Sometimes when I was on the subway platform, when my heart was beating really fast, the train would come roaring down the tracks and the ground would shake beneath us, and it felt like my heart was a giant. As if it was so big, beating so hard, that everyone else on the platform could feel it too? So many times in those moments I wanted to yell, “I’m not crazy! Please, I’m not!” I knew it was silly to think that my heart could shake a subway station, but sometimes it really made sense; sometimes it was like there seemed no way that no one else could feel what I was feeling. And then the train would come rushing by.

More often than not my block in Bushwick was a catalyst for the worst of these breakdowns; and with the cemetery right there, not even three blocks away from our apartment, it wasn’t ridiculous to think that something was being disturbed, was it? My neighbors so often screaming at each other and I’d be walking past their paint-chipped house and I’d see this look on his face like at any second he might just bite her cheek and rip off the flesh; and you could see her cowering from his hand even though he hadn’t raised it yet. I’d get into my apartment finally and I could still hear them and I would just cry and cry and cry and Marco would say, “That’s just the way it is here.”

I figured that the city would harden me, but it did just the opposite. Leaving the restaurant once I saw one of my co-workers in a bar by himself. Smiling at his phone and drinking a beer. And I knew he was an alcoholic. And so I couldn’t help myself—I cried. And then I cried again about how stupid that was. Not because my tears amounted to nothing, but because he was smiling. He wasn’t sad, so why should I be?

When Marco broke up with me it was hard for him. We still lived together in that apartment and he had to deal with me twenty-four-seven, a mess, a living-breathing panicked mess. He told me that what he hated most was the apologies. Whenever I had an episode I would apologize and really (really) I just wanted his forgiveness. Because he had to put up with someone like me, and that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair either that I always choked up and killed the mood when he started dating Monique and started bringing her over on a semi-regular basis. Twice a week usually. Tuesdays and Thursday usually. That was a catalyst too; at the subway station on my way to work the train would rumble and my heart would be a giant and I wanted to yell! The thought of everything and anything they might be doing! And how could no one else feel the stupid-hard beating on the platform; weren’t we all connected?

Six months later our lease was up and Marco moved out; my new friend Syeeoo moved in with me. She was quiet but she never rebuked me for apologizing about things. She had two cats and I was allergic, but I really liked her cats. I just couldn’t play with them too often.

Across the street one day a man died in his car. And, before the police arrived, you could see the needle right there, on top of the center console in between the front seats.
“You didn’t need it! You could’ve just found me! I feel it too!” He was an older man. And he could’ve lived to be much older.

I got promoted to manager at the restaurant which was good because when Marco and that girl (not Monique, a different girl now) came in I could go downstairs to the office and hide. Eventually I had to come up to deal with a discrepancy between the bartender and one of the servers, and while I was up there I comp’d Marco and his new girl’s meal. The server for their table approached me a few minutes later and asked where the check went. I told him I’d comp’d it and he rolled his eyes and grunted because, “They probably won’t tip now.” Well, they ended up staying an hour past our closing and so I told the closing server to go home. I could handle it, I told him. Telling Marco and his girl that we’d closed an hour ago, and then Marco asking me, smirking, “We’re not getting anything else—is it fine if we sit here for a while?”

My heart beating, beating, beating, I told him, “You’ve already sat here a while. Maybe you should go sit somewhere else?” Marco wide-eyed, whistled. “Okay, okay. Relax.” “You relax!” I told him. “You shouldn’t have come here anyway! You know how I feel about you! And what happened to Monique?”

They left. And that server was right; they didn’t tip.

Eventually I had to quit that job. There were too many TV’s at the restaurant and at that time it was all election news. That’s all the customers could talk about too; who could blame them? Everyone connected to the world outside of themselves through technology was oversaturated with political news. And when it was on TV it was like a sort of hypnosis. It was for me anyway. Corruption. Greed. Blame. “That’s just the way it is here.” And all the normal faces everywhere! calm faces! unworried faces! faces that showed no sign of fear or dread!

The happiest day I’d had in a long time was the surprise birthday party Syeeoo threw for me. There were balloons. Champagne. Friends! There wasn’t cake, but someone brought salsa. I had one more year left before thirty—before I had to grow up and become an adult, as everyone joked. But the way I saw it, I’d already grown up. I was just missing something. Armor, maybe.

They sang me Happy Birthday and one guy could really sing. I cried. But this time it was because I was so in love!

In the summer of 2016, in the tar-hot lizard-lazy heat of early August, our neighbor’s daughter was sitting on the curb by herself; and if I wasn’t so attuned to it I wouldn’t have known she was crying. I sat down next to her but didn’t touch her. Because I knew. “That’s just the way the world is.” The girl didn’t seem to notice me at first, so I said something, but it was so mumbly that I couldn’t even hear it. When she looked up at me, her left eye already turning an eggplant-purple color, I felt like the train must’ve be coming down the tracks; my heart was a giant, but not in a special way. Like in the way that someone grows too tall too fast and can’t fit into any of their clothes anymore. Like in the way that they grew too fast and had to relearn how to walk, how to run, how to stand in public spaces without taking up too much room. She looked up at me and said, “What?” To which I broke, and let out a sob, and said, “I don’t know.” The girl wiped her eyes and set her face.

“It’s too much, isn’t it?” I asked. “The world? All the anger?” I paused. “Or maybe we’re too much? How do—how do you do it?”

“Do what?” the girl asked. She tried, probably because of me, to stop crying. But I could hear it in her voice.

“Be strong. Not be—too much—for anyone.”

The girl sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I ain’t too much for anyone. Everyone else is too little.

I wanted to think that way so bad. I thought as I got older I would, as if at thirty some magical checkpoint would be reached and some particular sort of strength would finally be bestowed upon me. But this little girl was only seven or eight-years-old. When I looked up she was going back into her parents’ house. Her hands were in fists. They seemed so big for a giant so young. She had the biggest hands I ever saw.


About Dakota Smith

Dakota James is a fiction writer from Texas, now in Brooklyn, New York. His short stories have appeared in various publications including Fiction on the Web, Write Out Publishing, and The Saturday Evening Post. James is also the personal assistant and devoted errand-boy to Theresa Rebeck.

Dakota James is a fiction writer from Texas, now in Brooklyn, New York. His short stories have appeared in various publications including Fiction on the Web, Write Out Publishing, and The Saturday Evening Post. James is also the personal assistant and devoted errand-boy to Theresa Rebeck.

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