Labyrinthine circuit board lines by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

We interrupt this hard-won linear progression toward my health and general well-being with a harrowing episode, the likes of which can only be properly accounted for when the movement through space and time of a loved one towards his or her bus home chafes against the intractable predisposition of a 100+ year old municipal transit system to create general havoc, especially on a weekend.

J took the youngs to a birthday party mid-morning (after a fearsome and long-dreaded tantrum from Young J, who is starting to go to pieces the longer I stay in bed). Then they had flu shots scheduled.

Mom was leaving today. Her bus was leaving at 2 pm from Penn Station, so I would accompany her to the subway station with her suitcase and she would take it from there. She and I enjoyed a few minutes of calm. I made a feeding schedule for myself (every two hours – just like a newborn) and wrote down all of the possible permutations of micro-snacks and doll-sized meals I can “enjoy,” so that I stay on top of things and don’t space out and go for six hours without eating. I felt good and empowered and ready to handle it all. I walked down the flight of stairs and the stoop carrying her suitcase and didn’t feel light-headed at all.

Before leaving the house Mom asked if I’d checked the subway service status online. I had not. I took a look and it said Planned Work. I clicked through to find about three pages of deviations, warnings, and closings. My heart quickened and then sank. We hadn’t allowed for enough time to take a cab. It was subway or bust.

We took a train that doesn’t typically run on our line. I figured I would figure it out as we went, but the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Before the train left Brooklyn I spied a chance to switch lines, and took it. It happened to involve the longest walk inside a station in perhaps the entire city, from the 4 at Borough Hall to the R at Court St. On a good day, in top physical condition and with no one else on the platform, one might need 15 minutes walking briskly to traverse this underground passage.

But this is me we are talking about, and Mom, who, even relieved of her suitcase (which I was wheeling) cannot walk all that fast. I felt we lost at least an hour, which cannot possibly be true because of the eventual outcome. There was luck in the sense that we were able to use both an elevator and an escalator during this leg of the trip. But I was growing more panicked by the moment (she wanted to be in line for the bus an hour before departure, and it was already 12:40). At one point as I glided down the empty escalator I started yelling up to Mom, “I JUST NEED YOU TO FOLLOW ME AND NOT SAY ANYTHING!” I wonder if Virgil ever said that to Dante?

We arrived on the platform to wait for an R train, and there were no benches in sight. I leaned against a post. Mom said I wasn’t looking too good. I was sweating. Mom opened her magical purse of wonders and came to my rescue with a Jolly Rancher. I popped it in my mouth and my mind went APPLE APPLE APPLE GREEN GREEN APPLE APPLE GREEN and then I was much more calm. (Note to self: Carry hard candies. They are important.) The train arrived and it was empty and we made our local way to Manhattan, Mom seized by guilt at having drawn me into this transit vortex.

The apple candy went down easily and I decided to have a cherry one. Its flavors were unbelievably nuanced. I tasted something Indian, like rose water. Jolly Rancher, who knew a starving person could find such inspiration in your humble taste? After that I was really okay. I was so okay, in fact, that as a true New Yorker I never stopped looking for an opportunity to switch to a faster train. When we were at Union Square, I saw it, and before Mom knew what I was doing I was barreling across the platform to the Q (which, by the way, would have been the better choice of train for us from the get-go). There was someone crossing in front of me and I literally bent my body in half to keep them from blocking our path to the open train doors. Mom said she nearly had a heart attack. I don’t know what I was having, but I was still kind of high on the Jolly Ranchers I’d had so it almost felt like the opposite of a heart attack.

One station later, we arrived. I could have found a stranger to carry Mom’s suitcase up the stairs (as she often has when she is alone). But I had a daughter’s duty to fulfill. I was going to walk her to the corner of 30th St and point her in the right direction, then turn around and take the train right back home. (She had insisted I take a cab back, but I’d had enough of uncontrollable variables for the day.)

And I made it. WE made it. Little Mom and desiccated, half-starved me, walking through Koreatown/Accessories World together. We parted on the corner and it was only 15 minutes later than she’d wanted to be, a miracle considering what we went through to get there.

On the subway ride home I kept my hand tightly coiled around the third Jolly Rancher in my pocket.

5 thoughts on “Intermission

  1. I’ve experienced both the Jolly Rancher effect and the mass transit vortex while in treatment. It’s kind of like strength training at 6,000 feet above sea level. You’re going to appreciate your stamina when you emerge!


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