Read Run you down Online

Authors: Julia Dahl

Run you down

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For Joel

 

PART 1

 

CHAPTER ONE

AVIVA

Florida was not as I imagined. There was no ocean where your father lived, that was the first thing. This had not occurred to me; in Florida but no beach for fifty miles? Brian pointed out the swimming pools, and yes, they seemed to be everywhere. It’s so much better than the beach, he said. The water is clean and you don’t get sand all over. Your father was very good at a sport called water polo, which was why he looked the way he did. Wide, smooth chest, strong shoulders, bronzed skin, and blond-tipped hair. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. All he did was smile. I had never seen a man’s body until the afternoon your father took his shirt off and we jumped into the fountain in Washington Square Park. The men and boys in Borough Park were always covered in black clothing. They were skinny or fat and had bad posture, arms too long for their bodies. Untrimmed fingernails, bony wrists, and stiff little hairs growing out of their faces. They were always so serious—at least around me—and they seemed so frightened of the world outside Brooklyn.

Your father was not frightened of the world. Brian came to New York City to participate in a summer exchange program at NYU. He was taking a class called The Bible as Literature, and as part of the program he worked at a YMCA in the Village. He taught swimming and was horrified when he learned I couldn’t swim. You have to learn! he said, as serious as I had ever seen him. But I avoided it. I tried to explain, when he told me the pool was better than the ocean, that going to the ocean wasn’t about going in the water, it was about witnessing the water. The waves that never stop coming. The wind and the sand and the salt in the air that leaves your skin stiff and your hair in knots. I loved the long showers I took after going to the beach. I loved that I had to wash it off. But the first time I took your father to Coney Island, he remarked about the garbage. What could I say? He did not see it as I did. He wanted to. He said, Aviva, tell me what it means to you. But how could I? There were no words I could think of to make him see.

To get to Florida, we took the bus from Port Authority. Brian bought me a duffel bag at the NYU student store, but I brought almost nothing with me. Just some cheap new clothes that showed my body, and a photograph of me and your namesake, my sister Rivka, the summer before she died. The ride south was thirty-two hours of sticky floors and sneezing strangers and body odor and anticipation. At a truck stop in Virginia there was food on a conveyor belt. Heaping meals of greasy brown and yellow and white that glowed beneath heat lamps. In North Carolina we put quarters into televisions attached to hard plastic chairs and watched a game show while we waited for a transfer. There was vomit in the sink of the rest stop in Georgia. Bloody menstrual pads overflowing the courtesy bins in the bathroom stalls. Door latches broken, coffee burnt, half-dressed women, dead-eyed men, inconsolable children, and everywhere fluorescent bulbs blinking and buzzing overhead. It was all ugliness and sorrow—exactly as I’d been warned the goyish world would be. I touched as little as I could manage and ate almost nothing.

On the way, Brian and I talked about what I would “do” in Florida. You can totally find a job, he said. At the mall. Or TCBY—whatever that was. I nodded because I didn’t care. I just wanted out of Brooklyn. And your father, well, he wanted me.

It was raining when we finally arrived in Orlando. Your father’s roommate, I don’t remember his name, picked us up at the bus station and brought us to Brian’s room at the university. We climbed together onto the top bunk of his bed and slept for almost an entire day.

Your father was wonderful, of course. Supportive and loving even as it all fell apart. He used to say I deserved a little rebellion—a little bad behavior. He said it was good for me after almost twenty years with no choices. You have to learn what you like, he said. You have to learn what makes you happy. Rum and Coke made me happy. My bare legs exposed to the world made me happy. Rock music turned up loud so I could sing along and not even hear my voice made me happy. Eyeliner made me happy. And red nail polish. And smoking pot. I called it “doing pot” then, which made your father laugh. Let’s do some pot, Brian, I’d say. Let’s do some pot and fuck. “Fuck” was a word I learned from a girl at the Coney Island house who’d fled ashidduchand had a job selling sex toys at a store on West Fourth Street in Manhattan. She was the one who told me to go to the Strand and buy a book calledOur Bodies, Ourselvesto learn all the things about my body that I didn’t know—and there was a lot. Your father didn’t like it when I said fuck. He said making love. But that didn’t sound right to me. Frum girls learn about sex in secret. In shards of stories that don’t fit together into anything that involves love. We’re not supposed to know about sex until we get engaged, and then they send us to a class before the wedding where an old woman tells us how to make a baby.

