Seasons of Suicide
“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
―Herman Hesse, Siddhartha
During a summer when low-carbohydrate diets were coming back into style, repackaging the Atkins Diet craze of the 1990s for millennials as “ancestral” dieting, twelve young men in New York City’s finance industry decided they were absolutely done with lifestyle changes, and each committed self-murder in various, morbid ways. While everyone was focused on convincing themselves steak was the best thing since sliced bread—or better, much less carby, in fact sliced bread was downright evil—I was living in Greenwich Village with two bankers, counting my steps on a new device that fit around my wrist, almost indistinguishable from jewelry. The Fitbit was the iPhone of its day for hypochondriacs. It telegraphed one cared about their health to anyone and everyone. The Economist was touting that “data was the new oil,” and I had a little wellspring on my wrist. The subculture of quantitative device-wearing addicts was rebranded as biohackers. With this branding came license to have a pseudo-professional opinion on anything medical. I remember signing the lease to our fifth-floor walk-up, elated at the relatively cheaper-by-comparison rent we all paid, excited by the flights of stairs I would climb living there because of the accrued steps.
One of my roommates was a cousin of mine, Evan. He was a few years older than I, tall and lanky, and he wore Coke-bottle glasses. He played saxophone and listened to indie rock bands who played music with silverware as their instruments. In college he was very anti-establishment, worked for a “glass” shop that sold lots of bongs and pipes. I thought I knew him until I heard him reverently talk about glassblowing and sand quality for two hours while holding what appeared to be a green bong shaped like a gigantic, smiling dill pickle. Sand is apparently quite different all over the world, and we are running out of the more precious kinds of it. Imagine that…. Forget world hunger and peace—save the sand! Apparently, he had done so well as a drug paraphernalia and tie-dye T-shirt shop salesman, they made him manager of the store. Then he did so well as manager that he changed his political views on capitalism and he decided to major in economics, which led him to become a regulator at the New York Federal Reserve, post financial crisis of 2007.
My other roommate was Gregory Hume. I met him on a hiking trip to the Lost City in Santa Marta, Colombia. With six other college seniors, we decided to go to these ruins as a way of kicking off our college sneakers of freedom before lacing up our nine-to-five boots, each one of us going our separate way and pursuing careers in different cities. At some point after graduation, we both recognized that we were searching for a place to live in the same city, and we decided to become roommates. I didn’t know Gregory was an alcoholic. I didn’t see the signs of his suffering through the lens of a disease because I didn’t have any experience with alcoholism. When we spent ten days relaying up and down mud mountains in the rainforest, the amount of vomiting and liters of sweat, these symptoms and the delirium tremors should have given me some kind of clue. Instead I saw a young man struggling with being overweight and out of shape, and I was totally oblivious to the nature of his struggle. Over the course of each day, he trundled through a new physical limit, his face glowering, chewing away the pain by clenching his jaws.
At campsites we’d all lie in hammocks with mosquito nets and headlamps. Outside our meager protection the jungle was ready to suck our bodies dry of blood or envenomate us to the point of paralysis. We all survived thanks to twenty-cent nets thrown over a clothing line above each hammock and reading whatever book each of us had brought along. Gregory read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse using a headlamp, and it was his second time reading it. We talked about the ideas encapsulated in Hesse’s novel hypothesizing about life and meaning, our headlamps spotlighting the flying syringes and/or crawling fangs around us as the conversation progressed into the night. In the morning we’d shake off any spiders or scorpions and start the trekking again. When we got back from the ruins to one of the dirt roads that led into Santa Marta, Gregory had lost twelve pounds in ten days. He seemed stronger and his face was no longer contorted, bruised by exhaustion and the exorcisms of self-malice. I have a picture of him. All eight men have their arms around one another, celebrating the accomplishment of the torture we’d all paid to endure as a form of tourism.
* * *
I worked as a line cook at a French bistro in the East Village while we lived together in New York City. My take-home pay was next to nothing compared to the paycheck Gregory received in investment banking. I was putting in grunt work that naturally comes with the apprenticeships of the food industry. I’d walk from Greenwich Village, to collect my steps, all the way to the Lower East Side on the other side of town, then I’d sweat standing in front of a grill from 4 p.m. till almost 1 a.m., flipping cow carcasses shaped neatly into circles. After my shift I’d walk home and get more steps before falling into bed.
Greg was a boarding-school graduate. He seemed to have some kind of need for status distilled in him by this education, upbringing, and career choice of finance. He was as stocky as someone into the pastime of sailboating, even wore shoes called “boat” shoes, and the floor of his room was littered with catalogues of lots of people posing on sailboats. I don’t think he ever sailed a boat in his life. A brass shoehorn helped him slip into his size-twelve loafers, and he drew a comb across his pomaded hair each morning before work. His face and head were big and round, and he had a hooked nose, whose bridge helped to hold up a thick pair of glasses.
The long hours of finance coupled with my restaurant shifts meant we often circumvented each other’s time in the apartment while simultaneously being an arm’s-length away from each other’s shut doors. When our schedules did coincide, we all spent time together going for jogs—roughly three thousand steps—talking politics and the new craze of dating applications. Applications preying upon a sense of convenience had created a culture where there was no work and home division. Work was decentralized from the office building and into the palm of your hand. The challenge of hailing a cab was out of style; people were ordering cars to wait in front of their buildings or stoops now. At the push of a button, breakfast could be ordered, lunch could be delivered, dinner eaten all in the same chair at your desk. Convenience married itself to life with a new digital prowess. Even romance changed: forget striking up a conversation in a bar or café, now it would only seem appropriate to go virtually shopping for someone by swiping your thumb across a self-created advertisement that insinuated they could possibly own a dog.
