will I get back to New York…” where I’d just left, driven down 95 South by my father and stepfather in a rented van from a psych ward in Brooklyn to a psych ward in Richmond. That voice that always comes to me in psychosis simply said – Six years, Gabriel, in six years, you’ll return to New York. That night, I wanted to cry. It seemed like such a long time. Now, like I said, I don’t know if that’s true or not anymore, but I’ve never been able to shake the notion that, all the way back then, that voice knew exactly how long I’d be away from New York City.

Tears of joy welled in my eyes as Downtown Manhattan’s skyline loomed across the horizon out my passenger side window in the distance. A triumphant sense of pride built in my chest as I contemplated all I had endured since I’d last been graced with that magnificent vision. That was when I made up my mind what the first thing I’d do once I set foot back in New York City would be.

After helping me carry some suitcases up, my stepdad left me alone in the overpriced student-housing apartment I was to share with two other grad students in New York’s Stuyvesant Town – one of the original middle income housing projects, built for native New Yorkers returning from World War II but priced out of the market during the intervening years. Today, that massive complex, a town inside a city at the edge of the East Village, has been turned into a high-priced world of luxury condos, but every once in a while, you might still meet an elderly widow, one of the original residents, living there for practically nothing.

I slipped out of that “Virginia Is for Lovers” tee shirt I’d bought at the beach. Irony didn’t fit my mood anymore. In black jeans tattered at their ankles and motorcycle boots, I pulled a wife-beater over my tattooed back. My hair was long and shaggy again just like it had been when I’d left New York the first time. That Hebrew name, “Michael”, stood out above the neckline exactly as it was supposed to. The black demon wings gracing my shoulder blades poked out from underneath. I still remembered the way. Walking over to Avenue A, I crossed all the way down to Houston Street, through the Lower East Side and made my way towards the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn.

When Cora and I were in New York last weekend, we met up with a friend of hers in that same Brooklyn neighborhood across the Williamsburg Bridge. We sat in McCarren park late at night with Cora’s friend and discussed whether she wanted to stay in New York or return to her home in Los Angeles. I related to the dilemma. I’ve been there before many times myself.

As Cora and I walked into Times Square from where the Bolt Bus dropped us off that weekend, Cora turned to me and said, “Sometimes I get so scared one of us is going to die. We’re so happy together. It just doesn’t even seem possible. It would probably be me, though, my youth would make the whole thing that much more tragic.”

There on the sidewalk, I glanced at her sidelong. I’d never contemplated such a possibility, but as soon as Cora mentioned it, I prayed it would never happen. Especially to her. If one of us is to die, it has to be me.  I couldn’t live out my years like Edgar Allan Poe lamenting his lost Lenore. I’ve lived so much of life already. These last six months with her have been some of the best of my life.

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There Are Higher and Lower Planes of Existence from Here

Cora and I got into bed last night to watch a video about past lives on YouTube. Some kid was convinced he had a previously existent family on an island off the coast of Scotland. He even knew their names, but we turned off the video before we got a chance to discover if that previous family of this apparently reincarnated child had ever actually existed. It was after 11:00. I sat down on the hardwood floor to set the alarm on my phone so we could wake up in time for work today, and I hesitantly said to Cora, “I know this sounds strange, but do you think I might have been in hell in a previous life?”

“Why would you say that, Gabriel?” Cora asked from where she lay in bed, a concerned lilt in her question’s tone.

“I was just thinking about it. Remember when I told you how during my first ever psychotic break, I believed all the souls in hell had broken free, and it was my job to find them and bring them back to their prisons? Well, it just struck me – What if I’m not supposed to be looking for other souls? What if it was me who broke out of hell this whole time?”

“Gabriel, even if you were in hell, I don’t think you’d be able to get out. I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“I don’t know. I mean… in a lot of reincarnation theories there are higher and lower planes of existence from here. What if I was stuck in some lower plane for a really long time, and that’s why it seems like I’m brand new to this plane? That would explain why my visions of hell are so clear in psychosis…”

“Gabriel, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“I’m more than happy to talk to you about all this like it’s real. Because you know I wonder sometimes whether or not it is. But do you think it’s healthy for you if I help you think even deeper than you already do about these sorts of things?”

I didn’t say anything for a little while. Not because I was angry. I simply had to think about what Cora had just asked me.

Today, I was thinking about it all again as I walked up the block from the Metro to my apartment after work, and the craziest thought infiltrated my mind. For a minute there, I believed maybe I actually was Jesus in a previous life. Not metaphorically speaking, but rather that I was the risen Christ, that I had been beaten and crucified, and the memories still remained latent in my soul. Then, it seemed to me that as Jesus I might have been condemned to hell – either as an avatar of God sent to conquer the nether regions or else as a false prophet who’d sown schismatic seeds. Either way, for that brief second, I believed I had to get this life right. Because I was certain I didn’t want to have to go through any of that ever again.

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