Brian and I lived in his dorm room. No one could tell by looking that I wasn’t a student, and it was the beginning of the school year so people seemed to expect new faces. While he went to classes, I slept late and walked around the campus. Some frum girls go to college, but they live at home until they marry. Even in July, we wear long sleeves and stockings. Everything from our neck to our toes is covered all the time. The boys call it body armor. But the girls in Florida wore bikini tops to class. They drove little cars with figurines and photographs and beads hanging from the rearview mirrors. They drove with ease. Careless, with bare feet, applying lip gloss at stoplights. Their arms out the window, fingers flicking cigarettes, hands tapping the side of the car to the beat of the music that was always playing. That’s Madonna, your father would tell me. Or the Eagles. Or Bon Jovi. The names meant nothing to me, but the music, and everything else about the girls, made me want to jump in their windows—made me want to jump in their skin. I studied how they dressed and did my best to imitate it. I loved the feeling of the sun on my arms. The sensation of breeze between my legs beneath a short skirt. I wore very little. Why not? And theboys. Tan and smiling all the time. Tall, with smooth shaved faces, bare necks, and hairstyles nearly as diverse as the girls: bleached blond spikes and wild black waves, bangs falling in their eyes so they had to brush them aside with a jerk of the head. Their hair told me a story about who they were. If you were lucky enough to live in a world where you could use your body as an expression of yourself, wouldn’t you? I had the idea that I could tell what they were like inside by the way they appeared: that one must be goofy, that one timid, that one angry. They noticed me when I walked alone, and after just a few days I stopped looking away when they stared. I imagined that because so many of them looked athletic and cheerful like Brian that they were like Brian. I was wrong.

At the end of September, a boy started talking to me while I was drinking a Coke outside the gym. Girls played tennis there, and I liked to watch them. In Borough Park, girls are taught that physical maturity is a provocation. As we grow, we grow ashamed of our bodies. We dislike the parts of ourselves that make us different from the boys. We hide those parts as best we can. Not these girls. They were so confident, so wild and at ease inside their bodies—throwing themselves after the ball, slapping each other’s hands, shrieking and laughing, always laughing.

“Do you play?” asked the boy. He was wearing a tank top and holding the strap of his backpack so I could see the wisps of light brown hair peeking from beneath his armpit.

“Me?” I asked. I shook my head.

“I’m Chris,” he said.

“I’m Aviva,” I said.

“Aviva,” he said. “That’s pretty.” He had perfect white teeth and blond hair that was longer in the front than in the back. He almost glowed in the sunlight. “Is this your first year?”

I nodded.

“I’m a junior,” he said, sitting down on the bench next to me. “It’s a pretty cool place. What hall do you live in?”

I didn’t remember the name. In fact, I hadn’t been entirely clear there was an official name for the building where your father had a room. So I told the truth.

“I do not go to school here. I am just staying for a while with my boyfriend.”

“Your boyfriend,” he said, drawing out the word. “And where is he now?”

“In class,” I said.

“He just leaves you alone all day?” He leaned toward me and I caught a faint whiff of his sweat. But it didn’t make me want to lean back—it made me want to lean closer. “If I were your boyfriend I wouldn’t leave you alone for other guys to come hit on.”

“If you were my boyfriend?” I said, dumbly. He was so forward. I remember I was shocked, although I hated myself for it. It was very important to me that other people saw me as brave. I’d escaped Brooklyn, hadn’t I? But bravery is no substitute for experience, and at that point I could count on two hands the conversations I’d had with boys I wasn’t related to. Your father and I started talking because we were both in the religion aisle of the bookstore. We had probably been standing within five feet of each other for half an hour before he said hello. Navigating a conversation with a boy like this, a boy who was flirting with me for no other reason than that he liked the way I looked—that was advanced non-frum behavior. And back then I was only a beginner.

“I’m just saying,” he said, knocking his shoulder into mine. It was sweaty hot and our skin stuck together for an instant. His eyes were a kind of golden green, and he focused on nothing but me. I could kiss him and Brian would never know.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

I blushed. He knows, I thought. Next he’ll say, You’re one ofthosegirls, and walk away laughing. Now I know that he could no sooner have imagined the world I came from than he could have imagined life on the moon.