These changes were swiftly replacing societal norms, and many people were very efficient at navigating these new behavioral paradigms. They succeeded at gathering friends and followers, creating posts, garnering likes and upvotes. The food industry was appealing in part for the seclusion it provided away from these “advancements” in technology. While relationships were being converted more and more into bits, ones and zeros, working in front of the fire of a stove while house music played, the line cooks working in sync with the wait staff was the most intimate setting in my relationship with reality. No one thought about “likes” mopping the floor at night. The burns and callouses that cooks invariably acquire from working felt like a kind of Pavlovian pain reminding me to remember myself, my physical and present self. There was a camaraderie among cooks and the occasional familial pointing of fingers. When a cook is buried in tickets—the “weeds” in industry speak—another cook steps over to help if they can make it work, even if there is a spoonful of glibness and showmanship in rescuing them. If a cook cuts their finger or spills hot oil, every cook cleans up, and the chef sees to the person with the first-aid kit. The wait staff complains about their tickets while simultaneously prescribing home remedies from their guru neighbor next door to their apartment in Brooklyn. My workplace was a stark contrast to Greg’s and so were my coworkers. I worked with all women at Aprés; the executive chef was a lesbian who’d married an Italian man and divorced him after they’d had kids.
On occasion Gregory would invite me out drinking with a few of his friends or to attend a Yankees game, since his “group” had season tickets. His friends were all in finance; they all were chasing the same rabbit and salivating over the same promotions. He would introduce me as his roommate. They would invariably ask what I did for a living, but there was some kind of Kabuki theater to the way his friends socialized. Me being a cook was “cool” hidden behind some pejorative tabulation of value Roladexed silently behind their eyes. I’d hear their thoughts ring up the value of the person in front of them with each pointed question: “What desk are you working at UBS? Where did you go to school? What gym do you belong to—Equinox?” These questions, while seemingly innocent are actually a form of infinitesimal double-speak. They communicate how close or far you are from the “rabbit” compared to others. Even the way they discussed restaurants and food was a comparison of status: “Oh, I went to Marea. I go to Grammercy Tavern every Sunday, it’s the only good eggs Benedict in the city,” they’d say as if it was literally the only good eggs Benedict in the entirety of New York City. Memories, amenities, properties, sexual partners were all part of the competition among these men.
Each one of them was groomed to leverage the idea of fraternity for personal gain. I heard the words “best friend” and “brother” a lot when I was around Greg’s friends, sometimes in the same sentence: “You’re my best friend, brother.” There is a trope in movies where women go to the bathroom together to talk in small groups. When I was with these men, it seemed the opposite was commonplace. When one of the analysts went off to get more drinks from the bar or use the restroom himself, the larger group seemed to share their disdain about the bathroom‑goer’s lifestyle, weekend activities, or work performance in order to win even more rapport with whoever was still at the table: “I saw the flat he bought, it’s nothing special,” or “She wasn’t that hot, she probably didn’t even fuck him.” Speaking out loud to the group at the table was a way of showing bravado, puffing out your chest in plain sight and earshot of the person as if to signify that it wasn’t insipid gossip, but it was, instead, honest and fearless “alpha” talk.
If there was a female analyst hanging out with them at a bar, she seemed just as well versed in this kind of brotherly scuttlebutt. When she would step outside to make a phone call, the table would rate her appearance or jape about someone in the group “sodomizing” or “inseminating” or “brown-bagging” her or whatever derogatory jargon or metaphor conveyed that she was their animal to pass around as a badge of “beta-ness” that they could attribute onto one another as a way of jockeying status. No one questioned this behavior. No one objected to this way of speaking. Not one of them even noticed it. Nor did they notice me, as if I was the waiter or waitress, they didn’t feel the need to stop speaking while I was at the table. It was quotidian, permeating both their work phone and personal phone, a revolting rivalry developing itself in bars and break rooms. The banter was an enjoyable game to them, and there were winners and losers.
Almost invariably they were from well-to-do families, boarding-school graduates, sailing paraphernalia enthusiasts. It’s possible this secret language of burping “negs” and farting insults was taught to them by the same institutions that adored lacrosse and families who named their children after castles and golf courses. When a phone rang, invariably they would all shuffle to take out their multiple phones to figure out who was being called on to go back to work on a Saturday night. At one-point Gregory carried three phones: one work phone, one personal phone, and another work phone. It had broken and he carried it around, forgetting to deliver it to tech support.
The time we spent hanging out dwindled even further as we all took on more work. More line cooks quit or got fired, and I had to work doubles until a cooking-school graduate was naive enough to jump into our understaffed kitchen. Gregory gained weight working through the night at Citibank; sometimes he would sleep at work so he wouldn’t have to come home and collapse on his trash-covered bed. His fixation on earning more and accelerating his accumulation of titles was as abstract and concrete as dollars: junior analyst, analyst, senior analyst, vice president. The sweat-and-blood road seemed to leverage these ideas of prestige so that their employees would step over others in order to hit these milestones. The longer we lived together, the worse he devolved into drinking and drugs, blurring the lines between work and home. His room was filled with suits wrapped in plastic from the dry cleaner, takeout containers with the contents half-eaten, and the bottles of beer he left on windowsills. Some of the bottles had even started to mold inside with the swill of beer left at the bottom of the bottle, a miniature terrarium of fungus. After losing his girlfriend the disaster zone of his room got worse, and he started kicking garbage into his room when he’d leave in the morning so he could close the door properly.
