IT WAS SARAH’S IDEA TO LEAVE New York, to say das Lebewohl to the East Coast and the seasons. It’s not that I was reluctant about transitioning to LA, it’s that I was adamant about staying in New York. I lived and breathed New York the way plants respire. Though if you knew Sarah, you’d understand. Beneath her seemingly innocent green eyes lurks a sly persuasiveness. In December 2011 when she suggested we vacation to Los Angeles to enjoy a brief respite from the cold of the East, it never occurred to me she had an ulterior motive. Weeks later, when she recommended we say adios to the Big Apple I assumed she was joking.
“Who would want to live in a place where the only cultural advantage is that you can turn right on a red light?” I asked, reciting a favorite line from Annie Hall.
Sarah’s life was New York as much as mine. She knew what the city meant to me–what it meant to Crisis. She knew and accepted my lifestyle, rarely showing fear or concern, always, like myself, confident that at the end of each night, like the rising of the morning sun above the Atlantic, I’d climb through the skylight and spoon against her sleeping body. And I did, usually. Though I of all persons should have sensed the raison d’être for her flight reflex.
Two months before the LA visit I underwent an MRI. I’d been experiencing intolerable back pain following a rematch with a super-criminal known as The Bad Seed that occurred one week prior to Halloween. The Bad Seed and I shared a history. Not a history akin to Elliot Ness and Al Capone, Ahab and Moby Dick, or Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless, but a history nonetheless. It was brief, but magnificently violent.
I first encountered The Bad Seed in the fall of 2008. He was fleeing from the First National Bank of Manhattan with yours truly in hot pursuit. A bloodbath ensued. He shattered my collarbone and fractured my left femur, though those injuries were trite compared to what I did to him. It took the paramedics more than an hour to remove him from the wrought iron fence. One of the spikes punctured his right lung. His spine was shattered. The Bad Seed (a.k.a. Frances Shippington) was tried in Federal court following a lengthy rehabilitation, and subsequently sentenced to forty years in a maximum-security prison.
However, a few years into his sentence and one week prior to Halloween he escaped, and immediately began scouring the city for me. There was no subtly to his actions. On the third day following his escape, Shippington fashioned a banner across the intersection of West 42nd Street and the Avenue of the Americas, adjacent to Bryant Park. The hand-painted sign boldly proclaimed “CRISIS SHOW YOURESELF.”
So I did.
We met near midnight on the following evening in a blistering rain above Park Avenue at East 88th Street. I held my own for all of seven seconds, just long enough to compliment his spelling acumen and land a solitary uppercut to the jaw. He was neither amused nor fazed. His first blow sent me spiraling out of control several blocks northwest where I crashed through the rear windshield of a Pontiac Grand Prix idling in a gridlock on the Central Park East Drive. I’d not nearly recovered when he struck again, lobbing me across the green and into the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir with as little effort as a child might discard a paper doll. The trifecta followed moments later, his gloved hands clutching my neck as we sank to the reservoir’s murky, frigid bottom.
“Do you have any idea what you did to me–to my life?” he asked, dragging me back to the surface. “They kept me in a cell no larger than a coffin. A coffin! I have an . . . aversion to enclosed spaces.”
He shoved my head under the water and continued to ramble on. I was fading fast from exhaustion and oxygen deprivation. At that moment I realized I had but one option. As my lungs began to fill with mud-water I released the electricity from my fingertips. It wasn’t intended to be a killing charge, merely enough to escape the madman’s stranglehold. I fought my way ashore and collapsed, coughing up water and blood onto the lawn. When I looked up, Shippington was there, towering above me, his body swaying. I braced myself for the killing blow, but soon realized he was no longer capable of delivering it. A moment later The Bad Seed dropped to the ground in cardiac arrest–the electrical charge having caused respiratory paralysis. I hadn’t the wherewithal or strength to perform CPR, and none of the onlookers seemed interested in helping. It was all I could do to remove a six-inch dagger of windshield from my side and stagger away. I phoned Sarah and asked for help. I don’t remember much after that. Sarah got me to MJ’s, a close friend and physician. She sutured the lacerations, more than fifty in all, and recommended the MRI, the results of which were less than favorable.
