Was it you that that happened to, or was it me? Does it matter? I too looked into a mirror once and saw two eyes that resembled the eyes you drew from your own reflection. I had taken a fall, hard on my skull, from a storage loft in my Brooklyn studio. I was on my knees, crawling backwards after getting the last of the framed photographs up and out of the way in order to sublet the space; I was feeling for the top of the ladder with my foot, and I missed. The next thing I knew I was sprawled on my back on the cement floor nine feet below, and my lungs felt as flat as pancakes, and I was unable to breathe. Slowly, methodically, with the mechanical will that kicks in when your survival instinct shoves you aside and takes over, I turned myself around, a quarter-inch at a time, dragged my hands in toward my body, and eventually maneuvered myself onto all fours, like a wounded animal. Blood was dripping from both sides of my head, it was running into my ears, but I had no time to think about that now, I had to direct all my attention toward making my lungs work again, toward inhaling. It felt like trying to blow up one of those impossible balloons, but in reverse, and it was only on the third or fourth attempt that I succeeded. Slowly, steadily, I breathed in, breathed out, pursued this for some time—inhaling, exhaling—until I was sure I could trust my body to continue breathing on its own, and then I struggled to my knees and felt for the back of my head, which was sticky with blood.
F. came running from across the hall; she’d heard a loud thud, burst in through the door, and soon E. and U. were there as well. U. stopped the bleeding, passed his hand back and forth before my eyes, asking how many fingers, and what was my name, and then he instructed me to count to ten, I believe I was able to perform these simple tasks, but my scalp had to be stitched and U. recalled that it could be dangerous for me to fall asleep, to lose consciousness without knowing if there had been any injury to the brain, and all at once it was decided that I had to go to the emergency room. So we all piled into E.’s car and drove over the bridge and uptown to NYU Medical Center as I reflected that not an hour before I was getting the studio ready to sublet so that I could return to Berlin a month early to try and save my relationship with T., who’d just fallen head over heels for Y.
After the tests were done and the MRI and X-ray came back and the scalp was stitched and it was agreed that I’d been lucky, that I had not incurred any further damage from the fall beyond a few broken ribs and a coin-sized hole in my scalp that would remain bald to this day, I found myself washing my hands at a small porcelain sink in the corner. Even the slightest movement was extremely painful. When I finished and looked up and saw my reflection in the stainless-steel-rimmed mirror, I was met by the face of a stranger whose eyes had the look of a dog that had been kicked too many times. And when, a moment later, I understood that these plaintive eyes, these pain-widened, piteous eyes were mine, I was shocked to see how pathetic I’d become, how far I’d allowed myself to fall.