I was working so many hours at the restaurant, I didn’t even notice my steps anymore. I just got them, over and over again. I blew past the marker around lunch when I was working doubles, going up and down the stairs to retrieve plastic tubs to fit into the low-boy refrigerators under my station. I was also trying to train new cooks to replace other cooks who had quit. A few days in they would quit too. One night a waitress named Melissa filled in because we were so understaffed. She had worked back-of-house before, after completing her degree in a music conservatory as a classical cellist. She had a tattoo of a bass and treble clef flipped upside down to form the shape of a heart on the back of her neck. The money was better in the front of the house, and she hummed Schubert or, you know, another composer while she polished silverware.
The sauté cook and the grill have to work in tandem, like hands on a piano, because many components of different dishes span the shared ovens, the stovetop, and grill to complete a single dish. Melissa brought her regular chattiness to the role while the sous chef was trying to coax dishes out of both our stations. I was trying my best to come up with the component I needed to complete a dish while we made polite conversation about my roommate’s descent into moral and physical turpitude. She told me that her ex-boyfriend was an addict and then started to tell the story of coming home to discover him on the bathroom floor, dead from a heroin overdose, which I was sympathetic toward to the extent that I could, at the same time, be angry about the pickups she was missing on zucchini with preserved lemon butter or anchovy butter to go with grilled prawns. The whole night ended up being a long conversation about her dead boyfriend; everything we did in the kitchen related back to him. She kept missing pickups and I couldn’t step over to help because some of my dishes had to be redone by the time the chef and I figured out where she had screwed up her tickets. The clusterfuck climaxed when a grease-fire started in her oven. The restaurant started to fill with smoke. I stopped everything I was doing at my station and told her to leave the kitchen. She kept calling for water, which would have made things worse, and I grabbed two boxes of kosher salt, big gallon boxes, and dumped them in the oven to smother the fire. At that point the chef and I worked all three stations while Melissa called out the tickets and handed plates to waiters. She came back when we were scrubbing one of the ovens out at the end of the night, and she was telling me about how toothpaste is actually the best way to get the smell of blood out of bathroom tiles; it’s not bleaches. She would buy tubes of family-size toothpaste to clean up the stink from her boyfriend’s month-old carcass juice still stuck in the grout of the bathroom floor. She said she learned the trick from a blog about fishermen getting the smell of fish guts off of their hands. I was burnt and burned out. Undercarbed. Exhausted. I walked home, looking forward to the sleep I was going to accrue over the next twenty-four hours.
The next day, after my shift working the brunch line, I came home to find Gregory crying on the bathroom floor. It was like Melissa’s story was a postcard from the future. He was there wearing a robe and briefs. He was bawling his eyes out over his ex-girlfriend and his job. He looked too large for the tiny studio apartment bathroom, almost like trying to fit a beanbag chair into a tiny closet. He had gained a lot of weight in the past month, but I hadn’t spent time enough with him to notice until now. I held Gregory. I consoled him in the same way one consoles a child too hysterical to realize any kind of social discomfiture of being held naked on the floor by another man. Slowly his heaving and the tiny clapping of his lungs, almost coughing cries slowed down; his chest stopped thudding on the floor. His breath became smoother and he just let his head rest on the tiny, inch-by-inch linoleum tiles of the roughly five-by-five space.
“It’s going to be okay, Greg,” I said.
He just kept breathing.
“It’s going to be okay, man. It’s going to be okay.”
I didn’t know whether it was going to be okay. I didn’t really have a clear notion of the problem, whether he was crying over his ex-girlfriend or the idea of the perfect life he was striving for was falling apart. Maybe someone had called him to deliver untimely news about a family member’s passing. Inside I felt it was everything—the culmination of his absurd work-life, surrounded by fanged friends, drowning in booze and drugs, and to top it all off, a grown man lying on top of him, trying to comfort him. He was on the floor for quite for a while…
“You smell like bacon…” he said.
“You look like bacon.”
“Yup,” he said, wiping his eyes.
“Me too. I’m fried. We got to change our lives.”
His voice seemed to regain its depth. The boy who needed to come out and cry, curling up beside the toilet he’d vomited in, receded away, slackened by the moment’s easement.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Okay, well, we aren’t going to lie on the floor all afternoon. Here is what we are going to do: you are gonna get up and take a hot shower, then we are gonna clean your room, and then we will grab something to eat and take a walk, and maybe talk about how we can make you feel better.”
I took the biggest trash bags we had from under the sink and just started piling trash from his room into them. When one would fill up, I’d toss it into the fireplace that had been walled off. A lot of old tenement buildings have these fireplaces from yesteryears when they were tenement buildings.
When he was done with his shower, he called me to the bathroom. “I need a towel.”
At first I looked in his room, but I quickly realized that there was nothing clean in the room. The only clean objects in the room were the Chinese drycleaner’s delivery, which was gift-wrapped in plastic, salvaging it from the complete filth everywhere, so I gave him one of mine. There were rotten bananas on his floor and rotten takeout containers; sauces covered some clothing. I found baggies of drugs scattered everywhere, mostly cocaine and unidentifiable pills, maybe Adderall. The bed had no sheets. It was covered in ripped drycleaner’s plastic from previous deliveries.
