Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Patsy Cline - Walkin' After Midnight

Monday through Friday, my alarm goes off at either 4:45 am or 5:00 am, depending on whether or not I am traveling to work with Ginger, my same-sex lover, and conveniently, my co-worker. I did insist, briefly, on not "dipping my pen in the company ink" in case you were wondering, but I have a Libra rising and was powerless against her phenomenal hotness. 

Call it a bad idea. 
Call it astrological destiny. 
Call me shallow. 

Regardless, we both have to be at work at 6:00 on Mondays and Fridays, so I hop into the passenger side of her black pickup on those mornings, delivered to commerce in a sleek butch chariot. Wednesdays and Thursdays I head off to get some exercise in before my day commences alongside most of the rest of the world at 9:00. Tuesdays, well Tuesdays, I'm on my own. This means I leave my house in the dark, on foot and alone, by 5:25 am. Half the year that means I wind through some dicey territory in that darkness by myself. That kind of hour is for folks rising early, and folks still awake. 

The streets on my route smell like the night at that hour and not the morning. The bakeries are rustling, but the scent of bread isn't rolling out quite yet, pillowy and bold with carbohydrate promises. Coffee houses are locked up tight, roasted beans sequestered behind glass, their heady wealth waiting to dazzle the morning rush. Those smells of morning don't punctuate my commute. My walk is peppered with sidewalk displays of vomit and feces, people sweating off last night's bourbon, thick clouds of weed and cement walls lined in piss. 

I come up from below ground at Mission Street and 16th. It's exactly a half mile from there to the door of my job. It takes me about 8 minutes to walk it. Some days I don't think much about the walk, I daydream about the cup of coffee I'll make when I get there, a slow drip Sumatra I like with a quick pour of organic Half and Half. Or I'll wonder about how everyone might be doing in Egypt or in Dillon, Texas. Maybe I'll be lost in ruminations on philosophy or something more interesting, like rehearsing what I might have said to Spaulding Grey that time I found myself standing next to him in line at a bookstore on Thayer Street in Providence, RI, struck dumb and mute by his presence, which we would lose in the world within two years. 

But some days, like today, I hear every one of my footfalls, and listen for everyone else's, too. Some mornings I am not generous or naive or sunny. I am at the ready, keys woven between my fingers just in case the guy behind me twitches wrong. Sometimes my eyes dart so fast back and forth, they feel like heavyweights bobbing and weaving in the ring, up high on the balls of my feet, looking for every feint in the dance. My fingers pulse, my neck throbs, and every man on the route is my enemy before they are my fellows. Some mornings I have the history of every lone woman walking to work on my back, every lady who never made it to her next paycheck, never made it to pick up her kids from choir practice, never brought home dog food for Gus, a cattle dog mix waiting for her by the door, wagging his furry tail. Some mornings my walk is electric with the current of fear, knowing from the television what people are capable of, but not having been truly tested, having no idea what I am capable of. Some mornings I think about Ginger still asleep at home and take comfort knowing I have left no doubt with her about what is important. 

This morning was one of those mornings where every step felt spring loaded, an insistent section of the journey to safety. I looked at the sky at the last crosswalk wondering when the day would come, like it does every year, that I would stop beating the sun into the world. That it would watch over me again, my ruling planet, and escort me through the streets I love, wishing the people well, getting to my paycheck under a big blue sky. Turn me back into a friendly citizen of the early hours.

Walk safely.

Sara Elise

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