Another Day Begins
By: Tanya Babich

The coils of the old mattress will creak just at a specific moment, where you are almost up but not quite. So I have to carefully pry myself from the bed before the dog can hear me. I get dressed in the dark, the clothes sitting on the floor near the bed. I slip into the hallway and make sure not to completely close the bedroom door; it will make too loud a sound just before you close it. My feet, covered in white socks, glide over the slippery porcelain tiles, while I hold a pair of shoes in one hand. I carefully close the front door. In the dark I sit at the edge of the stairs in the hallway. I put the shoes on and weave the house key between the laces of the left shoe. The emergency information tag is on the right shoe. I look at it and wonder what its point is after I’m dead. And then it begins, the feeling of getting drowned, being murdered with a pillow, being stabbed with a knife – all at the same time. My eyes fill with tears but I cannot cry, I cannot scream. In silence, I let it pass while reminding myself that soon it will be over; that I just need to breathe, that something good is coming. And then, when it’s all over, I scold myself for being so stupid, for letting it all get to me. I try to be tough and instruct myself to just say fuck everyone.

I know not to press the timed, buzzing light switch in the hall - it always wakes the Chihuahua on the second floor. So, again, in the dark, I walk down the thirteen stairs of each floor and turn, holding the banister. Walking like this, in the dark, in a spiral motion, is almost therapeutic. I think if I go fast enough maybe at some point I will just disappear into the vortex of this building. When I reach the main entrance door and step onto the sidewalk, the air is cold and for a second I wish I was still in bed, under the blankets, sleeping… or maybe dead. The street lights are still lit. The shadows from the old lanterns mounted on the sides of these stone buildings remind me of the gossiping, disapproving housewives that stand on the balconies during the day, watching everyone passing by on the street. I start to walk on these old cobblestone streets and I imagine the men that cut and placed each stone together, the many passengers that have walked and driven over them, polishing them for hundreds of years. These streets see many people, but not at this time of the day. This is the time long after the drunkards have left the empty bottles in now empty bars and have hobbled to their empty homes. This is the time just after the shameless lovers have left their one-night empty relationships and escaped to their own empty beds. The streets are empty of people now; and I feel as if they were made just for the empty me. I reach the plaza and notice that the lights overhead are starting to turn off. Soon, the sun will be out. I walk faster. I can see my breath in the cold air, my skin covered with goose bumps, my muscles tense. I walk even faster.

Soon I reach the hill with pines and this is where I feel at ease. The smell is intense, as if the trees were some recently bathed handsome stranger passing by, whose wet hair still carries the shampoo scent. The smell is intoxicating, addictive and all I do is breathe deeper and deeper, as if sitting in the doctor’s office. This is where the rage, anger, and fear come out, and I start running as fast as my feet will carry me. My anger wants to carry me to the end of the earth, all through the pine trees. There, as if it was a conveyor belt, I would disappear, drop off into the blue crushed velvet ocean down below, packaged into some coffin of mass produced nobodies, shipped off to a warehouse of the forgotten. Out of this anger, my feet stomp and each time I take another step I can feel the dried pine needles underfoot, as if I were barefoot. Soon I’m no longer angry, and I just keep moving, my legs one in front of the other, turning onto whichever curved path looks the best. Here I don’t need to have a certain speed, there are no muscles to target, or technique to follow; here I just feel. I feel the crusty bark, the bent branches, the sappy needles. Here there is no fear of silence, silence which I always attempt to fill with words, just so I don’t think, just to keep my mind at bay. Here I just feel, I imagine, I recall the past. I look at the shapes of the trees and think of old ladies with hunched backs, holding canes. I remember my grandmother, her delicate wrinkly hands and her warm inquisitive brown eyes. I wonder what I will look like when I get old. Here, among the pines, I feel at home, a home full of warm memories. As a child, walking among the pine trees, I realized for the first time in my life how big my father’s hands were as he held mine. The pines remember the buried treasure I found, an intricate pocket watch that no longer worked, with a lover’s inscription inside. On a folded pine branch I sat with that too-pretty-for-me boy, whose name I can no longer remember, as we kissed for the first time.

My body tells me to slow down and all I want to do is run even faster. This is the point where I finally cry; I let the tears running down the side of my cheeks dry in place. I deceive myself, thinking, “Just until the next bend,” and then I keep going further. I keep going until I no longer feel my feet or my legs. There is a body and then there is me, running with the pine trees. The legs run and the gaze occasionally slows down when distracted by the birds, the lizards, the squirrels.  The sun is slowly seeping through the branches. Pretty soon it is going to get warm, the smell of rushed always-late-to-work javas will overpower the smell of the pine trees; the tourists wearing piña colada sunscreen will show up; the jack-hammer men will start their hard physical labor consoling themselves by whistling at the beautiful women on the streets; the yacht dwellers will leave their big plastic toys and walk out in their perfectly ironed casual clothes, smelling like Coco Chanel, walking their matching designer lap dogs. I turn around and run back. This time my pace is slow and steady, following the placid waves crushing on the rocks down below. The soft wind embalms me. During this time I forget all about my fears, my constant worries, the time ticking away, escaping through my fingers like warm sand from the beach below. There is no red second hand on a clock going tick-tick-tick – just a soothing rocking of everything in this place, my lullaby. Here, in this beautiful moment, I just let myself be.

As I open the front door, I curse being alive yet another day; I regret my life, the noise of everything, the noise in my head, the anxious, arrhythmic, beat of my heart. I wish I could turn back and run away into the woods. Someone is putting dishes in the sink, I smell burnt toast, the cat is jumping onto the kitchen counter, the dog is barking, my brother is yelling at my nephew for playing video games so early in the day. I wish I could put on a customer-service smile and say good morning but I don’t say anything, yet. My eyes want to well up and I want to cry but I don’t. And then I see my little niece seeking me. In her pajamas, with a pacifier in her mouth, she motions for me to pick her up. Her small arms wrap around my neck.  As she closes her big melancholic crushed-velvet blue eyes, she rests her still sleepy head on my shoulder. Her pure heart beats in sync with my heart now filled with the calmness of the pine trees; her breathing almost sounds like the washing of the waves on rocks. And for a very short moment I feel at peace again, as another day begins.