I run into GIRL tonight on St. Mark’s Place and 1st Avenue, right by the Crooked Tree. I always guess the street she’ll be on. She always finds the street I’m on, it’s a game we’ve both perfected. We could be Winston and Julia from 1984. We usually walk around the Village or find a good stoop upon which we can sit and talk, or else go up to my roof. That’s pretty much the stage of our existence together and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like we’re living in another time. But tonight we’re in the subway station. GIRL once saw some kids running through the tunnels from one station to the next. They would wait until a train would pass, jump down onto that track and haul ass after it. This would only work late at night when the train service is reduced, well, that is the only time I would do it. After talking about it for a few minutes and building up the experience, we just had to do it. We looked at the subway map and found the two stations that looked like they were the closest together on the N, R, L, F, or 6 lines. In between 33rd Street and 28th on the 6 train looked like the shortest distance, and it was a straight line running underneath Lexington Avenue. Now we knew we would have plenty of time; at this time of night the trains would only come about every twenty minutes. That was plenty of time to run five blocks, in the dark, through the abyss. The only thing we’d really have to worry about are the little trains that collect the rubbish from every station; they’re more abundant than passenger trains at this hour. We ride up to 28th, get off the train and wait. We could have followed that train, but we needed time to stretch our legs and make our game plan. We would go hand in hand so we would always know the other’s whereabouts. The last thing we needed is one of us to fall down and the other not able to find them. If we did hear or see a train, we would stop immediately and find a safe place. If we ran into some MTA workers, we were running from a potential robber/rapist/crazy person, that’s the best I could come up with. As modern and sleek as these newer subways are, when you look down at the tracks, they’re the same as any old-time railroad train you’d see in the middle of the country. That surprises me though I guess I never really thought about it until now. I guess I figured the evolution of the track would coincide with the evolution of the train, but no. Two rails and many wooden boards with ties and other mis-shaped metal pieces; that’s it. I look down the platform to the opening of the tunnel. The white tiles of tunnel wall pick up slivers of reflected light that grow longer and longer, brighter and brighter; the next train is approaching. I can feel the cool air getting pushed through the tunnel and into the station. I try not to smell that air. I see the lights; my whole body begins to shake and my heart pounds like a fucking sledgehammer. I think about bailing out, but I look at GIRL and she has the most determined face on. She’s got her game face on. She’d make a beautiful corpse. We’d make a beautiful after-school special. There’s no stopping now. We double-check our laces. Yes, they’re tied. I’m glad I put on my trusty blue Gazelles rather than the dressier shoes. We make sure there are no station employees watching us or any cameras pointed in our direction. We’re all clear. The train lets out a couple of people and the doors shut. As the train pulls away we grab hands, take a breath, kiss each other for luck, and jump down into the trash and stagnant water. The adrenaline shoots ice-cold through my veins as we start off at a jog. We look at nothing but where our feet hit, trying to avoid the puddles and rats. The smell is overwhelming; it reminds me of my junior high gym locker room, but worse. Rotting something or other and urine/feces were causing me to gag, but on we go. The sound of the rumbling bumbling train ahead of us fades to dead silence. We don’t say a word, all senses on high alert. We could see much more than I thought we would. Every fifty feet there are lights at the top of the tunnel, which isn’t even a tunnel really, more like a corridor, like a hallway in a dungeon. Never mind the rats. Never mind the other, larger creatures of the night my imagination concocts that are lurking in the shadows. I try to think of what kind of music I’d have playing right now if I ever made a movie and used this scene. Something slow and ironic maybe. I’ll have to discuss that with GIRL later. After a few minutes I begin to wonder about the scale of the subway map we were using to judge distances. I don’t think it was accurate; we should have reached the next station by now. There’s a growl behind us, or maybe it’s above us on the street. Whatever, I hear a growl and it scares me to death. We stop dead in our tracks and look back, my heart stops. I hold my breath, not even allowing myself to exhale. The rumble continues to get louder but we see no lights approaching. I can’t feel any vibrations on the tracks either. It must be a truck traveling above us. The sound faded, it was silent again, Christmas Eve silent. We start running again, faster this time to make up for the time stalled. The only sounds we hear are the rhythmic thuds of our feet and our huffing breaths, getting louder and louder as we start to exhaust ourselves. Uneasiness adds to our pace. I’m not enjoying this anymore. I picture my funeral again; it isn’t as glamorous as when I died in a plane crash. That was a tragedy. This was stupidity. I think GIRL was having similar thoughts, or maybe she was just about to give out. I could never really picture her exerting effort like this before tonight, though she said she used to run cross-country. There was a hurting look on her face. So what are we proving with this? Ah yes, this is living. Thank God when I look up and see a greenish white glow coming from the end of the tunnel. I have never been so happy to see fluorescent lights. We had reached our end.
“Go into the light, move into the light.” I thought. I pray there is no one standing on the platform that’ll see us, but getting busted is the least of my worries at this point. Actually I’m kinda hoping there will be some people up there. I wouldn’t mind some witnesses. I wouldn’t mind seeing a welcoming committee of our friends and loved ones. “Well done Attan ol’ boy, I knew you could do it”, they’d say. Roses will be thrown. Balloons and confetti will be dropped. Strike up the band! Mama, I’m comin’ home! Switch music to the triumphant upbeat tune. However, there isn’t anyone on the platform. We pull ourselves up out of the mucky rut and head for my apartment, as anonymous as we were thirty minutes ago, but changed forever in my mind. I felt like a little kid again, I had this same feeling when I would walk home from someone’s house after coating all their trees with toilet paper while they slept. You never feel so free and alive. Without a doubt the best $1.50 I’ve ever spent. GIRL and I retreat to my rooftop and have long conversations about nothing at all under the summer stars. This time when she stays over, she not only stays all through the night, she even falls asleep first. The running must have drained her. I stay awake for hours, just watching her inhale and exhale and sigh in her sleep. I don’t get much rest. When I wake up and leave for the airport, she’s still asleep, like a baby, like a perfect angel.
Soft blurry vision strobes spinning head throbs.
Intensifying light wrecks dripping damp sunder.
I just want to lay sprawled out, close my lids, and fall violently
into coma laden sleep-
to stop the growing pang, to calm the juices in my stomach.
She’s there now, tucked in and mind at ease-
dreams hum languidly around the room,
hovering in the still air, coating pure delicate shivers.