“I’m from New York,” I said.

“Your accent is sexy.”

Your father was the first person to tell me I spoke English with an accent. My first language was Yiddish; we spoke Yiddish at home and Yiddish in school. According to your father, my voice was also lower than most girls. Just like this boy in the tank top, he’d called it sexy.

“You should come to El Cinco tonight,” said Chris. “It’s two-for-one margaritas.”

“Okay.” I didn’t know what a margarita was.

“Bring your boyfriend,” he said, standing up, grinning. Grinning the whole time. “Or maybe don’t.”

I told your father I met someone near the tennis courts who said there was a good time at El Cinco tonight.

“See? You’re already making friends,” he said. “I knew people would love you as soon as they got to know you.”

He told some of his friends to meet us at the restaurant, and we all sat around a table with margaritas coming and going and chips and salsa for free. The music was loud and everyone had to scream over it. People were dancing by the bar and after two margaritas—they tasted like Slurpees from the 7-Eleven—I got up and said I wanted to dance. Your father held my waist as we walked through the crowd. We danced and I drank another margarita. I waved my arms in the air and felt my shirt lift up, exposing the skin of my belly. I twisted my hips and kissed your father, right there in front of everyone. He pulled me close and whispered in my ear that he loved me. I love you,Aviva, he said. I love you, too, I said.

I had to go to the bathroom, but there was a line. I stood for a minute and as soon as I stopped moving, I knew I’d had too much to drink. I closed my eyes and felt sick to my stomach, so I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. The girls around me didn’t say a word. I put my head between my legs. Everything was spinning and lopsided. And then a hand grabbed mine.

“Aviva!” It was Chris. He pulled me up. “Uh-oh, too many margaritas! Where’s your boyfriend? Come on, come here, you just need some water.” He pulled me into the men’s bathroom, which had no line. I went straight to the toilet, and up came the lime-flavored drinks and salsa chunks. I threw up twice. Chris held my hair. When I was done he gave me a wet paper towel to wipe my mouth.

“Feel better?” he asked. I nodded, but I didn’t really feel better. Where was Brian? Chris reached for my hands and pulled me up and close to him, locking an arm around my waist. He kissed my neck, and in one motion slid the strap of my bra and tank top down my shoulder, letting my left breast fall out. He grabbed it and squeezed my nipple. I tried to squirm out of his arm but he held me tight.

“No,” I said.

“No?” he said, grinning, his cold hand kneading my breast like dough, pulling at it. He pushed me against the wall and put his mouth on mine, shoving his tongue between my lips. I twisted my head sideways and he moved his lips to my neck. “What’s the matter?” he said. And then he grabbed my hair and turned me around so my face was pressed against the greasy tile wall. I teetered on my high-heeled shoes and he righted me. He pressed one hand against the back of my head, and with the other he pulled my waist toward him and put his hand under my skirt, his clumsy fingers pushed aside my underwear, which, like everything else I was wearing that night, was new, still a kind of costume. Six months before I wore underwear my mother bought me. Big, thick “full-coverage” cotton underwear with tight elastic hugging the tops of my thighs and a waist at my belly button. I thought: If I was wearing my old underwear it would be harder for him to get in. I thought: I’ve brought this on myself. He shoved his hand up. I felt his fingernails scratch me and that’s when I thought of you. It was the moment I admitted you were inside me. I had allowed myself to ignore the fact that I hadn’t had my period in two months, but I could not let this boy hurt you. He took his hand off my head to open his pants and I struck him in the face with my elbow. He stopped smiling and stumbled backward and I ran to the door. It was a little latch lock, a flimsy nothing. Why didn’t Brian break in? I got it open with shaking fingers and burst into the hallway. One of the girls was still in line for the bathroom. We looked at each other and she pointed to my chest.

“Pull your shirt up,” she said.

I ran through the loud music to the front door and out of the bar. People were drinking beer from cans and smoking cigarettes on the patio. A different song was playing over speakers hidden in palm trees above our heads. I found a chair and sat down but stood back up immediately because it hurt to sit. I wondered if I was bleeding. I didn’t know how to get back to Brian’s room, but I couldn’t go back inside to bring him out to me. I was scared Chris would see me, and I was scared to try to walk home alone, and I was scared that if I told Brian what happened he would blame me. I stood on the patio shivering in the heat for a long time. People just moved around me. Finally, your father came outside.

