An excerpt from

Breathe in Grace

I took a break from the recital and went to a small alcove near the Pound Ridge Community Center’s library. I would have smoked if I was still smoking but there is no smoking allowed anywhere in the world. Next to global warming, the worst thing that exists in the world is smoking. Third would be guns. I breathed deeply, something I do to replace cigarettes and to tamp down the constant low-grade anxiety I’ve lived with since I was a kid. I do mantras: breathe in grace/breathe out anger, breathe in pride/breathe out shame, breathe in clarity/breathe out confusion. . . . …Sometimes the anxiety is high-grade. Then I have to take drastic measures, like a ten-mile run, or a weekend of good bourbon, or bad bourbon, it doesn’t matter.

It’s this anxiousness that got me thrown off the NYPD. (It also got me ejected from the Army, the end result of an incident I was involved in in Samarra in 2004. I will get to that later). Don’t panic, I didn’t kill anybody. I broke a guy’s jaw and both arms one night when I was moonlighting as a half-assed security guard. I was twenty-two, a rookie, and was restless and pretty wound up after the intensity of the academy. I couldn’t sleep much anyway, so when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to make a hundred bucks watching some freight cars at the Fresh Pond Yard on Long Island, I gladly said yes. I asked my friend Johnny Scoglio, a fellow rookie, if he wanted to split the hundred with me. I knew he needed the money. He already had twin boys, and his wife was pregnant again. I heard a grunt and when I looked under one of the cars I saw Johnny flat on the ground and a guy all in black, including a black woolen hat, kneeling over him, pummeling him with a rock the size of a softball. I scrambled under the car and in under five seconds the guy was moaning on the ground. I lifted Johnny up and checked him out. There was a bruise on his temple and his left hand was hanging limp. I told him to go home, which he did.

It turns out the cars we were guarding were filled with fancy computers, and the guy on the ground was the yard foreman’s son. The father went berserk, which to me was just a cover-up of his own criminal activity. You could only guess what it was. Likely getting the kid to cop a couple of laptops not knowing there would be two guys guarding the cars, not one. But the father had connections, so I was forced to resign. This was easy for the department to do as I was still in my probationary period, had few rights, and no friends higher up. The kid smirked the whole time at the review board hearing. His jaw had been unwired at that point, but it was satisfying to see that his arms were still in casts. Also, I think the smirking might have been painful, so that was a good thing too. There’s always a silver lining.

Of course you’re noticing how I digress. It’s the anxiety. To return to the subject, when I was in the alcove doing my breathing exercises, I heard a man and a woman arguing. I looked around the corner and saw them a short distance away, at the end of the hall near a wall-to-ceiling window. I stepped out of the alcove to let them know I was nearby, but they didn’t notice. I liked the alcove and am not one to cede territory, so I just stood there, hoping that when they spotted me they’d go someplace else to argue. I could now hear them better than when I was in the alcove.

 

“You’re done when I say you’re done,” the guy said.

 

“I can’t do it,” she said. “I can’t.”

The guy grabbed her arm and she tried to pull away, but he pulled her back to him. They were standing close to each other now, face to face. If you had just come on this scene you would think they were lovers about to kiss passionately. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Instead of kissing her, he held her tightly by the shoulder with his left hand and slapped her across the face with his right. Whack. Her head jerked to the side.

 

She tried to pull away again, but he pulled her back and said something I couldn’t hear, a smile on his face that that really wasn’t a smile.

He spotted me then. We took a good look at each other. He had dark eyes and a beard with a white line in it––a scar where the hair didn’t grow. I usually don’t like people looking at me, but in these situations, the reverse is true. I wanted him to really see me, to remember me. He let go of the woman’s arm and gave her a slight nudge. She slipped past him and walked away.

 

I never saw her face––her back was to me the whole time––but I made a quick assessment as she made her way to the exit at the end of the hallway. Tall, maybe five-eight, short brown hair and a good shape, by that I mean some meat on her bones. She held her head high. Good for you, I thought. Fuck him. The silver buckles on her boots sparkled for a second as she stepped into the bright sunlight. When I turned back, the guy was gone.

I decided to head home. I go to the community center to listen to live music. It’s one of the few things that calms me, that lulls the wild horses that stampede in my head when they’re not grazing or sleeping, which is not often. This one was Christmas songs by a gal playing piano all alone on the stage, very jazzy, very pretty. But the guy with the scar had ruined it. I am a worrier and now I was worried about the woman with the nice body and the silver buckles on her boots, and what would happen if she didn’t do what the guy with the scar wanted her to do.