To honor those contributors who have shared their stories recently on the post Ward 13, I was reminded, by the theme of the subway platform of the following chapter from my novel in progress…This chapter discusses one of the characters and the transformation she had on the subway platform, a place that seems to represent something archetypal to the soul.
Chiaroscuro (working title) – Section 2 Chapter 3
A tired and beat up Rebecca laid in her tired and beat up bed, in a tired beat up apartment, in a tired beat up town, in a tired beat up world, struggling to awaken to this tired and beat up day, March 2nd, a Friday. Her eyes closed, were not yet ready for this leprous day to begin. Eyelids glued shut with last night’s tears, the cellulotic cement helped her resist, the way the cold iron gates resist the shopkeepers clumsy winter fingers, not wanting to open for business, but they opened anyway, the way the sun first peeks over the horizon, inevitably, her glassy eyes were still disconnected from her interior world, as was she. The organic machine of Rebecca’s body began making the blips and bleeps of the daily boot up procedure. Her brain performed the routine location checks on limbs and toes, breasts and buttocks, while every hair on her head counted off at light speed the state of follicle health, her heart increased slightly the oxygen flow to the brain, bundles of neurons activated by this, created electrical patterns, a model of the world, an expression of sense data, that would accumulate into what is called proprioception, the embodied awareness of self. When all of this happens, it does so in a long instant, and the a priori search protocols of our brain, the W’s of existence, coalesce and Rebecca became aware again of who she was, where she was, why she was, when she was and what she was. These subjectives of experience, this cooperation of ideas out of which we derive the notion of self are all dependent upon the relationship of our body to the sense data that we receive from what it is we awaken to, and in the foreground of context Rebecca was aware of an arm, one that was not hers, lying limp and heavy over her, Scott’s arm, and then that which we as observers are aware of, the tiresome beat up quality of this moment, Rebecca became aware of too, acknowledged the hurt, opening the eyes of her soul to let in the pain.
The impulse to move, to get out of the warmth of bodies and enter, naked into the cold world, was countered by the dawning awareness of the day that faced her. It enraged her that she had to do this over and over, awaken to the problems, accept them not because of any profound spiritual embrace, but because she was bound by the laws of physical reality. Rebecca did not believe in magic, or magical thinking, or magical acting, or fucking anything magical, she did not believe, could not believe in receiving days like this. She was tired, soul tired, beat up bad, sad and sick of it all. How many tragedies must she endure? Self pity, oh, this was not useful to her in the morning, anger was what she needed, the rage to take Scott’s arm and put it away from her. She required the frustrated body energy to sit up, to breathe, to wash, to push herself out the door like a general pushing a young soldier toward the battle, she needed the nihilism to force herself to show up and work in the fires of her hell. Even bodies in eternal damnation must move. Getting up was the only way to avoid falling apart, and it was way too early for her to do that.
Rebecca sat up making sure not to wake Scott. They were like prizefighters leaning on one another in the 12th round, now it was time to separate and begin fighting again. There was some misunderstood dignity to be gained in getting out of the apartment without speaking. Scott cooperated, half-awake but feigning a deep sleep. Rebecca got into the shower and washed her body the way men wash cars. Her body was a cage with wheels and she scrubbed it and applied all the ointments, gels and liquids that are expected these days, so she smelled right in some places and didn’t smell at all in others. When she looked in the mirror she was not surprised to see the same sad and worn out girl, pale and pitiful. She had to keep moving. She went to the dark bedroom dropping her wet towel in the corner and stepped into her black panties, then strapped on a charcoal black bra around her pale hard breasts. She covered her body with a dark grey sweater and a pair of black slacks, stepped into some black low-heeled shoes. Rebecca grabbed her black bag and her black wool coat and pushed herself out the door, knowing that she had freed Scott to start his morning resurrection. When Rebecca got to the street she jumped into the line of mourners, dark pedestrians in the morning mourning, the daily horse race funeral procession of a New York City dead dawn. The high speed internet has its physical form, and these souls dressed darkly are bits of information, blacked out binary probabilities, driven by the digiglobe’s logging in and booting up, the fingers of the world pushing flesh through concrete tunnels, faster and faster, the task master’s invisible hand fisting civilization’s open societies. To Rebecca, this was a comfortable numbing speed; her heart’s increased pumping gave her a momentary sense of relief, the drug of performance. Rebecca was only outside, in the freely moving albeit polluted