THERE IS A PERSON ABOUT TO COMMIT SUICIDE WHERE THE TWIN TOWERS USED TO BE
WORLD TRADE CENTER
I have within me two towers.
Towers. That was not the word the oncologist used to define them. He said small cell lung cancer, in a voice that must’ve been even smaller than the cancer, and placed in front of my face an MRI image of the two paper bags I carry in my chest. The picture should be like a Rorschach test, black and white only, had not been the towers. But there they were, two big splashes of red painted in the glossy paper. Like two frozen splashes of blood made by Jackson Pollock. “The colorful marking shows where the cancerous cells are.”
“Well, it’s harder seeing where they aren’t, right, doc?”
Maybe he didn’t want to face my reaction, that’s why he built between us a wall with evidence that I was, indeed, dying. But my reaction was quite simple to deal with: “They look like towers”.
They did. The red stalagmites started thicker in the bottom and raised thin fingers up in the internal air that I absorbed. That's why I had been so exhausted the past months. It wasn’t because of a life of nine hours of daily work, desk lunches, unpaid student debt. It was cancer. Nah, I’m sure it was just life.
The voice of the doctor I had first met two weeks prior, recommended by my physician, who heard something weird when the stethoscope touched it’s metallic ear my back, snapped me out of my self-induced self-pity fest. I was back to an excellent hospital in south Manhattan.
“The cancerous cells are in an advanced stage of metastasis. Very advanced. I’m sorry.”
An excellent hospital in south Manhattan that couldn’t do anything to help me.
“Buy me a drink first, doc.”
I laugh clearly, like someone who does not have two towers blocking the sun from shining in her lungs.
“I am sorry,” he repeats.
“Don’t be, you didn’t do it yourself. He did.” I take the pack of Marlboros out of my knock-off last season YSL bag, whose piton texture must emulate the inner wall of my lungs, and look at it. First with a smile made for co-workers. Then, with eyes ajar, softened by memories of the good times we had together. And then I squint with the lust that comes with love.
I kiss my pack of cigarettes. Kiss it real good, tongue twisting, lips twerking, the works. (I forget not to close my eyes to see the oncologist’s face while I french kiss my 16 dollar boyfriend in a box) After making out with my cigarette pack, I rescue one of the tiny chimneys out of the box.
“Is there something else you want to say?”
No, the doctor has nothing more to say. The cigarette is halfway gone when I leave New York Presbyterian without saying goodbye. The fire alarm is sounding. A farewell might have been too melodramatic, considering I am, well, saying goodbye anytime soon.
It’s 10 am and I’m sober. This is not an AA applause triggering phrase. I’m sober. Really sober, for the first time. All of the drunkenness of life, dreams and plans that exist only to relief the impossibility of the now, are gone. And you are there and all is there too. Gone. All is sober. The autumn sun. Sober. The businessmen, a category of humans far away from having conscience of death. Sober. New York City. Sober.
The most wasted city in the world is sobered up, and is just a jaw made of stone teeth with 10 million of pieces of flesh stuck between them. The city is laughing at us, not with us. Behind ordinary buildings, one stands tall, as if it were too rich and was practicing yoga while all of the other constructions were slouching in its business desks, eating five dollars sandwiches.
That mirrored building. Pristine. As if it’s clothes had been ironed before it left home. The city’s canine tooth. The needle of the compass that points up, always up. And that attracts me as if I’m made of steel. When I realize, I’m under it’s shadow.
The World Trade Center is a void. Or a plaza, as they came to call voids lately. The tallest building in town and nothing around it. Or plenty of more, if you are into holes. There are two graves where the previously taller towers in town stood.
The land is scarred by their absence. And an enormous new tower was raised by it. A metaphor for life and death, or just real estate operating? There are two towers growing inside of me. This one tower grew in a few years. Mine did in a few months. I’ve beat you, New York. Ha.
I look inside the first pool. They call the holes pools. It’s outer space contained inside a cove. There is another pool, smaller, in the very center, that appears to be endless. A matrioska of voids. I get closer. And closer. I remove my stilettos in order to take a closer look. A giant empty Marlboro box.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t think you can stand there”
A Brooklynite yells while my right foot steps in the name Joseph. The metal is slippery and cold, just like ice. But it’s warm-able. The left foot steps in “nita”, part of Juanita. I’m erect as the tower.
I stare into the Rubik's cube of nothing, surrounded by concrete and a thin layer of ever-running water.
“Hey lady!” shouts a raspy New Yorker voice. A woman who has had half the sex she wanted in her life and smoked twice the cigarettes she would have liked.
A thousand names watch me from underneath as I stand on the edge of life. Am I here to punish myself? To show that my death is small? Unremarkable? Congrats, me, if that was the goal. Death is not new. It’s the oldest invention of mankind. But the story is so different when is happening to you. Well, name me a death that wasn't cliche. And the world does: 3.000 names of people who died inscribed in bronze beneath my feet.
I take a deep breath. Lungs don’t fail me now.
And I let go.
And I jump.
I jump to the opposite direction of the void. A pathetic jump that makes me fall four feet, tops, on my knees, hurting only my dignity. The wind pats me in the nape as I kneel down where my shoes are, and rescue them to put them back on like a self-serving Cinderella. Very empowered.
“You fucked up meth head,” says the same woman. I have never tried meth, she reminds me with her cigarette-y voice. Maybe it’s time to give my lungs a treat. I pick up my shoes and stand up to put them on, with one feet up -- this shows how sober I am.
“Do you need help?” The Brooklynite touches my shoulder, lightly like pigeon paws.
“Who doesn’t? But you don’t need to be all concerned, sir. This was just art. I’m a famous Albanian performance artist. Marina Abramović, have you heard of me?”
“What?” He looks at me thinking I’m insane, but for the wrong reasons. I look one last time at the void. And I leave.
I head to a McDonalds across Fulton street, where I’ll spend the next hour talking to a tattooed writer who is giving up on New York City after two weeks here. “People are cold like buildings in this place,” he wines over nuggets.
As for me, I won’t go anywhere. While I’m able, I’ll stand. Cause that is what ten million towers in this city do. They stand.