It’s me on the steps tonight, leading up to street level from the subway platform. My winter coat, the one my father and step-mother bought me last year around Christmas time is on. The weather has turned, flipped over on its belly; it’s nearing cold, somewhere between chilly and need a hat. The leather bag my sister bought me two years ago is slung over my shoulders; its large flap is blown up from the wind. The wire from my iPod runs from the device up to my headphones. The bag slings across my chest, bumping free and bouncing on my ass as I step up. My hands are held, thumbs looping into the strap, crossed in front of me like I’m praying, only I never pray. For anything. The only times I’ve ever prayed, for real that is, were when “Mom” M passed away, and Jim left a month later. I prayed both times. Just simply saying, “If you’re up there, if that place is what some people say it is, if it is great and not dull, peaceful and not overbearing, a place of rest and sanctuary; a sanctuary in the sense of home and homecoming, a remarkable place, well then you know that they belong there. If you exist, if you happen to be good, then please take care of them and love them. And let them know I miss them. So very much.” But I never pray. If prayer gives you solace I am happy for you. If you have faith, then may prayer always bring you calm. Just don’t expect it to do the same for those of us who don’t. There’s more than one way to look at this photograph. Either way, whatever way, my hands are always crossed in front of my chest when I walk up these stairs.
I have a hat on, my truckers cap, my David & Goliath cap. Which doesn’t mean much of anything except that I did not wake up in time to shower today. The song in my ears is “Dry Your Eyes Mate” by the Streets, one of the most perfect sad songs ever heard. In some ways, the song is a snapshot of the moment a relationship dissolves.
I’m striding up the stairs. I’m heading home. I will pick up a chicken burrito on my way home, which I will eat in front of the television. I won’t remember exactly what I was watching. I will make some tea and pour a shot of whiskey over the steaming liquid.
I had this idea one time for a story, called “New York Snapshots.” It was 12 paragraphs, one each dedicated to the individual lives I would pass as I walked to work. I made up different lives for each of them, what they were doing, what they were thinking, just at the moment we passed. But all I could see, all I could write about, is what was happening in their lives just as I passed. I liked the idea, and I love the story.
I submitted it to a prestigious literary journal and got a rejection letter in reply. It wasn’t a form letter, it was obvious the editor had actually read the piece and had thought about publishing it. He said it contained “beautiful writing” and “loved the details of the captured lives” as I walked along, but in the end he wasn’t “quite sure what happened.” He wasn’t sure what it added up to, but I don’t think it was supposed to add up to anything.
The paragraphs above, those are just a quick snapshot of walking home from work, on a Monday in New York. Nothing more, nothing less.