CHAPTER 1 Brooklyn Boy

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The water tastes like mudpies as it rushes my throat—a mix of dirt, oil, and unimaginably foul dregs turns my screams into garbles. My lungs jerk for air, but there's only more water to inhale. It fills my ears, dulling the sounds of branches snapping and porches cracking as the river smashes down the street. I kick wildly as the current swoops at my feet, pulling us deeper with each passing second. My fingertips break the surface, but waves roll into my chest, pummeling us back down, debris scraping my arms as I try to shield it away. I no longer hear her screams. One more breath of water will be the end.

Don't panic. Dominate. Panicking is not an option.

My feet thrash, searching for the street to push us back up to the top, but there's only water—below me, above me, filling my lungs like lava.

Fight the current, Isaac. Dominate.

But there's only water.

***


A gasp jerked me awake. My arms flailed as I dropped the five feet from the crappy mattress and crashed onto my hip on the stainless steel floor. Turning on my back, I lay there in the darkness, heart racing, trying to catch my breath. I'm not drowning. It was a dream.

I moved my wrist close to my face and pushed away the swath of embroidered bracelets covering my watch: 0100 hours. Just like every other night.

Over the last four months, I'd lost count of the number of times I'd fallen out of the bed, but I still hadn't moved to the bottom bunk, despite my roommate having moved out to shack up with a nurse he'd met at a blood drive back in September.

I rolled onto my chest, pressed myself up, and then back down. "One." Moving to the bottom bunk is admitting defeat. "Two." The nightmare winning. "Three."

It will go away.

I used tricks to not think about the nightmare during the day—stuff the shrink had told me after my mom died. "Focus excess energy into a creative outlet," he'd advised. I sketched more hours of the day than not, and now I was doing metalwork in Mac's studio. Check. I pressed myself faster to the floor.

"Nine," I said into the darkness. "Ten."

"Engage in physical activity to relieve excess anxiety," he'd said. Work covered that. Plus the patrolling. And the training. Check. The burn moved up my arms into my shoulders as I pounded through ten more. I welcomed the pain; at least I was alive to feel it.

"Twenty."

Lastly, he'd always said, "Talk to someone about it."

It's just a stupid fucking dream—just stop thinking about it.

But that's the problem: it wasn't just a dream. It was a memory. My first day in New Orleans, or my second? Third? It all became a blur once the levees started breaking. There hadn't been nearly enough of us. Not enough muscles to pull people out, and not enough medics to patch people up. Not enough social workers for the kids or shelters for the animals. There weren't enough military to stop the looting or enough supplies for people in the convention center. There hadn't been enough of . . . anything.

Four months later, every time I slept, I drowned.

I always woke from the fall with raw lungs, as if I'd been choking on the water all over again. "Thirty."

Focus on things you can control. Things you can affect.

I thought about the roof I was nearly finished rebuilding with my crew. I thought about flying. I thought about all the places in New Orleans I wanted to sketch—all the sights burned into my memory. I thought about Adele, although I'm not sure how much control I had of that situation. I wished she were here right now. I'd tell her about the nightmare. "Forty."

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