Everything Changed; Everything Stayed the Same
I don’t know why the tears are welling up in my eyes. It’s 9am on Monday and I just feel paralyzed. I try to move a finger, just one, but I can’t even blink. I don’t know what sparked it. That’s a lie. I do. I just hate to think about it. My best friend got engaged last night, just shy of six months after I was dumped. Well, dumped on my wedding day, to be specific. The longer I sit here, the harder it is to hold back the tears. Fuck. I have to get out of here. Now!
It’s 11pm and I’m dancing my way through Manhattans in a room with no windows, surrounded by everyone I feared would see me cry earlier. As I dive further and further into my glass, I replay that day in my head. Most people remember these types of moments so clearly. I mostly just remember what that asshole said to me before he left.
“I can’t do this, Lils, I can’t. I’m in love with Sarah and I somehow thought that us getting married would change that. I thought it could make me stop loving her.”
I wonder if he fucked Sarah after he left that day. I wonder if the J.Crew suit I had so painstakingly picked out laid on her bedroom floor. He’s still the last person I’ve slept with. The combination of Manhattans, the repetitive synthesized beat, the roar of inaudible bar chatter, and the smell of so many bodies jammed together made me feel even worse. I wonder what it’s going to be like when I stop feeling this way- when the tears stop welling up. I imagine my flesh forming on dusty bones like weeds out of cracks in concrete.
I start to realize I’m standing in the middle of a bar by myself and feel embarrassed. The music had stopped, the booze was no longer flowing, the lights were on, and the people were leaving.
“So, where you headed?” some shorter, Jewish looking guy asked me while smiling.
“What?” I replied.
“You’re cute,” he said as he made his way towards me.
I turned around and headed out the door.
It’s 9am on Tuesday, and I can’t get rid of this headache.
“Hey…Lily… Lils!” Kenny was standing behind my computer screen, raising his voice with every syllable.
“Yeah?” I replied quickly, snapping out of whatever comatose state I kept slipping in and out of these days. Sometimes I find myself gently drifting off, not thinking about anything in particular. I think it’s my mind’s way of just escaping from myself. The more often it happens, the less I really feel anything in those brief moments. Right now, feeling nothing is the best I can do.
“So, you wanna get coffee?” he persisted.
“Well, you want to just come with me anyways?” he asked.
“Sure…” I just gave in. I don’t mind being around Kenny. Sometimes, when it’s just us, I want to crawl into his lap and let him hold me while I cry. God, that is so fucking weird. What the fuck is wrong with me?
Kenny is going on about the latest re-org we’re having at work while we make our way out the glass double doors and down 34th. There’s a strong wind chill and he zips up his hoodie as I wrap my scarf around my neck. In this very moment, I want nothing more than for Kenny to talk about how unhappy he is, just so I can feel normal. Why should he be so OK? Even if his sheltered and surreal life is in top form, are children still not dying in Africa? Isn’t global warming still ensured to engulf us all? What about rent prices, gas prices, the upcoming elections? Anything at all that could possibly disturb the perfectly contrived and subjective world he’s created for himself. I mean, for fucks sake, it’s fucking freezing- he could at least complain about that! I can’t be happy for Sammy’s engagement and I can’t seem to do anything but loath Kenny just for existing.
“….So yeah, Rob basically said that I can be interim regional manager until they find someone, which is great!” he went on.
“Why the fuck do you want to be interim manager? Why can’t they just promote you to be the manager?”
He kept walking for a few seconds, thinking about how he would answer my probing. “Well, you know, I’m not really ready yet and they want someone with more experience that I could learn from. I’m fine with it. I get where they’re coming from, you know? How are you doing, anyway?”
Kenny had this way of just downplaying any negative emotions he had. Actually, he never even admitted to having negative emotions to begin with, which always infuriated me. Somehow, though, we’d become this strange odd couple throughout the years that can’t really do without one another. He is one of my closest friends, and I’m fairly certain we have our mutual reliance on drugs and alcohol to thank for that.
“I don’t know, Kenny”, I replied as I pulled my sleeves as far down as I could. He noticed I was cold, and probably upset, so he put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me closer. “I told myself I could cry for 10 minutes after I found out Sammy is getting married. After 10 minutes, I would just have to find a way to be happy for her. And Andrew’s great, really great. He makes her so happy” I didn’t sound as convincing as I would have liked. I’ve always had a hard time lying to Kenny.
Kenny pulls open the door to the coffee shop and motions for me to go through. The warm air grazes my cheeks and the smell of roasted beans fill my nostrils. We get in line behind an older couple and their middle-aged daughter. The couple keeps inching closer and closer to the chalkboard menu above the cash register, and the sharp dressed suit standing in front of them, hoping to make out the hipster-made cursive. They’re daughter repeatedly asks them what they’re going to have, pressing for an answer. She is loosing patience with every attempt.
“I know it’s not easy, Lils. I don’t know how I would hold up if I were you, but I know you want to be there for Sa-”
BOOM! The floor to ceiling windows of the coffee shop’s store front shatter loudly and dozens of car alarms go off in the street.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” Kenny screamed. I froze. 4 seconds later, another explosion rumbles the floor beneath our feet as every piece of furniture and light fixture quivers. Two younger looking men in slacks and button ups jump through the now empty window frames, run towards the counter, and duck behind it. As I look out to the street, I notice traffic had stopped. Two women were standing outside their cars with their doors propped open, looking around and speaking to one another. Other people were abandoning their cars and either making their way into the surrounding buildings or simply running in one direction or another.