Gregory came in from the shower and ripped open the laundry delivery to put on some clothes. His body was covered in mosquito bites. It was summer and our small apartment had one air-conditioning unit split among three rooms, so he left the windows open and had gotten eaten alive by the mosquitos, which I could see sleeping on his wall. It took almost two hours to clean that tiny bedroom. I even swept and mopped the floor.
We ate cake out of Dixie cups outside of a friend’s bakery who was struggling to make rent. Carbohydrate-filled cake. We talked about his job schedule and loneliness. He seemed to have all the problems recognized right in front of him, unable to change his course anyway. Every time I came up with a suggestion, they simply worked in countercurrent to his ultimate goal of becoming a vice president. I even used the expressions “will kill you” and “is killing you” about his schedule and attitude toward his career. I told him to quit the job he’d had for more than a year, move “laterally” to something easier-going, or take six months to sit on the beach. He told me he was making almost $200k per year at his current position. To my cook’s salary that seemed like the amount I was saving up for to retire in a third-world country after ten to fifteen years.
Whatever dream I could paint of a more balanced life, he didn’t want to listen to any of it. His phone rang a few times during the conversation, and as we talked I got the feeling that after regaining his composure, the cubicle walls of emotion were up again. He didn’t want to show any weakness, and my opinions fell flat since I was someone who didn’t have commensurate earning power. It stung to hear that tone and see it reflected in his facial gesticulations. I was just a cook. All of my advice was discarded as being from someone who wasn’t in finance, therefore didn’t have the same value because they would have made the sacrifices had they been as privileged. He decided he was feeling better and took an Uber into the office right there from the bakery.
* * *
A couple weeks later I woke up, having heard a knock at the door at around eleven in the morning, early afternoon. I was about to leave to walk across town for a night shift on the grill. I opened the door and a tall man, as round as Tom, was standing with both hands holding either side of the doorframe, winded by having climbed the five flights of steps. He had a black leather coat, black shirt, a gold chain that had a gold cross on it. Tucked into his black belt was a chrome handgun. I was awake in an instant. The door was already open, so I had no choice but to talk with the man.
“Can I help you?”
“Are you Greg?”
Behind him, farther down the steps, was a woman in fishnets, who looked like she had bought a Halloween costume to play a hooker in real life, but it turned out she was an actual hooker who wore fishnets. In retrospect, I wonder now whether there is some delicate balance hookers play with the law on what attire attracts customers without being a dead giveaway to police officers. Her hair was permed and her dress dual-functioned as a robe of sorts.
“Let me see if he’s home.”
I walked over to his bedroom door and started banging while, three feet away from me, the pimp regained his breath from having climbed so many steps.
“He in there?” he said as if I knew the answer.
I started to panic—what if he wasn’t home? I didn’t know because we had gotten home at different times. The cross around the guy’s neck was swinging side to side in what appeared to be frustration.
“GREG!” I yelled. “Open the fucking door.”
At that moment I heard a rustling of plastic on the bed.
“What?” said Greg.
“Greg, get the fuck out here, there is a man here to see you.”
When Greg opened the door, he was wearing a robe, wide open. There was a granola bar wrapper stuck to the side of his body, having been compressed into his skin from having slept on it.
“Greg…this gentleman,” I said, “is here to see you, and I am leaving for work.” At this point another woman appeared behind Greg inside his room. She had long, painted fingernails. She had a similar outfit to the woman behind the pimp, and she was looking through her small clutch in a routine way; nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
“I am going to work, and I will see you when I get home,” I said loud enough so everyone cramped within the hallway could hear it and perhaps the neighbors too. I moved toward the pimp in the doorway, and he let me pass by him. When I got home that night from work, I told Greg that he’d gone further than I was willing to go to help him. That he’d made me feel unsafe in my own home so I was moving out. I told him that he should talk to his parents and get help. If he wanted to do drugs or hire hookers, he would have to go to a hotel.
For the month we had left on our lease, I put a deadbolt on my door. It was peaceful at home by virtue of avoidance. He must have slept at the office quite a bit. I declined a couple of overtures to meet up with his friends. We just kind of drifted apart, and I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be stuck in front of a grill anymore, despite the sense of family and community that I got from working in a kitchen. I was dissatisfied with it. I was ready to make more money, tired of encountering the dead-end expressions of people my age who were making more money in white-collar careers. While people of Greg’s ilk were driving their lives with money, affording them the dream of better seats at a baseball game or a house upstate, the values that I looked for weren’t leading me anywhere but to longer hours and more shifts.
Then one night Greg came into the bistro where I worked. In the basement next to the room where all the prep happens, there is reservable table made of marble for special guests; it seats about eight people comfortably. The private room has its own bathroom separate from the dining room. Going down the steps to deliver dishes can be a precarious endeavor for a waiter. Greg reserved the table with a couple of his buddies from work.
I could run down those steps blindfolded while wearing roller skates. Going down to pick up more bronzini stuffed with lemon and fennel, which we finished with fennel seed and peppercorn oil off the grill, I almost passed right by their table through the double doors without noticing him.
“Hey, Chef,” he said, “busy night?”
I was surprised to see him. I was even happy to see him.
“I brought you by some hungry customers. You got any recommendations?”
“Thank you! Sure, everything is good. Try everything. I have things on the grill, so—”
“Well then, we will be sure to order off the grill.”
I went bounding back up the steps with the fish tub after Melissa had descended down into the room with a bottle of champagne. Greg was trying to save grace with me. In the language his cronies spoke, money and investment were a signifier of commitment, and bringing people to the restaurant was a way of apologizing. Throughout the night they kept ordering more and more off my station. I’m sure they realized none of the sales went into my pocket, but subconsciously bringing customers around was a kind of favor being curried to me in their terms.