air, only getting a glimpse of the morning sun, for a few moments as it reflected off the top edge of the canyon of 6th avenue, before she made another downward trajectory into the subway system, maintaining her speed and momentum, sliding her metrocard with a metropolitan elegance pushing through the turnstile like a well cut cog in a well-oiled machine. Her inertia was cancelled out by the morning train’s absence, she had a few minutes to wait and as she walked up to the train platform she took her first deep breath of the day, and after she took this breath she gave it back to the world, she exhaled but made a mistake similar to the man who looking at his watch pours hot coffee into his lap, she let out too much, released too much of her breath, and like a house of cards, dependent upon the delicate balance of tensions, her exhalation, an accidental sigh of sadness took out with it the last of her dire determination and an unexpected psychic implosion followed. Shallow breathing is necessary for those who struggle to hold on and as the depth of her breathing connected her brain for the first time to her tired body, as the needs of that body rushed over the mental barriers, the train came rushing into station, as if a damn had broken, the waters of psychic retention, repressed rage and self-righteousness broke out and spilled all around her, emptying her out onto the station platform as the head of the 6 train came splashing into her cloud of anguish, she might have collapsed but she was made of nothing now, like a blade of poison-soaked grass blowing in a hot dank rush of wind brought by the morning chariot. She was shattered. When the train came to full stop the doors opened up right in front of her, but there was no thought of moving, she looked through the doors into the train the way a child watches the ocean, the call and response of reality had ceased to lay hold on her. She stood there watching the train shoot off into the dark tunnel that once seemed to be her future, she stood doing nothing, wanting nothing; this is the relief of a psychic collapse. As the next train came screeching in, like a robotic river that one can never step into twice, she remained. In the scratched up windows of the cranky doors she saw herself in the acidic fluorescent reflection, the doors opened wide again, inviting her with a pornographic mechanicality into conformity with the darkness, to take a ride out into the ghetto again to fire away from the trenches of civil wishes into the eyes of an enemy, but those eyes, the ones of her enemies, looked more and more like those facing her in the graffitied plexiglass doppelganger. As the doors of the subway closed she remained motionless, still, while the world of reason abandoned her, evaporating, washed away by the flow of this stainless steel river.
She turned, walked robotically toward the stairs, going deeper and deeper underground, she headed for the uptown train. Going down to get out, this was the Escher-like relativity of city life. She was moving with the steady detachment of early man, so had she regressed, she was retreating from her post-modern life, moving backwards to find out where she went wrong. She was not conscious of this, she was hardly conscious of anything; the automatic pilot had been engaged. This happens sometimes, to those who are blessed with a second chance in their souls. Some people have a strong ‘physio-logic’ that they only discover when their mind fails and the tyrant of reason surrenders to the wisdom of the flesh, which houses, contains the evenly distributed majority of our soul, spirit, or virtue, however you wish to define that which divides us against the infinite valueless force of creation and aligns us with what we call the ‘good’. Just as some cars have sunroofs, some souls have emergency evacuation procedures and Rebecca’s body was taking her to Grand Central Station where she would board the Metro-North rail line that would take her to upstate New York where her grandmother lived.
When she got to Grand Central, she bought her ticket to Poughkeepsie, then called her Grandma, and in a monosyllabic way said, “Grandma, I’m coming to see you.” The large commuter trains, they took passengers out of the city, to the suburbs and even further out into the farmland of upstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, to the larger world, the one that New Yorker’s often forget exists. If the subway acts as the blood vessels circulating nutrients and exchanging the bio-data within the organ of the great metropolis, then these rail lines were like veins and arteries connecting the city to surrounding tissue and ultimately to other organs. Rebecca was a spent blood cell in need of repair, seeking with her various instinctual effort combinations to find a more oxygen-rich environment. Like a zombie, absent of civilized thought she boarded the train, it was emptied out, a morning train on its way back out to the ‘burbs’ to fill itself up with more workers, she was alone, enjoying the sensuous solitude of those who dare move in the opposite direction of the social order. She plopped down into the high-back cushioned seats and leaned her head on the large clean windows that looked out at the soot covered catacombs of Grand Central Station and hungered for the sunlight that would soon come pouring in, as well as a horizon line dominated by trees rather than rectangles.
