Every cell of my body throbs, and my head is pounding. I want to cradle my head in my hands until the world stops spinning. But I don’t. Instead I get up. I feel wobbly, awkward in my body, like it’s not my own, as if my skin and bones and organs have just been jostled into a shape that I no longer recognize. I thumb the bits of gravel off my palms. They’ve left pebble imprints in my skin. The biker offers his arm. I don’t take it. He looks agitated, and I have the urge to comfort him. It’s the way I felt on a Barcelona escalator when I realized the man behind me had just unzipped my black purse and taken my wallet. I turned around, and in my politest voice I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s my wallet.” Then I reached my hand out and took my wallet out of his hand.
Now I face the man who knocked me over and assure him I’m okay; then I inwardly assure myself I’m okay. He believes me. I’m not sure I do. We were both in the wrong. I was jaywalking on my invisible crosswalk, and he was going the wrong way on a one-way street. I shake his smooth hand with my scraped one. We’ll call it even. He gets back on his messenger bike with the electric motor attached to it. E-bikes are illegal in New York. Not because they’re dangerous, which they are, but because New York State requires that e-bikes be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the DMV refuses to register them.
The biker grabs the bag of food he’s delivering, inspects it, and, apparently satisfied, rides left in the direction of Fifth Avenue. Past my apartment, past the church I went to once, past the cherry blossom tree that’s blooming, and past the one that isn’t. I walk right, toward Sixth Avenue.
My life had become a vast defensive arrangement against reality. I thought it was perfectly normal to get hit by a bike and then act like nothing had happened. I didn’t think I was behaving strangely. I thought my body was. Why wasn’t it recovering quicker? I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t able to control or fix it. So I did my best to ignore it. I was fine. My body just hadn’t realized it yet.
I’m running late. I have a date. It’s a blind date. When my aunt Agapi was sixteen, she studied abroad in Augusta, Georgia. She grew up in Athens, Greece; her English was good, but she didn’t understand colloquialisms. Her host family set her up on a blind date with a neighbor. When her date arrived, he told her how pretty she looked, and she exclaimed, “You can see!”
I keep walking down Sixth Avenue toward my date. A mutual friend set us up. My date works at a venture capital firm. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone out with a venture capitalist.
“So what exactly do you do?” I always ask.
“We provide start-ups with growth equity capital and-or loan capital to promising ventures for returns that are higher than market interest rates,” they all say.
“Interesting,” I respond. It sounds like Mad Libs.
My date looks like Armie Hammer, and he played water polo in college. I know this because I googled him. As a child, I was always forgetting how to swim. Every summer I’d be forced to relearn. I’d jump into the pool only to realize I no longer knew what to do. I’d flail around until my grandmother threw me my favorite pink noodle. Then I’d retreat dejectedly to the shallow end, flip my hair over my head, pin it back, and pretend I was George Washington.
I keep walking, trying to walk my accident off like I’m an athlete with a cramp. But the longer I walk, the less New York looks like New York and the more it looks like a Sin City comic strip: hyper-stylized, brutal, film-noir, the colors muted, the shadows longer, the passersby belligerent. Or maybe I’m walking in an Edvard Munch painting. I’m the figure in The Scream. Except I would never scream. I’m too contained for that.
Excerpted from Map to the Unknown: A Journey Inward by Isabella Huffington. ©2020 Audible Originals.