I was advised to avoid “heavy lifting” and “strenuous physical activity,” which would have been fine had I been a sidekick to any of the masked crime fighting solo acts. But as a solo act, I realized I’d little choice but to rest and recover.
Sarah and MJ suggested I seek psychiatric counseling. It was the first time I’d ever taken a life, and they were concerned about my mental well-being. I conceded. Not because I felt an analyst was needed, but to placate their worries. My therapist, a staunch Freudian, began our initial session by asking, “So, how long have you felt this need to fly?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“This need you have–to dress up in a colorful costume and navigate through the city. How long have you felt this need?”
“It’s not really colorful, my costume, I mean. There are only two colors, one of which is grey which, technically, isn’t a color.”
“Do you dream in color?”
“I dunno. Sometimes, I guess.”
“What do you dream about?”
“Normal stuff,” I answered, not quite sure why I’d chosen that particular adjective.
“Normal stuff,” he laughed. “Such as?”
“You know–clouds, rainbows, powers.”
“You said you dream of powers.”
“I said flowers. Clouds, rainbows, flowers.”
“When you killed this, this man, how did it make you feel?”
“I dunno. I wasn’t very cognizant at the time since he was, you know, actively trying to kill me as well.”
“What about afterward?”
“I felt, I guess I felt badly. I didn’t really have a choice.”
“We all have choices.”
“Sure. Technically. I suppose I could have chosen to give up, to let him kill me.”
“You have a death wish?”
“Of course not. That’s why I resisted, and that’s why I ultimately killed him. It was kill or be killed, as the cliché goes. Under better circumstances I might have been able to subdue him without taking his life. But the circumstances sucked.”
We talked a bit more, about dreams, masks, violence, and various non sequiturs, such as the effectiveness of soy paper as a seaweed substitute in sushi rolls. I wish I could say I left with the feeling that a giant weight had been lifted from my aching shoulders, but really, the only thought that raced through my mind as I stood on the crowded A was that his services weren’t worth the $20 co-pay, much less the $130 he’d be billing my insurance company. Suffice to say, I didn’t return.
I explained to Sarah that I felt fine insofar as what I’d done to Shippington on that rainy night. We agreed not to discuss it further, but soon her demeanor began to change. It wasn’t an obvious, glaring metamorphosis, but was a change nonetheless. An air of concern shone through her pale green eyes; a look of doubt resonated in her smile. So I should have known there was an unseen reason when she suggested the LA trip. Still, when she flatly suggested we relocate as we sat in the uncomfortable coach seats of the 737 en route to LaGuardia, I think my acquiescence a based on a longing to give her a break from it all–from the heroics and theatrics, the death and danger. To just be myself, without the mask. To be ourselves and perhaps start a family of our own.
“You’ve done the hero bit long enough. Please, let’s go. Let’s go live there,” she pleaded.
“Yes, of course,” I answered, adjusting the beverage tray of my seat.
“Uh-huh,” I said, shaking my head in affirmation.
Thus, with little fanfare, we spent the first few months of 2012 arranging the finer points of our west coast relocation. Our belongings were packed, our mail forwarded, and our car loaded with luggage and two cats that were more skittish about travel than a dozen agoraphobics. We left New York on a snowy morning in March and arrived in Los Angeles days later where the sky shone blue over the Pacific and the temperature hovered in the upper sixties. I stared at the tall palms that lined the streets along Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills as the realization that we were a long way from New York slowly sank into my consciousness like a worm weaving its way out of a big apple.
Although the sky was cloudless, a storm was coming.
NEXT: Mid-Life Crisis continues.