At 9:00 the train pushed off. Rebecca felt her phone vibrating in her purse and she knew, the way isolated people know, who and what exactly that vibration was. It was her school, they call when a teacher is late, it is protocol, even though they assumed, as they always do when a teacher does not show up without calling, that Rebecca was stuck on a stalled subway train. In most places in America being late to work, especially without calling ahead, is a problem, that demands explanation, but in New York City it is expected that an employee will regularly fall victim to the malfunctioning of the machine and so the first instinct of an employer is to assume a failed switch or flooded tracks, a pregnant woman or a suicidal passenger, all of which can sometimes cause thousands of employees to come to work muttering without shame their frustrations about being late. Sometimes, but one must be cautious, an employee who slept in or could not resist another taste of their new lover, they could get away with blaming their tardiness on a train malfunction that never happened, it helped immensely if there really was a problem somewhere that had made the news, even if it did not directly affect one’s trip; this was often enough to fool one’s boss. Point being, that as Rebecca’s school had not received a call from her, they would assume she was stuck in a tunnel, and they would do this until around lunchtime when having not heard from her they would be forced to consider the only two other alternatives; she was dead or quitting her job. An office administrator in a public school understands that what makes a public school teacher is his/her adherence to a set of professional principles and when one of these practitioners stop practicing, even one aspect of the agreed rules of the game, then they are undoubtedly getting ready to give up. They have seen it so many times that when they fail to hear from Rebecca they begin drawing up the paperwork in order to save time.
Rebecca was not worried about her kids and it felt good. The kids were alright. They were at this very moment throwing an absent teacher party at the expense of some poor fool who would be called in to substitute. These substitutes were normally disgruntled artists, writers or activists, dysfunctional intellectuals who made ends meet by battling with groups of children in a paradoxical power dynamic that heightened the paranoia that kept substitutes in a substitute state of mind. Rebecca smiled about this, somebody else’s problem, smiled the way a defeated fighter smiles when he realizes in private the liberation of no longer having to defend a title. Rebecca was giving up and doing so, giving up, is not as much a sin as our modern world would have you believe. Giving up, if you look at the words anew, giving is sharing and letting go, and up is positive, heavenly directed, to God, to something higher or more adequate. Giving up takes great strength, because only those who try to do things that are beyond themselves have anything to give up on. A lazy man cannot give up, cannot admit defeat. Only a person who is passionately but tragically fighting in the wrong direction can give up, surrender and allow themselves to be used in a new way. Often times a person will give up on something and discover that it will not give up on them, and only in this way can somebody find an undying faith in their fate or destiny. Rebecca could not see things like this, giving up is painful, and she was feeling that, the hurt and loss, the futility of wasted effort, her spirit was lying face down in the blood soaked earth of the abandoned battlefield. She was an emptied out shell of a woman, like only the year 2007 knows how to make.
This ghostly gal Rebecca Weisz was headed on this empty train toward upstate New York, to Poughkeepsie, to the rolling landscape of the shawagunk mountains, where her Grandmother was waiting, standing with her concerned smile in the parking lot, Grandma Millie Finklestein was one of those women who run with wolves, a grey-haired, working hands old-school hippie, one of those ladies who is still fighting the love revolution and still winning. Grandma Millie was Rebecca’s rock, her home base, her emotional savings account for rainy days. Not everybody has such a thing, such a fallback procedure and this explains much of the genuine tragedy in the world. One of the greatest gifts we can give to people is to provide a safety net and this is what Grandma Millie was doing on this late winter morning, standing on her sturdy legs preparing herself for her hurting grand-daughter.
When Rebecca walked off the train, when she walked through the old brick train station, her eyes began welling up knowing her grandmother was outside, she felt so small and when she saw her Grandma in the parking lot she ran to her like a 10 year old girl, collapsing in her arms, and she wept. Weeping did not upset this wonderful and wise old matriarch. It made her smile because she knew that sadness was a sign of courageous living, so much better than bitterness or rage. She knew her poor little granddaughter was becoming a new woman in her arms through the cleansing shedding of tears, and she was honored to hold her, to take it in, to help her carry the burden. There is no sadness like female sadness, and in this capacity, to expel water, they touch the infinity of humanity’s oceanic knowledge. If men carry humanity’s promethean fire, the salty hard earth like creative will, then women carry the wet cleansing, cooling, oceanic rivers of lubricating love. As Rebecca lost sight of the shore she would discover what was essential in herself by returning to her last known source of happiness, she would recover those things that could sustain her.