The chef asked me whether I knew the table downstairs. They were racking up quite a wine bill. In the game chefs play every day, Tara was winning the game for the owner. The action downstairs was getting rowdier, but she was happy selling the menu to whomever would pay for it. Melissa had come up the steps, and she whispered into the chef’s ear guests were doing lines of coke in the bathroom. Greg’s associates had filtered in and out from the table, financial analysts arriving from other parties elsewhere, texting each other to signal and compare their respective nights panning out, ordering Ubers to travel across town and crash each other’s parties.
At this point it was the chef’s acute experience working at other joints that kicked in. She knew that they needed to cash out. Her elation that I had attracted good-paying customers had completely disappeared. There was a stern look of someone needing to finish the game with a penalty kick or lose other customers who were regulars to the commotion downstairs. Before working at Après, Tara had been a sous chef at a few gastropubs that had their own rowdier crowds. Melissa was going down the steps with all the checkbooks. They had decided to split the check into seven sections because one of the original eight guests had left already, while some of the new arrivals didn’t feel responsible enough to chip in for the bill. The parade of drunk bankers tripped their way out of the restaurant, guided by the bartender and a waitress so they wouldn’t stumble into any other diners.
On his way out Greg stopped by the kitchen pass. He put forty dollars on the counter. It was the punctuation mark of the favor, letting me know the cash had been spent, he had delivered on being a good friend. I felt insulted and ashamed by the whole ordeal, the money sitting there crumpled up in front of the whole kitchen like a dead roach lying on its back. It felt as if the terms of his “apology” were that somehow he was better off than I or that the money didn’t just signify an apology but an invitation to be friends with someone more affluent. There was nothing for me to do but smile and thank him obsequiously.
“Jory,” he called to the back line, “that was so delicious.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Amazing…” he said.
He was almost completely blacked out. It had been rehearsed in his head. He paused for a moment to catch his breath and his surroundings. He looked at me and then the chef, and he nodded intelligibly, I think. At this point the chef and I were wearing the same face. It’s a close-lipped smile where you push the sides of your lips out as far as they can go because you are clenching your jaw tight and the sides of your mouth barely curl up, so the unsuspecting interlocutor thinks you are indeed smiling. Greg turned around and stumbled to the door. I wondered if he was going to walk home.
“Don’t come back now, ya hear…” Tara laughed to herself and started breaking down her station. Putting tops on the deli containers of salvageable misé, she turned to me abruptly. “Oh, shit…that’s hooker guy, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s hooker guy.”
“You just got hooked.”
I felt humiliated by the whole ordeal, and we continued breaking down the kitchen when Melissa came up from the downstairs table.
“You’ll never guess what they left in the bathroom…” she said nonchalantly.
“Coke?” said Tara.
“You wish. They left a turd in tank.”
“They upper-decked the toilet?!” she said, turning to me. “You have some fucked-up friends,” she said coyly. I volunteered to clean it up.
While I scooped out the top tank, repeatedly flushing it to bring new water inside, I decided that I wanted to have more money. I didn’t want to work as a cook forever, where I would always be catering to the Gregs of the world. Ironically, somehow getting enough money was the only way to create your own space where you could say sayonara to the high-class lowlifes of the world. While the people and work of the service industry was rewarding, I would always be a proverbial sturgeon fish to the finance and business executives of the world. The purpose I shucked from cooking for a living was creating transient, delectable moments of life for people at a dinner table. Unlike other service professions, medicine per se, where one also is a caretaker and the focus revolves more around preventing or sustaining life, cooking celebrated life. There is grace in both. But then, I thought money was the solution. Mopping the floors that night, the luster of that idea had been baked onto my routine, and I couldn’t scour it out with positivity.
I found myself enjoying my job less and less as the weeks followed. Seeing how waiters and waitresses were treated was pride-swallowing. The vanity of customers taking pictures with their phones and the vindictiveness with which they posted scathing reviews over menial mistakes Greg’s visit was an inflection point, and I wanted out or at least a change in position.
I only saw him once after that night, after he’d changed jobs and apartments. I visited him at his new place, which was in a building near Battery Park that could have doubled as the Ritz Carlton. It had a pool, a gymnasium, a lounge. One had to climb a set if stairs to the rooftop garden and grill out space. His apartment seemed cleaner than the day I’d helped him clear the dump he’d made where we’d lived. I was happy for him, even though I was still living in an ex-Soviet shithole below the Stuyvesant projects, where the super got the washing machine to work by boxing it.
New York had broken me of my Midwestern generosity and the virtues that led me to enjoy the hard work of a kitchen, I mopped the floors with disdain for myself at this point because people like Greg, who were my same age, were talking about buying apartments. Some of my friends were even getting married and having children. I couldn’t conceive of how to build my own life. All of these people were comfortable sacrificing their values, or what I perceived to be sacrifice, so why wasn’t I? After weeks of this self-loathing burbling up inside me, I finally found another job, working as a chef out in the Hamptons for a family who would pay much better.
