Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Night

Written some time in late December, 2009.

I am a horrible, horrible mother, and I need to have my mothering license revoked. The first piece of foolishness was going out at all tonight. Who takes a toddler to an adult holiday party at 8:30PM in the middle of an ever-worsening snowstorm? Me. (Or rather I?) I did that. And I stayed until 11, drinking wine and playing Apples to Apples while my son wandered around eating pretzels and cookies and rolled Christmas tree ornaments across on the floor and then absentmindedly twisted himself into my lap to nurse while the other partygoers tried to pretend not to notice. And then he walked to the door and asked to go home, at which point I should have called a car service. But instead, I bundled us both up, borrowed some money from a friend (because why be responsible enough to make sure I have round trip cab fare before leaving the house?), and blithely walked out on the street with my toddler in the middle of a blizzard. I was on Manhattan and 108th, and I walked up to 110th on the principal that it would be easier to get a cab there. But really, there were no cabs anywhere, and the wind was biting and the snow blowing sideways. By the time we got to the circle at the corner of 110th and Frederick Douglass, my little son, not quite two, still a baby really, on my back in a wrap, had begun to cry. There were still no cabs, so I kept walking, and he began to cry even harder, and I wanted to cry myself, because it was snowy and windy and I did not know how we were going to get home. Should I go back to the party? Should I call my friend who was still at the party and ask her to come pick us up and let us stay at her apartment just a block away until the snow quieted? My son had begun to arch and struggle away from me on my back, and afraid that he would struggle free entirely, I untied the wrap, which was already wet, and tried to lower him gently to his feet, but he was wiggling and kicking too much and he fell back in the snow instead and opened his mouth and screamed. I lifted him to me, and he continued to scream furiously and arch away from me. I looked around me – was anyone watching me? Was anyone seeing what a horrible, horrible mother I was to take a not-quite two-year-old out at 11PM in a blizzard, and then to drop him in the snow while waiting for a non-existent cab?

Finally, finally, a white livery cab pulled to a slow stop across the street from me. The snow and slush seemed, suddenly, to be as loud as a cage full of roaring lions, and we yelled at each other as though across a great distance.

“WHERE YOU GOING?!”

ONE HUNDRED FORTY FIRST STREET!”

“HOW MUCH YOU PAY?!”

“I ONLY HAVE NINE DOLLARS!”

He looked at me disbelievingly. Usually, the fare from that spot to my apartment would be seven dollars, but I realized, too late, that in this snow, and considering the fact that he would have to turn around and drive opposite the direction he meant to go, nine dollars was nowhere near the right fare. But I had nothing more. “NEVER MIND!” I yelled, feeling spiteful and forlorn, and turned to trudge back towards the party, my sobbing son on my hip, when the driver took pity. “OKAY! COME ON!” And before he could change his mind, I stumbled over the snow banked at the curb and rushed across one lane of traffic to hurl myself and my son into the car, spraying snow and ice and water all over the back seat.

The car windows were crusted over with snow, and I could barely see where we were going as we part-slid, part-drove up Frederick Douglass at about two miles an hour. My son alternately clutched at me and pushed me away, sobbing and sobbing in an agony of – what? Cold? Fear? Exhaustion? Confusion? As we passed the neon signs at 125th, though, he began to quiet, and I opened my coat and he nursed, his wet jacket cold against my bare skin.

At home, I peeled our wet things off as quickly as possible and took my baby straight to bed, where he nursed to sleep almost immediately. His memory, once nonexistent, is certainly getting better, but I do not know if he will remember, tomorrow morning, sobbing and screaming at the corner of 110th and Frederick Douglass, begging an impassive universe for mercy. And if he does remember, I do not know what he will think of the memory; I can only hope that it will not dampen his enthusiasm for going to the park tomorrow and enjoying the first real snow of his boyhood.

Bus Stop

Written some time in mid-December 2009.

New York City can be a tragic place to be when it is cold and raining. Today, it is dark and cold and wet, and I had to wait for the bus. First, I thought I was having good luck, as the bus came right when I got to the stop. But when I swiped my MetroCard, the little screen said INSUFFICIENT FARE, and the same thing happened with the other three MetroCards I scrounged out of the bottom of my bag, so I had to get off at the next stop two blocks down and walk back home to get quarters out of the washcloth drawer in the kitchen bureau. The quarters heavy in my pocket, I set out for the bus stop again, but my luck had run out. The bus did not come. It did not come, and did not come, and did not come, and the blonde in lace-up wellies gave up and hailed a cab, and then the round-faced African man in a brown jacket gave up and hailed a cab, and I stayed, reading 2666, and the bus did not come. My cell phone had told me that it would be 52 degrees, so I had not dressed warmly, and the wind stung my body. I wished I had gloves, a hat, a heavier sweater, a longer scarf, legwarmers, or at least a pack of tissues, but I did not dare run back across the street and upstairs to my apartment to get any of these things, for fear that the bus would come, sneakily, behind my back.

About halfway through my wait, a mother and toddler joined me at the bus stop. The mother collapsed the stroller in preparation for getting on the bus, and I wanted to warn her that the prospects for that were not so good, but I also did not want to open a conversation, so I didn't say anything. The cold was biting, and the bus still did not come, and I clutched 2666 desperately in my frozen hands, trying to pretend that it was occupying my attention. I had begun to want to cry, and the mother and toddler made me feel even worse. I watched her pull a hat down over his head, and it made me wish: 1) that I had a hat for my own head; 2) that I had my toddler with me so that I, too, could make those comforting and normalizing gestures that would keep my from feeling as though I was about to fall into a cold, gray, lonely abyss; and 3) that my toddler would submit to being hatted as peacefully as this one. The toddler whimpered and raised his arms, and his mother lifted him to her hip, and I wished even more that my toddler were with me, warm and reassuring and heavy on my hip, making me feel like a reasonable adult, rather than a weak, damp, sniveling creature curled against the wind.

And then, finally, the bus came, and I folded 2666 under my arm and climbed aboard and carefully tipped my quarters into the sinkhole, suddenly worried that I may have miscounted. But the little screen said I had the correct fare, and I walked to the middle of the bus and bumped myself into a forward-facing seat. The mother, toddler and stroller climbed on after me and settled into the side-facing handicapped seats right behind the driver.

I opened 2666 again, but found that I could not focus on the wandering sentences, and instead I took out my notebook to write this lament. When I looked up from my writing, the mother and child were no longer on the bus and we were just turning left on Central Park North and wet rocks glared at me blackly through the almost-bare trees.