I want to write about the hand I saw in the subway car, how I was sitting in the corner of the train and the five fingers crept around the mirrored surface of the car in an odd, backward way. I remember that the nails were wide and the fingers themselves were thick and sturdy and pale brown. The fingertips were almost near enough to touch my hair, which was still wet from an evening shower. I was drinking white wine out of a travel mug because I was on my way to my bereavement group at the university. I used to drink wine at a neighborhood bar before bereavement group, but lately I have started commuting with wine so I’ll be ready to talk about my dead relative the moment I arrive on campus.
When I boarded the train that evening with my mug of wine I had a feeling that I smelled like an actual wino, perhaps a homeless woman. I had done nothing to convince the other people on the train that I was not a homeless woman because I was sitting very still and sad in the corner and probably appeared spaced out to them. There was also a half-smoked cigarette in the pocket of my coat, which can tend to smell worse than any other thing, even if the cigarette is only five minutes stale.
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A few weeks ago I went to Penn Station at 8pm to meet my mom’s midnight train from Virginia. I was excited about spending four hours under Madison Square Garden, exploring its subterranean wealth of eating and drinking options. I’ve been to some tasty restaurants in Manhattan, but you don’t truly know a city until you’ve dined in its train stations. I thought I could get some good writing done in the back of TGI Friday’s. I ordered wine and french fries. I noted in my journal that TGI Friday’s is exactly the opposite of the way it’s depicted in TV commercials. The waiter didn’t want me there. If I had ordered a $17 plate of buffalo wings, or if he’d been accustomed to Salman Rushdie drafting novels at one of his sticky tables, perhaps things would have been different. At a certain point I could no longer deny that both he and the waitress wrapping flatware in paper napkins were judging me harshly.
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That’s the first indication it will turn out badly. The second indication is that I have nothing to say. Here is what time is doing lately: inching, edging, creeping, lurking. It is twisting in my back. It doesn’t spare me, it doesn’t take pity on me. It doesn’t let me sit by the side of the road for a minute to rest my legs. It treads, it marches, it drags me along with it.
In class the other day, my professor quoted this poem by Bill Knott:
The only response
to a child’s grave is
to lie down before it and play dead
I have been trying. I have been motioning surrender with my hands and my feet. I have been telling time to stop, to reverse. I’ve been holding as still as I possibly can. I’ve breathed in nothing but dirt and November. I’ve frozen my mouth so it’s beyond words. And yet I will wake up tomorrow. Tomorrow I will wake up.