Friday, February 17, 2012

Changing Stations

It was 2:53 when I stepped off the train, and it was the end of the line, for me and one other guy...Only one direction to go. I checked my purse, found nothing missing from its as-yet unfamiliar pockets, and began walking eastward down the platform. It was, perhaps, one or two hundred feet long, a gentle slope of brickwork covered with a light dusting of snow. I set a pace and passed the other fellow, who was moving slow and slightly fat under his black and red plaid coat, without regard. It's quiet, and empty, in that part of downtown at that time of night.

I'd had all of a couple minutes to consider, upon waking, how I had arrived at this station. Some hours earlier, I had bid my friends good night and made my way to a stop several blocks from where I now found myself. At the time, I was intoxicated enough that, as I leaned on the half-wall smoking what I hope was my last cigarette of the night, I could not hold back the hiccups that punctuated the minutes of the wait, which had already been long enough for at least one woman who approached me in a friendly way to complain about the train's whereabouts and suggest that a cab might be a better idea, just before crossing the street and rolling off with her friend. I, however, was not inclined to follow her lead, and continued waiting for an undetermined length of time, during which it might have occurred to me to check the schedule, or the time, but it did not. Some time went by; minutes, or an hour. I do not remember stepping onto the train. I do not recall sitting down, nor do I recall falling asleep. I am an experienced--and even gifted--drunk; also, I do not fall asleep in public. Ever. I do not sleep on the bus, on airplanes, in a car with my family, etc., etc. I do not even sleep in my own bed, for christ's sake. So I surmise that I must have been, as they say, wasted. Granted, I've been running on empty for the past two weeks, I'd slept hardly at all the night prior and had eaten only a meager grilled-cheese sandwich at the show, so I was pretty damn spent. I must have lost consciousness within moments, given that my stop was only a ten-minute ride away.

Here, now. I reached into a pocket and pulled out my as-yet unfamiliar phone, only to find that my battery was running low. Glancing up, I noticed the time, and wondered briefly about my options for getting home; if I could not call a cab, I could most likely hail one close by. I had taken maybe forty strides down the platform when I felt the soles of both my shoes--newly shined earlier that night by an older black man who also offered to, on his twenty-five dollar-a-night salary, take me home and "treat me right"--at once slip against the thin snow, as they so often do... I knew in less than a second I would fall, and fall I did--fully (though not ungracefully) flat onto my back, my skull meeting the brick with a dull thud. I lay there for a moment, seeing bright stars in the black sky beyond the sick glow of the streetlamps, all strangely beautiful.

Righting myself, I spotted a North Star taxi in the intersection below and, in what felt like a single motion, walked down and crossed the street, passing in front of the car with a minimal gesture, pulled open the back passenger door, sat down and said "Can you please take me to...?", a little surprised for some reason that the reply was simply yes, no questions. I don't know how long he had been sitting there, or if he'd seen my fall.

It might have been the lights of the dashboard, or of the empty streets, and not the scattered stars that I remember... All sped by quickly, on the short trip home. I rested in the darkness of the back seat and, anticipating the fare, assembled a small stack of leftover bills which seemed enough to include an appropriate tip...The cabbie asked about the way and I gave him a few reminders, glad that he understood and apparently knew the neighborhood. He pulled up a few houses down from mine, but I did not notice. The fare was more than I'd guessed. No longer certain that what I was already holding would be enough, I handed him a twenty; he looked back at me and requested, in a kind African accent, that I give him what was in my other hand instead, probably seventeen bucks. I graciously obliged and bid him goodnight.

I have arrived at my own door any number of times, under any variety of circumstances, in want of a pair of loving arms to welcome me home. I suppose this time stands out only in that, from a certain point of view, I was lucky to have made it home--safely--at all. There is something slightly chilling, as well as oddly liberating, in knowing that no one in this world has any idea where you are. I do have tremendously good luck, though, and always have. That, or a top-notch guardian angel. Inherent trust in goodness pays great dividends, sometimes.

I was late for work the following morning, naturally, but not a great deal more noticeably so than usual. The day was surprisingly pleasant and peaceful. Nothing lingered, and I was hardly tired--in fact, quite the contrary; I felt oddly lucid, grounded, and at ease. I even had the energy to enjoy an outing with family, deliver a few killer serves and chat my brother up for a couple hours after we got back to my place. Maybe, somehow, I needed those three dark hours, or it could be that new formula of mine taking effect. Or perhaps it was being poked in the third eye on Valentine's Day that did it, but for whatever reason I couldn't help feeling like it was the first day of Spring, or of my new life. In fact--and this was perhaps the only entirely strange aspect of the day--I found myself wondering more than once if it were possible that I had actually died that night. It seems to stand to reason that I am still very much alive.

I spent a little time trying to figure it out, when I got in, and by my best reckoning I must have traveled the entire length of the line, all the way down and back, at least once, quite possibly and more probably twice.  Out, like a light.

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