Blood on the Tracks

by

12/31/2006

Broadway & Tiemann Place, NY, NY 10027

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

Thoughts of tomorrow always began for me with, “One day I’ll do that”.

But circumstances have changed the scope of my choices, and now I wear time next to me like a second skin. I have grown into New York like a pear in a bottle, and I don’t expect that I’ll ever go to Hawaii or Australia, or even visit San Francisco again, but I don’t rule it out either. My plans are measured in city blocks now, and sometimes in a few miles, one small choice at a time.

After the work-week and the daily requirements of single-parenthood have made their claims on my time, my aspirations are humble. Tonight I will sit in my favorite chair and turn on my lamp. I’ll watch the war on CNN for a while, and maybe stuff a burrito into my face while I decide what to do with the rest of my evening, and I’ll be relaxed because the choices will be mine, not someone else’s. Later, I might get into my car and enjoy how it fits me, and drive down Broadway for a while, or I might walk down to the deli under the West 125th Street elevated to pick up milk.

While I’m out, nothing may happen, or something might, as it did a few weeks ago when a woman jumped in front of the southbound train. A part of her torso fell from the trestle, 50 feet below onto Broadway, and the rest remained above. I stood down on the street in the snow with an icy gallon of milk in each hand, watching while the emergency crews scurried around doing their grim work. I didn’t really notice the cold; I just stayed to watch it unfold for a while.

It happens all the time, the deli man told me later. They get tired, and they come up here and make that last choice, to jump. It won’t even be in the papers, he said.

I thought, how lucky I am – I’m going back to my warm and inviting home, and I’m going to make several trivial choices between chores and lazing around, and then I am going to slip into a cool clean bed, happily alone, and fade into calm sleep, and none of what I do tonight will involve deciding whether or not I should jump in front of a train.

The next morning my daughter and I stood up on the el, and we wouldn’t have known that anything had happened – the parts of the snowdrifts that had been bloodied, both in the street and up on the trestle, had been surgically excised and carted away.

“There,” said my daughter, pointing at the track bed. There was a fragment of a long bone the size of a cigar, crushed at both ends, and bright white where it wasn’t red, and next to it was a thick wedge of flesh, still brilliant in the cold.

We discussed telling someone, so that the remains could be returned to their owner, perhaps in time for the funeral, but then thought the better of it, thinking it would be best to let nature take its course; this choice of resting place had been, after all, her last decision.

I watched for the bone each day for the rest of the week, having formed an almost tender relationship with it. It lasted a few days longer than its companion, and by the weekend disappeared, perhaps carried off by a seagull.

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