“Aviva, are you okay? What happened?” He reached up to smooth my hair and I flinched.

“I got sick,” I said. “I fell. Can we go home now?”

“Of course,” he said.

When we got back to his room I climbed into bed in my clothes. I slept until noon the next day and woke to find Brian studying at his desk. He asked how I was feeling and I told him I was going to have a baby. When he asked me to marry him an hour later, I said yes.

 

CHAPTER TWO

REBEKAH

Every night I go to bed telling myself that I will call her tomorrow. And every morning I wake up knowing that I won’t. It’s been almost two months and I can still hear the gunshot in my ear. The doctor said the ringing would go away, but apparently not yet. I went back to theTribtwo weeks after I came home from the hospital. My job is different, though, at least for now; instead of rushing from scene to scene, I’m in the office for the late rewrite shift. It’s supposed to be a step up because it means the editors think that in addition to being able to gather information, I can figure out what information is important enough to include in the article, and actually write the article myself. I come in at 2:00P.M.and stay until 10:00P.M.I sit at an old computer in one of several semicircles of old computers that make up the newsroom. Stringers, my former compatriots, call in their notes about dead bicyclists and celebrity nightclub shenanigans and corrupt hospital CEOs and police shootings, and I turn them into column inches. I also “rewrite” stories from other, often dubious, news sources. The British tabloids are the worst. They’re almost never right in the end, but we always print their stuff anyway—with “allegedly” and “reportedly” sprinkled throughout.

When I’m not at work, I sleep. Tony, the guy I was dating for a couple months, is out of the picture. I didn’t exactly mean to stop returning his texts, but I never really want to go out—or have anyone come visit—so it felt pointless to keep things going. He came over one last time at the end of February and said he really liked me but that it was clear I wasn’t ready to be involved in something. He was right.

In early March, my roommate Iris starts bugging me to go to the psychiatrists-in-training at Columbia.

“They charge on a sliding scale,” she tells me, looking all interested. We’re sitting on the couch—which is basically the only place I see her anymore. It’s Saturday evening and we’ve been arguing because she’s meeting some people we know for margaritas and Mexican food, but I’m not going.

“It’ll be like fifty bucks,” she says. “I’ll pay half.”

“You’re not paying for my shrink,” I say.

“I’ll pay for your margaritas if you come tonight.”

“I don’t feel like it, okay?”

Iris closes her laptop and gets up.

“You know you’re not acting right,” she says.

She says that a lot these days.

The next week, Iris makes me an appointment and I agree by not canceling it. She takes a morning off work and we ride the A train to 168th Street together. The magazines in the waiting room are several weeks old, which, for some reason, pisses me off.

“I can’t believe I let you drag me here,” I say.

Iris rolls her eyes. “Don’t be a bitch about this, please? Living with you has gottenhard. It’s obvious you’re depressed. Just face it, please, and let’s move on.”

“I don’t have depression, Iris, I have anxiety.”

“Well, I’ve done the online tests and you aredefinitelydepressed. I checked every box. Lack of energy, lack of interest in things that you once enjoyed, excessive sleeping, irritability. Come on. You weren’t like this last year. You gotta get your shit together.”

A woman calls my name before I can retort. Not that I had a retort. Even sighing seems like a lot of effort. I stand up and approach the woman, who looks just a few years older than me.

“I’m Anna,” she says. I shake her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. Follow me?”

We walk down a wide hallway and into a tiny room with two chairs and a small table with a lamp, a clock, and a box of Kleenex on it. There’s a framed poster of a field of flowers on the wall. She sits and I sit across from her.

“What can I help you with?” she asks.

I run my hand over my head. It’s become a tic. Touching the soft, sharp fuzz where my long hair used to be grounds me in what happened, reminds me it was real. “My roommate thinks I’m depressed.”

“What do you think?”

I shrug. “She sort of dragged me here.”

“Why do you think she did that?”

“Because she’s worried about me.”

Anna remains unfazed. She is schooled, I suppose, in humoring people.

“What do you think makes her worried?”

