A CONTINUATION OF Six Foot Snowdrifts, Miles to the North, Past Midnight
For a few dozen streets before Van Cortlandt Park, Broadway, as it travels through the Bronx, is covered by an elevated train. The streets to the side are lined with the type of stores one would expect in a working class neighborhood - auto repair joints, supermarkets with gaudy signs displaying some specially low price on a cheap type of meat cut, liquor shops with several panels of bullet proof glass and a small little slit between the vendor and the client, and occassionally - the only places open at this hour - some Dominican nightclub or Irish bar. The Elevated Train ends suddenly, on some street numbered in the low 200's, at a non-descript station that, the hour I arrived at it, was cold and empty. It took me three hours to walk from my apartment to this place where the train ended, and the cold wind had already torn through my clothes, bitten through my skin, and was licking at the marrow of my bones. I could feel my hands stiffen, even in their pockets, and the cold was burning my face. It would only cost a dollar and a few miuntes of waiting, and I would soon by on the top of the platform, taking the elevated train back through the Bronx and into Manhattan, and soon, sweeping underground, I knew the one train would deliver me into a heated platform exactly 200 meters under my home. Looking from beneath the el, from under the platform where the 1 train ends, you can see the dark blue outline of Van Cortlandt Park, utterly abandoned in the nighttime and in the wind, possibly dangerous for the traveler in the summer, but in the winter empty even of crooks.
I stood under that elevated train station for quite a while. Underneath it, illegal taxi cabs waited for clients to take them into the streets of the north, remote places where no subway would go. I didn't have enough money to take a taxi as far north as I wanted to go, but I wanted to be lost in those twisted streets, surrounded by trees and big houses, the city falling off me like a dirty old coat. I walked into a small 24 hour coffee shop - there are always 24 hour coffee shops in places like this, serving the unlucky commuter who gets to the end of the station too late, and the cab drivers who wait to take them home - and had myself one last, warm cup of coffee, letting the heat of the place warm me as much as possible until the stares of the waitress and the manager made sure that I realized that for one cup of coffee, my welcome had worn out.
I closed my eyes - I was already anticipating, with quite a bit of hatred, the coldness of the wind - and strode right from my last warm haven directly into the gloom of the park. I didn't know where I was going; I didn't even know where the park led. I remembered it vaguely as running from the Bronx all the way into Westchester, having seen this on some motorist's map, but how it did this, or what was the best route to take accross it, was something I was utterly ignorant of. My ideal was to get lost as quickly as possible, so that I would have no direct route back to the subway, and would be forced to wander all night until I escaped - or rather, until the park spit me out - at some remote corner of another part of the city, from where I could resume my journey, no longer tempted by the possibility of a quick ride home.
Because of the cold, I was already beginning to break - I told myself that if I saw an all night diner, I would stay there for a while, and if I saw a motel I might even spend of my money and spend the night there, getting myself warmed up before continuing ahead. That's, at least, what part of me was telling myself - but the desire - the ecsatic desire to lose myself in the cold and the gloom, to brave every physical obstacle until I found myself far, far away in the north, wouldn't let me go. And so it was with fear - and great determination - that I plunged into the park.
I don't know how much I need to tell you how cold it is in the middle of the winter, at night, in New York city, and it's even colder in the parks where no apartment building warms the streets, where there are no neon signs. The entrance to the park was one big field - I crossed it - and then some trees - I disappeared among them - and finally some trails - which I followed, wherever they led me, until I was quite sure that I didn't know how to get home, or even where I was. I was so cold that I thought I might die, fainted or frostbitten amongst the trees, but at the same time, I knew I wouldn't die, I felt deep in my bones - somewhere deep, deep, deeper than the cold - that I was traveling towards some kind of destiny that was waiting for me since the moment of my birth.