* * *
A few months later I was back in downtown after having spent the summer cooking out in South Hampton. I was biking to get my phone fixed at a Polish electronics repair shop in the city. Greg had reached out to me a few weeks before to see if I’d wanted to have dinner with him and a few of his buddies, and he’d set a time and place. I left my apartment on my bicycle and started to head east on Houston Street toward Alphabet City and the repair shop. I had been pretty negligent of obeying traffic signs, trying to find gaps in the traffic to roll through the lights. There was a three-way intersection coming up on Avenue C with two oncoming lanes, and I found my gap to turn left. Except the car in the far lane stopped, blocking me from turning, bringing me to a halt in the first oncoming lane. When I looked up I saw a school bus barreling toward me. I felt that he should have seen me stopped there in the center of the road, unable to move forward or backward, but he didn’t stop…twenty yards…ten yards….
Please stop… I thought.
The crack of my skull on the concrete was like the sound of a gunshot inside my head after I had already lost consciousness from being struck by the school bus full of elementary students. I could hear it inside my head without being awake. My skull was not punctured by this bullet, but all of its walls shook and reverberated in blackness, like experiencing an earthquake without a body. Everything was dark. I had no memory of myself. I was just a void. I was nothing.
I woke up in the ambulance a few minutes out from Bellevue Hospital. The paramedic standing over me came into focus as I opened my eyes. All of the senses that were numbed in my brief coma started to come back to their sharpness. Suddenly I had a spine. There were sharp, stabbing pains all throughout my spinal cord. I felt like jumper cables were attached to my disks, electrocuting my entire body. I heard myself screaming outside and inside my head. And when I stopped screaming inside my mind, I heard myself still screaming inside the ambulance, the way someone screams who is burning alive on a stake. I couldn’t move my body or control it. I could still feel all of its articulations. I could move my fingers. My head was strapped down. My limbs were strapped down, and there was already an IV in my arm. The screaming seemed to rise even above the blaring sirens of the ambulance, and whatever cold substance was making its way into my veins started to numb pain. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe because I lost so much air already. I afraid that I would suffocate myself with my own screaming, and the fear was leading me to scream harder while trying to tell my body to remember its lungs and breath. I couldn’t stop to take a breath inward. At that point I started to heave and cough. I gained a little composure after the coughing fits stopped.
“Do you know who you are?” said the paramedic over me.
The barbiturates coursing into my arm had started to kick in.
“Do you know who you are?” the paramedic said again.
“I’m Jory,” I said.
“Do you know where you are?”
“What happened? Tell me what happened!”
“I will. First tell me where you are.”
“The United States?”
“Can you be even more specific?”
“New York?” I said.
A wave of relief washed over his face.
“Can you tell me what day it is?”
“Tell me what happened first… I gotta know what happened,” I pleaded.
“You were hit by a bus.”
“I was hit by a BUS?! OH GOD! Am I going to be okay?!”
“Can you tell me the date?”
“You have to tell me whether I am going to be okay or not, please.”
He hesitated. He didn’t want to answer the question. My whole body felt like it was a microwave that had been dropped from the top of a building and shattered on the sidewalk. I was able to remain conscious, probably because of the pain medication. The liquid coming in from the IV was thick, viscous like syrup, and cold moving in the veins while the rest of my body felt its fire being slowly smothered under whatever pharmaceutical goo was dripping through the tubing.
“I think so…” he finally said. “Do you know the date?”
At that moment I was satisfied that I would not know the outcome of the accident, and the only opinion that I had was the paramedic telling me I was going to make it out. I didn’t know what state I would be in when I stabilized but I trusted him. It was enough for me to just sit in the pain of all the broken bones and ruptured spinal discs. It was enough to assuage my fears, believing that all this pain shooting through my body would eventually have to disappear because he said so…
So looking up at his anxiety-ridden face after I had come down from anxiety myself, I had the urge to crack a joke to him. I told him the date was March 2, 1987. My birthday. All the blood seemed to drain from his face after I said that…
“I’m just kidding…I’m terrible with dates. It’s April 18th, 2015. Now…I should tell you…I can feel my lungs filling up with blood. I thought you should know,” I said nonchalantly. “The right one is starting to fill up with blood.” In retrospect this whole dialogue seems unbelievable to me, but it’s honestly how I remember it. Maybe I’m just not that smart, because after he assured me that I was going to live, I was immaculately stupid enough to believe him.
The metallic taste of blood that most people complain about in TV shows, I started to taste it at the back of my throat. It was like aluminum foil dust. The viscous liquid that had poured through the IV, my blood spilling into my right lung felt thicker and colder than the medication, almost like chilled Coca-Cola syrup. I had never felt the sensation of the boundaries of my lungs inside me. As the right one filled up with blood, the contours of it became perceptible, like the palm of a hand, even though it was inside of my body. I could feel it filling up like a plastic bag. Then I went unconscious again.
* * *
When the final tally of injuries came in, it was nine broken ribs, three ruptured spinal disks, my clavicle was broken on both sides, my right shoulder was fractured. The fascia of my right leg was torn away from the shinbone. The right lung had totally collapsed. I was hit so hard the vitreous of my eye, the clear jelly inside the eyeball detached from the retina and they would eventually have to do surgery to suction it out. There was an air pocket between the wall of the lung and the chest at risk of embolizing to the brain. There were a bunch of other injuries, even a traumatic brain injury.