Kenny grabs my wrist and pulls me to a corner where we both crouch down. The wrinkled man that had been standing in front of us in line is now hovering above his elderly wife as she lies still on the floor. Their daughter starts screaming for help while searching for her phone in her bag. She gives up after a few seconds and runs out the window frames of the store front looking for help, I assume. The man kneels down by his wife and takes her head and gently places it in his lap. He strokes her hair as he stares at her familiar face. My fixation on the scene ends when what sounds like a swarm of choppers fly above the coffee shop. Both Kenny and I quickly look up at the ceiling.
“We have to go back to the office! It’s not safe here! We have to go back!” he screamed.
“What?” I replied, unable to make out his exact words above the roar over our heads. Kenny looks at me, then fixes his gaze on the floor. After a few more seconds, he grabs me by the arm and pulls me up. He starts running towards the busted windows. As we make our way through the frame, I take a look back into the coffee shop. Was the old woman OK? Her daughter never came back. Was her daughter OK? What the hell is happening on the other side of these hollowed windows? As I turn back around, I see a backpack and a purse on the sidewalk. There is shattered glass everywhere and the noise is unbearable. At this point, everyone is running, and much like us, they don’t know what they’re running from. All of the sudden, a herd of men in full protective gear and semi-automated weapons turn the corner the coffee shop is on and run past us down 34th, never saying a word.
For the next couple of minutes it took us to tactfully make our way back to the office, Kenny and I were conjoined twins. I ran where he ran, ducked when he ducked, and stopped when he stopped. He always stood directly in front of me and didn’t let go of my wrist a single time. If he was scared, he didn’t look it. We finally make it to the office and run through what used to be the double glass doors. Inside, we see everyone gathered in the large kitchen. Dozens of gazes shoot towards us alarmingly as we run towards them.
“Oh my god, you guys, thank God!” Susannah proclaims as she hugs us both. I can’t manage to say anything. Instead, I just hug her for a few seconds longer than I normally do.
“What happened?” Kenny asks her.
“The power’s out and we have no reception. No one has a clue,” she replies.
“What’s it like out there? Were those choppers?” Scott asks as he makes his way towards us.
“ I don’t- I don’t know. We saw what could have been SWAT or National Guard or maybe Army run past us on the way here. I’m not sure who those guys were, but they didn’t say anything- just ran past us,” Kenny replied.
I take out my cell phone for the first time. She was right. No internet, no reception…. I start to panic. It’s all starting to set in. Fuck. FUCK! What do we do?
“Ken- Kenny… I’m scared. What do we do?” I whispered while moving closer towards him again. Think, Lily, think! “OK. OK,” I clear my throat. “Whatever is happening, it’s not fucking good, and honestly, where the fuck would we go right now? We have to stay put. We have to stay here, together.”
I hear a few people chatting towards the back of the group. A few seconds later, three people jog towards the door and split up once they make it to the street. It was Scott, Christina, and Amit. Why would they leave? Wait- they all have kids. They’re going to get their kids. I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t even consider that people might want to get to their families. I didn’t really think about the fact that no one would be coming for me. I suddenly feel overwhelming gratitude for having Kenny here.
“Lily is right- we should just stay put and wait. I know some of you have families, so that might not be an option for you.” Kenny said as he raised his voice enough to make sure everyone heard him. He’d made the same realization I had. I look around the room to see who else would be leaving. Dan and Nathan look conflicted. They have wives. I look at Susannah, who’s married, to see if she would be leaving too. Her gaze is fixed on Kenny — she doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere. I survey the room and count 14 of us before I’m interrupted by the sound of machine gun fire in the distance. A few people look bewildered. We should board up what used to be the door and the broken window. “We should board up the-” half the group starts shoveling towards furniture before I finish my sentence. They move the couch, bookshelf, and a couple of desks towards the entry way. Kenny and I head for a desk and tilt it to board up the window. It isn’t much, but it makes me feel better.
The group splits up into smaller groups and disperses throughout the office. I head towards a conference room, wanting to be alone for a few moments, but Kenny follows me. The room is dark and has no windows. It’s more quiet.
“It’s going to be alright, Lils. We’re going to be fine.”
“Shut the fuck up, Kenny.”
I sit on the floor in a corner. He sits in the opposite corner.
Everyone is not going to be fucking fine. This situation is not “alright”. I weigh the odds of my own death. Would it be so bad if I didn’t make it? What if Sarah died? Wow. I deserve to die- did I just wish Sarah died? What if I didn’t die, but Kenny did? I would rather die. Shut up, Lils! You’re just making yourself feel worse.
“Kenny, tell me again about how it’s going to be alright.”
Kenny doesn’t reply. Maybe he thinks I’m just being sarcastic or mocking him. Maybe he regrets being stuck here with me. I wouldn’t want to be stuck here with me.
I close my eyes and lean my head back against the wall. I take a deep breath and let my shoulders sink down. I’m on the honeymoon to the Maldives that I never took. I look out in front of me and see clear, calm, translucent water that runs far and wide into the horizon. My toes are warm as I bury them further into the sand. I look to my right and see that I’m not alone. He takes my hand and our fingers interlace. I hold his gaze and he holds mine. I feel loved. We turn our heads back towards the water and start slowly walking into the blue.