It seems silly now - silly because I know there was no destiny at the end of the line, just an unbearable disappointment, and an embarassed, panicky journey home - but at the time I was more fanatical about my destination than any Jonestown boy about to drink his punch. I expected, any minute, to meet the enchanted maiden, my lover and my soulmate, who would take me into her bosom and give me everything that I ever wanted and never had. The more brutal the powerful signs of the winter and the night, the more I was certain that I was going to beat it, that I was doing this for some unfathomable reason, and I was going somewhere magical where no man had ever been. I suppose I was almost insane. I kept walking, through the trees and up the hills, into thicker and thicker undergrowth, now singing to myself some old melody to keep my strength up, now just walking at some rhythmical set pace, watching the puff of white air that my breath had become leave the heat of my mouth, now expanding, now contracting. Soon, I wasn't even sure where I was walking; I was just in a form of ecstacy; there was just the park, and me.
To this day, I don't know if the wild dogs that attacked my that night had a master. I seem to remember a figure of someone - some hispanic looking youth with a blue jacket and a furry cap - but I can't swear I saw him - and I was cold and confused - and anyway, why would anyone want to just set their dogs on me and dissappear. Sometimes I think I can remember him clearly, sneering at me with a cold, hateful face and deliberately letting go of a leash, and other times I imagine that it can't have happened that way at all, and that the first thing I really remember from the encounter were the dogs set upon me, circling me from every direction, howling for my blood.
There were three of them; and as it was late, I never got a clear enough look at them in the light to know exactly what kind of breed of dog they were. Suddenly, my exalted state disappeared. I felt nothing but naked fear. I looked around me like an animal, trapped, trying to remember, what a man should do when surrounded by angry dogs. They were barking at me furiously, and every now and then one of them would take an extra step forward to grab part of my pants' leg, moving back slightly when I kicked them away. I did what I suppose you are never supposed to do in the circumstances - I began to run. Up and down the same trails I had just wandered through in leisurely ecstacy, thinking of nothing but getting away from the dogs behind me which were clearly howling with a bloody lust.
Finally, I saw my opporunity - parallel to where I was running there was a steep hill, and I figured that if I sled down it, the odds were it was too steep for the dogs to follow. I don't remember pushing myself over the side - I'm certainly too much of a coward to have done it with aplomb - but soon enough, there I was, sliding down the gravel hillside, scratching myself on every rock and every branch of every tree, until I found myself dumped at the edge of some kind of highway running through the park, cut and bruised all over my body, my clothing in tatters, and my hands covered with my own blood. The heat of my own blood, poured over my with surprising thickness, was making steam rise from different parts of my body.
The dogs were nowhere to be seen. They weren't even barking forlornly above me.
I looked up behind me to see if they had followed and when I realized how steep the incline was from which I fell, I thought it was a miracle that I had survived. I stood up, and began to limp. I wasn't thinking of anything, I wasn't even in a hurry to get out of the park - all of my fear seemed to have vanished - but I needed to do something, and I wasn't yet ready to die. I walked for maybe an hour or more. I finally found myself led by the highway to the end of the park, and an exit ramp, a sign clearly telling me I was in Westchester County, and a big, empty suburban boulevard with strip malls and houses that were all dark and closed. I sat down on the curb without knowing where to go. I still thought to myself that I could find a pay phone, call for a cab, call for my parents even, come up with some story about why I was here in such a miserable, out of the way place, and soon be in a warm bed, drinking a coffee, safe at home.
I knew I wouldn't do it though - I hadn't really walked very far at all, but in my own mind I had come to far to turn back and that determination, as crazy as it was, was the important thing. I couldn't explain to anyone why I thought I had to do this, and yet I knew this was the thing I thought I had to do. I was laying on the grass of someone's big house in a curled up position to keep myself warm, feeling the sting of every cut and bruise. It was just going to be for a little while, for I had taxed myself quite heavily and needed to rest a little bit before I went on. Then I would stand up and begin to cross Westchester County until I came to the other side of it - on foot if I had to, on a bus if I could find one, hitchhiking, if I thought that would help. I would take anything, anything, anything, that I thought could lead me to the north, even if I had to crawl there on my hands and knees
I had left my apartment in some impulsive mood and the impulse had grown stronger and stronger the less I had resisted it, the more I had followed my own deep inclinations. I no longer had a personality, really. I was just a traveler, headed for the North.