To Die Alone

AniahI went walking down the street on Friday afternoon with a friend who was lamenting his love life, or the dim prospect of the demise of his love life. This makes no sense because his love life is in tiptop shape. The one he has can’t imagine life without him. I have this on very good information. But in the vein of “anything can happen” he added: “I look at you and I’m like, oh my god, am I going to die alone too?”

He didn’t mean anything by it, really. We laughed and laughed. Oh my! What a thing to say. He added: “I mean, it’s just that someone like XXX gets to be married and have a baby and then you’ve been just like, constantly getting fucked over. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Do some people deserve to be fucked over more than others and then, once suitably fucked over, reach a point of being capable of anything, any kind of malice, any kind of fucking over if they feel like it, having already resigned themselves to this business of being the odd one out, of dying alone?

Well. What’s so wrong with being alone anyway? Why this boring integrant clamor for company, for some other soul to suffer every irate comment, every desperate, accursed search for the laundry card, every tearing up over some lousy (often pet-related) thing spotted online? If I have to suffer through one more crummy date with one more man from whom I will only slip away forever, whom I will only never see again, would I not be better off spending that same amount of time in my bathtub, the door closed behind me and a copy of The Beautiful and the Damned dipping low, taking on water as I fall asleep, which is what I always do in the bathtub, only to wake, startled and digit-wrinkled, at 2 am, my own chin just above the line?

Will I die alone in the bathtub? Or will I die at the hand of another? Until this past weekend I had long felt proud, sure, that it would be the former—a comfortable basting in lavender salts to the great hereafter. But this weekend I was confronted with evidence of the latter.

A step-by-step Guide to What Happened:

1) Order food online, having resolved to watch as many Hepburn movies as one Friday night will reasonably allow.

2) Food arrives.

3) Open food.

4) Become engulfed in sustained, profound cloud of cigarette smoke with top notes of diesel and an overlay of armpit.

5) Call restaurant to inquire and to inform of canceled payment.

6) Add, vigorously, that this is “disgusting.”

7) Hear restaurant respond by posing the following provocative question: “Why don’t you shut your fucking mouth?”

8) Be sent over the moon on this one. Straight over the moon and into the galaxy where no reasonable thought can be formed or sustained. No sense of up, down, right, wrong.

The room went dark red and I seethed for the restaurant to wish it had never been born but, having been born, to wish only for death. I went blood-thirsty and filled with a whole new hunger.

It was the same flat, hard-edged rage that I suspect Aniah Ferguson tapped into earlier this week when she beat the living shit out of Ariana Taylor in a Brooklyn McDonald’s, an incident that obsessed many of my South Bronx students. Not a few of them personally know the girls involved, these members of a gang that goes by the tidy handle Young Savages.

That is particular. What is common: the infractions of different sizes and shapes that can lead to huge anger with which you must sit, alone. Was it worth it, Aniah? You scornful head-kicker, you in your purple bra, your shirt long since torn free and your postpartum 16-year-old belly bouncing with each landed blow? Was it worth it, the next 25 years of your life locked away, prosecuted as an adult under charges of gang violence? You’ll walk in the cell at 16 and walk out over 40. Will it have been worth it? An easy but also a hard question. Who has not known, seen, even tasted a bit of that same cold anger, that same desire to roll someone recklessly under a table, that Aniah displayed so fluidly, effortlessly?

“Once you have your first fight, you don’t fear it anymore,” a student explained to me. “All you have to do is go through it once, then it’s done. You won’t be afraid at all of a fight after that. You become fearless and that’s what makes you ruthless. That’s what lets you kick someone’s head in at a McDonald’s.”

Having no immediate head to kick in, I turned to the phone. The credit card company said Sorry, there’s nothing we can do in this case. You have received the product. When it comes to food, quality and presentation is subjective.

The online delivery company said, Let me try to work this out for you. What’s your number?

An interval of maybe twenty minutes passed.

When she called back she said, Well, I got your refund. But the restaurant manager was extremely hostile. Extremely. I thought you should know that.

I said thank you and settled onto the floor of my kitchen because now there were boiled noodles with butter and salt and red chili flakes which I had not wanted and which was not a meal, not much, but it was something and a fine reminder that you can and will fill your stomach by most if not any means necessary on Friday nights such as these.

Then my phone started ringing at the same time my buzzer started going bananas and the man was back at my door with a grimace and a phone of his own to his ear, the intercom showed. His phone-to-ear ratio appeared equivalent to my phone hopping-and-jumping-across-the-floor ratio.

I did feel fear. But also anger that propelled me to want to walk downstairs and rip the door off its hinges. But, too, the buzzer kept ringing and my phone kept ringing and I had an additional and very real feeling that this man would meet my words head-on with something like a fist or a knife or worse or more and it could become hard to get up again. There aren’t any tables to roll under down in my lobby.

Consider again the idea of dying alone and that, if murdered, you are not actually dying alone. You are in the company of your assailant.

I texted my friends.

I contemplated it alone.

I disconnected my buzzer and left it that way the next day and the day after that. It is still hanging on its disconnected hinges right this very second.

I cancelled plans.

I entered a number into my phone that reads: “insane takeout person”.

I backed up my computer in the event of a break-in and quietly tucked my jewelry, or what there is of jewelry including some lackluster pieces of fired clay mounted to pins created by small ones I have known and still love dearly, yes, all my jewelry went into hidden hiding places. Places I may or may not remember accurately months from now as I go to put one on. Anyway, battle stations. All that.

Maybe I should call him, I thought, in my renewed if hard-won silence. Or I could send a note:

Dear So-and-So,

No need to up your perpetual harassment. I have no garrison, no stable of burly types in the event we should encounter each other. I am alone. And yet, seeing as you have my name and my address and my telephone number, and I have only one of those three things that are yours, and yet, equally, we share for each other an abiding hatred, I acknowledge you have a leg up on me but there is mutuality in our intent.

After all, what greater insult could there be than simple disinterest and disregard? No, that’s not you. You’re not one for disinterest and disregard. You stood outside my door and leaned on my buzzer until I took the mechanics of the thing apart. You worked my phone over until that, too, was disassembled on the floor. You had me spending the rest of the night checking and double checking and checking again, just quickly checking, just let me just check, the locks on my front door and wondering, if it came to it, what I could use for self-defense—is this Santa handled butter knife an option? My cork screw? A dainty wire cheese cutter that wouldn’t really cut you so much as shave you, taking off the top two, maybe three, layers of epidermis and reddening your skin deeply if I should apply enough heated, angry pressure. The damn thing was made for Gouda and the harder cheeses of the Alps. (It does produce such miraculously thin slices of those fine cheeses.) Of your cheek, your forearm, I’m not so sure. I just don’t know. I’ve never been in a physical fight before.

Yet here I remain, buttressed if barely fortified, the takeout food long since trashed and my stomach, instead, noodle-swarmed, and there you are, visible on the screen of my intercom—buzzing and calling, pushing buttons. How closely I studied your face, your expression, and yet equally, too, the joints of the door. Any sign of cracks or, worse, any evidence of a resident approaching, an event that would bring you straight to me. You with me, the me you want to kill but who was, is, slated to die alone. How will we square this, oh insane takeout person?

Yours in the solidarity of mutual hatred and the way in which we are both alone on a Friday night, in grave harassment of each other and brandishing what weapons we can and will, in the city of perpetual disregard,