“I’ve been sleeping a lot.”

“What is a lot?”

“Basically, if I’m not at work, I’m asleep.”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I’m a reporter,” I say, and somewhere, below all the heavy blackness inside me, a tiny light flicks on when I do. I love saying I’m a reporter. It makes me feel strong. “I work for theTrib.”

“Difficult work, I imagine,” she says.

I almost laugh. “Sometimes, yeah. Mostly I’m in the office right now, though.”

“Is the amount of sleep you’re getting now unusual for you?”

“I guess.”

“Why do you think you’re sleeping so much?”

“I guess because I’m depressed.”

She nods. “Is depression something you’ve dealt with before?”

“Not really. It’s always been anxiety with me.”

“Have you ever been treated for anxiety?”

“Oh yeah,” I say. “I was in therapy most of college. And I still take medication.”

She asks me for names and dosages. I give them.

“And are you seeing anyone for therapy now?”

I shake my head.

“So how are you getting these medications prescribed to you?”

“My regular doctor, at home,” I say.

“Where is home?”

“Orlando.”

“And when was the last time you saw this doctor?”

“Um, last year. Like, May, maybe.”

“And this has worked for you until recently.”

“Pretty much.”

“Has something happened, some life event, a stressor in the past few months that might have triggered something?”

Again, I almost laugh.

“Yeah,” I say. “Definitely some stressors.” I tell her about Rivka Mendelssohn’s naked body, and Saul, and my mother suddenly surfacing after twenty-two years. Moving my mouth is hard. I haven’t spoken this many words in a row in weeks.

“It’s not unusual for a symptom like anxiety to morph into or remanifest as depression. Or vice versa. I’d like to prescribe you a medication that is specifically indicated for people experiencing both depression and anxiety.” She explains the dose and the side effects (sleep disturbance, loss of libido, headaches—basically what I’m already experiencing) and walks me out to the waiting room to make me an appointment to come back in a month.

“Call me if you have any questions,” she says, handing me a card. “It was very nice to meet you, Rebekah.”

I let Iris fill the prescription that night, because, why not? The shrinks and their prescriptions were the net that caught me in college when the lies and contradictions and despairs of my motherless childhood nearly felled me. Two weeks later, Saul calls and I pick up the phone. He asks to take me to lunch and I agree to meet him.

The Kosher Kitchen is a narrow storefront on Atlantic Avenue between a halal meat market and an old botanica selling dusty Blessed Virgin candles. The proximity of this threesome makes me smile, genuinely, for the first time in weeks. The Jewish restaurant next to the Muslim butcher next to the Christian reliquary. I love New York.

Saul is at the counter when I get there. A couple is sitting at one of the tables: he with a beard and the black coat-and-pants uniform, she in a glossy auburn wig. Another young man is working on a laptop. Every male in the restaurant, including the black barista, is wearing a yarmulke. I hop onto the stool next to Saul.

“It’s still so cold,” I say, unzipping my winter coat.

“The people on the television say it’s going to get warm soon,” Saul says.

“Not soon enough,” I say. “It’s almost April, for Christ’s sake.” Twenty-two years in Florida and it never occurred to me until recently how much sunshine was a part of my life. The cold makes me feel smaller and less consequential. My reactions are slower. Even if I weren’t depressed I’d hate going outside.

“It must be difficult adjusting to the weather,” says Saul.

“It is,” I say. “I guess eventually I’ll get used to it.”

“Do you think you’ll stay here, long term?”

“That’s the plan,” I say. “There’s nothing in Florida. I mean, even where there’s something there’s nothing. Not compared to New York.”

The menu is written on the wall in chalk. We both order tea and decide to split a smoked fish platter with bagel chips.

“I’ve never been to a kosher restaurant before,” I say.

“This one is new.”

“How have you been?” I haven’t seen Saul since right after I got out of the hospital. Since he told me my mother wanted to get in touch.

“Not bad,” he says. “What about you?”

I shrug. “Just work, mostly. I’m feeling a little better, I guess. My ear still rings.”

“It’ll go away eventually,” he says.

“That’s what I hear,” I say. And then: “Oh, ha. I didn’t mean…”

Saul smiles.

“I haven’t called Aviva,” I say. “But maybe you already know that.”

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