More Than Real

John Paul, Veteran

John Paul, Veteran

Whilst in a heavy dream state, the kind that weighs your head down with pressure, I nearly poked my eye out with my thumb. This awakened me. A reflex reaction, similar to a mosquito bite, or an inner itch in the ear - the jerk surprised me more than the piercing pain. Now 5AM, I couldn’t sleep, and the cold January air seeped through the bedroom window. What a knucklehead.

My wife next to me, sound asleep, rolled over - wrapped up with a white down comforter, laid lengthwise on the mattress that fit perfectly in our small 1 bedroom Washington Heights apartment. The mattress was purchased the first week home from Afghanistan.

My wife would josh, “the only thing she loved more than my bed was me in it.“ 

We met at a wedding in Central Park and started dating shortly after. We lived a block apart in the West Village, and moved uptown after own wedding even though it added to her work commute. 

She was a Jazzer, and proved it by playing the Standup Bass around town at Speak easies, dance halls, and at all world famous Jazz clubs. It’s a word of mouth type group that’s historically religious about the music.

The late-night set at Little Branch ended around 1AM, which means she made it back around 2. She moved from Canada, and I worried about her taking the train late at night even though this place was close to her heart just like the music she played. 

On weekdays, when she had gigs on the East Side, she recruited me to assist as a roadie. I would hop to my feet, carry the amp, and roll the bass dodging subway trains to make downbeat. As a happy participant, I ate at the best French restaurants and boutique hotels indulging all the human pleasures and satisfactions. I thought often to myself how lucky I was.

Like most mornings, I started working out a 24-hour gym. It led me to believe that there was more to my life than sitting in an office behind a computer.    

With little effort, I raised my knees and twisted my legs out of bed to look out the north side window. 159th street was empty and gray filtered.  According to Street Easy, this was when most assaults and street shootings occurred in the neighborhood. I thought to myself that this was perfect timing for my aerobic, heavy lifting, fight club, Army hour type work out.

I pulled the sheet over my wife’s bare calf and walked out of the bedroom dressed in red mesh basketball shorts, a hoody-sweatshirt, and running shoes, and locked the door behind me. 

Outside on the sidewalk, the black garbage bags were stacked so high that it carried over into the street; it was as if the whole neighborhood had moved out. Walking down the sidewalk towards Broadway, I noticed a lowly physical halo - an elderly woman in a wheel chair. 

I’ve seen her before. She was crippled, and had 1 leg that she used to push the wheelchair around the neighborhood. When anybody noticed, she would ask for money. Many times people were cursed out, or she slurred under her breath as they walked by. I gave her cash when I had cash, but didn’t know her name. 

Her empty pant leg was always tied in a knot, and she usually had a cigarette in her hand.  She lived in the Dorothy McGowan Apartments up the block; it’s part of the Community League of the Heights for disadvantaged people. The building was just pass mine up the hill. What the hell is she doing outside?

I could hear her cursing and mumbling as the wheels of the chair kept hitting the corner of the garbage back. She was ramming backwards trying to rollover garbage bag blocking her path. She was also leaning over the chair to move the bag with her hands. It looked as if she was going to fall.

I walked up on her as her back was to me. She shrieked, “ZAPAPAPAPAPAPA - ZAPAPAPAPA.” 

Everything is ok,” I said.

ZAPAPAPAPAPAPA - ZAPAPAPAPA” she said, spitting.

“The garbage bag was just in your way,” I replied. I walked around to assure her by showing her my face. Her voice fell silent as she looked up. Her eyes were watery, and her nose was dripping; she looked exhausted. My heart sank as we made eye contact. 

Seconds later, she pushed burst back using her 1 leg roll up the hill. Nothing more was said. I stood there watching to make sure she made it past the next pile of garbage bags nearer to her building entrance.

I turned and walked around the corner of Broadway. Most storefronts were still closed and only a few cars drove by in the pale dark sky. Planet Fitness was on the horizon filled with purple, and yellow lights.

This is how I started my day, which felt more than real.