The daily struggle.
My eyelids are hopelessly losing the battle against gravity.
Heavy from a third sleepless night in a row, they easily yield to the pounding fatigue that courses through the length of my body. My head feels like it’s been wrapped in layers of cellophane. Each second slows, distorts, expands — time in all its impeccable glory now reduced to an entropic mystery. The allure of just a few more moments’ rest has never felt so tempting.
I blink several times, attempting to clear the brain fog and regain a hold of my consciousness before it threatens to escape me yet again, this time indefinitely.
A sea of hazy, warm colors vaguely reminiscent of citrus fruit comes flooding into my vision. Reds, yellows, oranges: the signature colors of crisp, late-autumn leaves scattered on suburban streets like rose petals strewn across a wedding aisle. The seats of the 1 train, the subway I’ve taken to get to work every day for the past 10 years. The jutting contrast between the bright citrus colors and the dull, metallic grays found everywhere else in the skeletal ribcage of the beast which I now find myself deep within — it’s disorienting, even to this day.
The beast shows no restraint as it hurtles forward, letting out a shrill and continuous screech as it flies and swoops and swerves. It skids to an abrupt stop. Christopher street. I’ve got a long way to go. I’ll just rest my eyes for one more minute…
Immediately, a draft of bone-chilling air invades the subway car, the jarring cold prying my eyes open. Alongside it, a young Asian woman clasping her son’s tiny hand. Strapped to his back is a Thomas the Train backpack, which jostles up and down with his every step. Together, hand in hand, they submerge themselves within the new, slower reality found within our car. Time operates on a different schedule in the subways; it passes faster than you expect, slower than you remember. A peculiar state of limbo.
The exposed section of my ankles screams in protest as the January air violently embraces them. Close the door, I mentally beg the conductor, pressing my legs together for warmth. Close it now, please.
Opposite the boy and his mother, a homeless man wearing an eye patch lies splayed out across 4 seats, his legs dangling off of the side railing. A heavy groan spills out from his lips, a deep, rumbling sound, as he adjusts his position to bar himself from the onslaught of wind. A dimly lit eye peers blankly at the harsh white subway lights. His only other accessory is a tattered blanket that hangs tightly over his shoulders, as if protecting him. It might have once been a shade of baby blue but now resembles a shade of ash-grey, tainted by dirt and age and hardship.
Ash. I imagine tiny flecks of gray dust floating upwards in the wind in a dizzying, swirling pattern. They’re dancing, swaying from left to right as the wind carries it far, far away into unknown, faraway lands. Into mystical, whimsical dream lands…
Pigs, thousands of them, expel high-pitched, gut-twisting squeals in a desperate attempt to escape their agonizing fate. No, it’s the wheels of the metro, sending shudders down my spine with their horribly dissonant chorus. After what seems like a lifetime, the squealing subsides, replaced by the wave of commuters flooding in from Times Square. Times Square, already? The semi-peaceful state of limbo in our car has now been transformed into a wild, multicolored ruckus. The citrus colors no longer exist in solitude; they are now complemented by an exotic palette from the looks of bohemian hipsters and gaudy models clothed in thick fur coats.
The motley crew expands.
One more stop. I grab a hold of the metal bar, steadying myself, and peer out the window. There’s a train next to us, heading in the same direction at roughly the same speed. A girl with tightly coiled hair and thick-rimmed glasses meets my gaze. Time slows as our trains race side by side, our locked eyes exchanging telepathic stories with each other for a brief moment in time stretched into eternity. Imperceptibly, the leveling plane gradually starts to shift as her train starts descending into the depths of the underground subway abyss. Our eye contact lingers, holding steady, until her train plunges into darkness, obliterating our brief connection.
I wonder if I will ever see her again.