There’s something to be said for rising early, for being among the first on the train, a touch bleary-eyed, coffee still warm from the French press from which it was just poured. The light of the subway car is harsh and apt to make anyone look unflattering before the light has time to break across the sky. We are all tired this morning. We are all tired most mornings.
Today, she was in a rush and didn’t put makeup on; I watch her complete this strangely intimate task as I stand against the doors that do not open until the swell of 7 train passengers board at Queensboro plaza. I have to pull myself together too, find glasses, Kindle, sip coffee and ensure I didn’t forget my office keys. But I pause, watching her paint eyeliner too heavy for this hour and this day across pale eyelids. The affect of her face changes, her eyes shrink and her face looks heavier. I want to tell her she was prettier before the eyeliner, that she doesn’t have to hide, but I stay silent. She leans forward to rest her purse on a suitcase before her – a business trip? Wherever she is going, apparently this kind of mask is needed. I look away.
My favorite mornings are when I have time to walk to the slightly further train station and the air is crisp enough to be enjoyable. Now it’s darker at 6:30 in the morning and the sunrise barely peeks over the car, waiting, patiently to rattle across the only track operational to take passengers to the end of the line. Astoria Boulevard station is higher up and more open than the others. It’s not escaping the city, but despite the frenzied traffic below, it feels like one of the most free places near my home. Of course, the park is lovely, but with the heavy presence of two bridges bookending the open space and copious trees, it still feels claustrophobic.
I always feel freer by the water.
This morning was different: I had to run errands. The dry cleaners I love – run by a perpetually-smiling Korean couple – opens early enough for me to pick up my now-neat clothing. Pre-caffiene, I forgot my ticket, couldn’t find my debit card, was apologetic in the morning haze and fumble. Post-caffiene, I knew I’d be moving with purpose, picking up bread, olives and other Greek delicacies to take to my parents on a brief visit home. Stopping a local businesses gives me a sense of community that my apartment building lacks. The only time I was spoken to by a random resident was when the elderly gentleman in question asked if I was ok. I was grimacing and sweaty. I was also stretching from a run. I think he thought I’d injured myself – who would voluntarily work themselves into that state before the sun had illuminated the city?
Apparently, I used to. I used to run, quite blind, concerned only with the weather, the temperature, the wind speed. Concerned about how fast or far I was going, how or if this would be enough, could I decrease that hangover in time to be pleasant and functional, or would this be one of those days when eating every two hours was a necessity. I would push on, regardless, changing songs with abandon, distracted and alone.
This morning I was reminded that the school by the train station is indeed fully funcitonal, corridors once again ringing with the patter of feet, bells and laughter. It was eerie in the summer. Silent and stoic and expelling the energy of the children not present. It waited and I felt it’s strange presence, compelled to walk away, in a similar fashion to people’s avoidance of abandoned hospitals. It wasn’t quite right. But better than seeing the school restored to life was the opportunity to watch children walking to the front door with their parents. Here, no dour faces made even more ill by artificial light would do everything and anything to avoid reality; these children were a panorama of emotion. Some held to their parents’ hands, looking overly pensive for someone so small. Some skipped ahead, tugging on their elder’s hands, backpacks bouncing, further dwarfing the tiny humans. Others still shrieked, racing parents, laughing with friends, running up the school steps with a gap-toothed grin, twinkling eyes, genuine smiles.They listened soberly to their elders, looked out across the schoolyard, held tight to hands, toys, books, objects or people to provide comfort. They looked serious, thrilled, even determined.
I haven’t been around so much unabashed, honest emotion since I was in an airport.
Some days, I wish mornings held no appeal. I wish I could be satisfied waking up the afternoon, spending a long night working, reading, doing with no qualms. Yet sometimes, following the day’s progress into the late night and next day is magical. Sometimes, you collapse into those beautiful, neverending conversations; the next drink, the anticipation, the next bar. You focus on the moment. You cheat time. You hear words and feel the night’s chill and smile in solidarity at others still out, intense, tired. It’s as beautiful as gorgeous sunrises, of quiet subway cars and a park’s fresh air.
I like balance. And I like always being present.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”