A day or two passed as they prepared the neurosurgeon for my spinal reconstruction surgery. All three disks had fortunately ruptured outward, which is statistically very improbable. During paralysis these discs shatter or collapse inward, cutting off the spinal canal, impinging or severing the spinal cord within the canal, causing the person to lose all control of their lower limbs, or all their limbs, or worse. All three of the disks ruptured out, like the absolutely perfect shattering of three vases. I spent months lying on my side or stomach with an artificial spine sticking out of my back. The surgery was relatively new in medicine. The neurosurgeon who’d devised it didn’t like the way the orthopods were doing back surgery—too much metal left in the body and too much collateral nerve damage. He devised this method by which qualifying patients could have a kind of wire scaffolding put arthroscopically into the body with four pillars of metal rots holding it in place, sticking out of the back. The wire scaffolding would stabilize each region where the discs were shattered into fifty pieces, and slowly the body would collect those pieces to fit them back together, and after half a year of sleeping on my stomach, we’d be able to tell if the disks would bear the weight on their own.
When I questioned the surgeon about the success rate of the surgery, only twenty people had received the surgery so far due to restrictions on which spinal injuries could qualify. Most people who were injured in similar accidents to mine died before even being able to explore whether they were ideal candidates. Thirteen of the people who received the surgery still passed away from other injuries they’d sustained in their accidents. While eight were successful, it was a toss-up; their recovery had been limited. I didn’t want to end up with fused disks or metal in my back; I knew chefs who’d had terrible experiences with surgical tech left over in their body so I opted in.
The cafeteria started bringing me fruit to eat every day. After the accident I felt like all my body wanted was carbohydrates. I’d eat a whole watermelon with my face sticking through the toilet-sized hole of the patient table while I lay on my stomach, looking like a human marionette with all kinds of wires and surgical chopsticks sticking out of me. Eventually lots of the wires became unnecessary, and I was allowed to sit upright if my back didn’t touch anything. I started to learn to walk again with a walker, and I would go visit Roselia, a single mother who was maybe twenty-five, who’d had a stroke because of a blood clot in her brain. She couldn’t move half of her face. Her father, who didn’t have citizenship, came to her beside every day for months. He also was taking care of her kid. I had been in the hospital so long that I started to make friends with the other patients. We started cheering each other on in our rehabilitation. Naturally it was an ICU, so not everyone was in a condition to make friends or make it out. Some were even on police watch, handcuffed to a hospital bed.
Cooking clients, fellow cooks, ex-girlfriends, friends who visited me were all surprised by my good attitude. Everyone seemed curious to see what being hit by a bus would look like in the flesh. What surprised them more was my jovial attitude in recovery. I felt that probability predicted I shouldn’t be alive, and statistically I was likely paralyzed as well. I was also so relieved to not have to deal with all of the stress of my life outside the hospital anymore. No worrying about making rent, no carb counting, no step counting, no feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth. I remember looking at the steps on my Fitbit one last time as I shuffled my walker around the floor and laughing to myself before throwing it in the garbage. I recognized that I was lucky to simply be alive. During my recovery, although every bone in my body was broken and I was often in intense pain, I was truly happy. Maybe all the time I’d spent in front of a hot grill, burning my hands and forearms, had helped—I’d loved the Zen-like clarity of task that it gave me, even though it came with lots of ouches. I just needed to walk.
One day as I was circling around the ICU on my walker, I found a New York Times a visitor had left on a waiting chair. I asked the nearest person if I could have it to read because I’d started to get curious about the world outside the hospital. No social media “friends” had visited. Lots of people sent text messages that they’d heard about my tragedy. The digital tribalism that I’d escaped into kitchens to avoid seemed as shallow as I’d suspected, but maybe I was just being vain too. Turning the pages, I finally came to an article about stress in the finance industry. I started reading about the long hours and toxic culture, and I remembered I was supposed to meet Greg before I’d been hit by the bus. He would love this article; it articulated exactly what I’d been saying to him. Then my eyes hit a section that I didn’t accept: “Gregory J. Humes, a 29‑year‑old banker at Moelis & Company, was found dead with drugs in his system after falling from a building in Manhattan.” I thought tritely, I can’t believe there is another Gregory Humes in finance—that’s crazy, what are the odds. Slowly the age cracked my delusion. There couldn’t be two 29‑year‑old men. I remembered that Greg mentioned to me that he had gotten a new job, but I couldn’t remember the company.
My stomach felt like a cue-ball was rolling around in it. I started to shake as I realized it was him and went to search of more articles on my phone to confirm it. Apparently, he’d jumped off his building’s luxury rooftop. The only person who saw him was an Arabic hot dog salesman named Monsour walking his cart home: “I saw him falling,” Monsour said to the journalist. “I didn’t know what it was at first but then he just exploded. There was blood everywhere.” His body had landed on the fence of the Battery Park underpass, cutting him in half so his head rolled down into the tunnel while his body was pulverized on the sidewalk. They had to fingerprint him to identify the body. In the turn of two weeks prior, it had snowed on Manhattan and then burst forth into spring almost overnight. The sidewalks probably still had salt crystals caked in cracks between the blocks.
A couple days passed. At night, when no one else was awake, I would search PubMed for articles on suicide and why someone would commit it. During the day I walked my walker over to the window of my room to look down and see the distance from the ground, watching raindrops fall off the ledges to gauge the distance as they fell. In the public statement released by Moelis & Company, his boss said, “We are saddened by the news of Greg’s death and send our sincere condolences to his family and friends at this very sad time.” She added, “Greg was a talented and valued team member and a positive force in our firm. He will be greatly missed.” The article went on to talk about a total of twelve bankers who’d committed suicide that year. One of the men hung himself with a dog leash, which, if you make so much money per year, seems totally illogical.
