Certainly it is the same path to the train. Certainly it is; the same blocks, in the same arrangement, are eight – or four and four, six and two – but always the same starting and ending points.
On a wet Wednesday night, people in suits and nametags tumble out of blandly expensive restaurants, perpendicular distractions to a focused walker. My broken rib aches when I forget it and slide sideways to avoid collisions. Carefully, I breathe deeply, remembering the pain before it hits, hoping I am doing it right.
To the train, then: almost empty outbound, wet blotches on discarded newspaper underfoot, steady whine and hiss. I think about the moment we are suspended between this station and the last, after acceleration and before the brakes. My stop is the stop I knew daily for three years, and now only as a tourist, so I second-guess my unthinking feet on the way out of the station and I am wrong.
Surfacing, everything is wrong in this light, in this brown-shiny streetlight moisture: I feel just like I did a year ago, and at once I am light-headed and panicked. It was a dream, all a dream, and for real I am back where I started, back to being miserable, back to being hated and called sick and a bitch and a fool. The panic lasts just a few moments, but it is long enough to leave me with nausea, gulping wet air with the punctuation of a sore rib.
I’ve seen too many movies, you know, the kind where the protagonist gets everything he ever wanted and then finds out it isn’t real at all. I’ve been shown the double-backed playing cards and I know where the unending pocket scarves end. I know that sometimes when someone says Love it means Disappointment, and sometimes it means no word at all, merely a blank space surrounded by ellipses.
The trip back is less of a mind-trip, as the body complies. I stop in a bookstore to see words on paper, to hold things that I know are from now and not then. The corner bar is emptied save for a thin-armed pool player with only solids ahead of him. Tonight I must have been stripes.