I called my cousin Evan, who was still working at the Federal Reserve. Evan was out trying to learning how to sail and sent me photos of himself on the Hudson River. Amongst financial analysts he still stuck out like a sore thumb, and I am not sure whether he truly enjoyed sailing or simply missed the memo that no one actually sails among these men. Now he had a side business selling hats that didn’t fly off your head while sailing because the brim of the hat was perforated. Boat Brim: The Windproof Hat, he called the company. I broke the bad news to him.
“Really?” he said. “It’s so nice out.”
“Evan, he was depressed, don’t you remember?”
“I didn’t really know him that well. We both just worked all the time.”
His comment stuck with me: “It’s so nice out.” Sunshine had somehow made suicide even more enigmatic, I could see how vernal the city looked out my hospital window. Yet when I Googled studies on suicide—where, when, why—using various keywords on PubMed, overwhelmingly the studies talked about the weather.
In 2014 a paper was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health entitled “Association of Weekly Suicide Rates with Temperature Anomalies in Two Different Climate Types.” In the study, scientists examined weekly suicide death totals and anomalies. They found that cooler weeks showed a lower probability of experiencing high-end suicide totals. Warmer weeks had an increased likelihood of being associated with high-end suicide totals. A 2017 study published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry supports the hypothesis that sunshine has an increasing effect on the risk of suicide, the sunniest days being the worst. Then it linked to an article about vitamin D deficiency being one of the leading causes of aging and thereby chronic disease—you can’t win…. The number of articles linking suicide to the death knell of flowers blooming seemed endless. I started to wonder whether any of these “suicidologists” studied anything but the weather.
* * *
It’s been years since my accident and Greg’s death. April 18th passed this year, and I didn’t even remember the day’s significance to my life at all. The only reason that I thought about his death was because I am rereading Siddhartha, the book he gave me in Colombia. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio now in a barn house. The year is 2021 and my name is still Jory Pomeranz. I have a flock of ten chickens and a small garden.
Psychiatrists still seem to be obsessed with the weather, as I am Googling on my porch while the chickens are picking at the roots of some bushes that I planted. A 2016 study in The Journal of Affective Disorders is entitled “Do suicide attempts occur more frequently in the spring too? A systematic review and ‘rhythmic’ analysis.” It sounds like doctors roll up these studies into drumsticks and Blueman Group on their desks until they can all uniformly agree when people kill themselves, but it’s actually just the bright idea of taking a whole swath of studies and combining their conclusions to form one overarching seasonal pattern. They reviewed twenty-nine science articles from sixteen countries. A variety of seasonal patterns were observed, but suicide attempts were found to be most frequent in spring and summer.
It occurred to me to search for whether psychiatrists themselves commit suicide at higher rates, whether they, too, don’t truly understand. One of the earliest studies conducted on this topic was by Steppacher and Mausner (1973); they found that from 1960 to 1969, suicide rates amongst male psychologists were slightly below that of the general population, but that female psychologists had suicide rates nearly three times that of the general population. This rope I have been descending into the internet-“ification” of answers was starting to fray at the ends, and I decided to put my computer away and climb out of the virtual skunk-hole of articles, climbing back up and out into—god forbid, a murderous sunlight.
In today’s world people are still looking at cavemen for dietary advice, hairy men who mostly died before the age of thirty due to “old age” or were hunted and eaten alive by wild animals. Fitbits are less popular. There are more newfangled hidden tracking devices, rings and watches. They even count the hours you sleep or don’t sleep, which gives those who still subscribe to this lifestyle lots of anxiety because only once they have already woken up do they know whether they got the right amount of sleep—there is nothing they can do about it. My phone tracks steps but most of the time I leave it at home and just enjoy a good walk outside in the neighborhood.
The last snow of the winter melted two weeks ago, and it is surprisingly warm out. Some of the sunflower seeds thrown into the garden for the chickens last fall have begun to sprout up after having been frozen in place all winter. The tree branches are quietly tapping each other with the help of the wind, as friends would do gently to wake one another up or help one another. All of Mother Nature’s characters are ready to begin their vernal, youthful stretch and gobble up sunlight for breakfast every day and there will be time. The flowers will bloom in a few weeks, smelling wonderful, reminding me of the unstoppable allegro of nature played to each of us on our ways to our own sleeping baskets.
 Negging (derived from the verb neg, meaning “negative feedback”) is an act of emotional manipulation whereby a person makes a deliberate backhanded compliment or otherwise flirtatious remark to another person to undermine their confidence and increase their need for the manipulator’s approval.
 Schram, J., Velez, N., & Perez, C. (2015, May 29). “Wolf of Wall Street”-style coke party at jumper’s luxury apartment: cops. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2015/05/29/wolf-of-wall-street-style-coke-party-at-jumpers-luxury-apartment-cops/
 Shepherd, M. (2018, June 9). Weather and the warm season are among factors associated with suicide. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2018/06/08/weather-and-the-warm-season-are-among-factors-associated-with-suicide/?sh=7e9c5cdc268b
Seregi, Bernadett et al. Weak associations between the daily number of suicide cases and amount of daily sunlight, Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, Volume 73, February 2017. Pages 41-48, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2016.10.003
 Coimbra, Daniel Gomes et al. Do suicide attempts occur more frequently in the spring too? A Systematic review and rhythmic analysis, Journal of Affective Disorders, Volume 196, May 2016, Pages 125-137, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.02.036
 J. S. Mausner, R. C. Steppacher, Suicide in Professionals a Study of Male and Female Psychologists, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 98, Issue 6, December 1973, Pages 436–445, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a121573
Jory Pomeranz is a writer living in Cincinnati, OH. After eight years of working in the culinary field, he is now studying medicine.