For weeks the sound of sirens rushing to meet the sick and the dead went unabbreviated in our neighborhood, and just two days ago we worried we were starting to hear them more frequently again. But there was also a full moon, the air was slack, and the night seemed to be acting as cover for something more sinister than itself. On this day in early May, it is freezing cold in NYC, so cold that in the afternoon tiny snowflakes flickered down from the slate sky even though the sun was out. Not a hint of loneliness could be found in the apartment. We are fortunate because we live on a corner line in the building, which means two sides of the apartment have windows. The light is always strong, but right now it is also ominous in a new way.
After a lunch of leftover pasta Dan made for dinner last night, I read an article describing how the MTA has stationed buses at both ends of each line to make shelter for the homeless people who had been kicked off the trains each evening so that the cars could be cleaned and sanitized. To date, more than one hundred transit workers have died from the virus, and the horror of those numbers in terms of individual lives is hard to process. I live not far from the elevated train and can see one pass by my window every few minutes, save for those days during Superstorm Sandy when the subway was suspended for the particular catastrophe that it turned out to be.
The trains have stopped running every night between 1 and 5 am, hours during which I am usually asleep, though lately Dan or I have been finding ourselves awake in the middle of the night for no new reason beyond the incomprehensibility of the losses around us, adjacent to us, approaching us. This is normal life, two months in and no longer remarkable, except for the fact that the trains go out of commission daily for the first time in fifty years. The city I have loved my whole life is changing again, marking new thresholds in the social compact I would never have conceived it would draw in the past, as is its way.
I should probably mention my grandfather worked for the MTA for much of his life in a ticket booth, selling tokens. At his retirement, he was given a pass to ride the subways without charge for the rest of his life, but only on the rarest of days did he make use of it. Perhaps he preferred driving his station wagon into the city from his home in Jamaica, Queens, as a way of showing what he had accomplished with only an eighth-grade education.
Though I might have implied the contrary with my missive, I really don’t want to say how I am. I’m probably not going to tell you. Maybe I will eventually, but I’m not going to make promises. I say these words without a smile. This is how things are now. What I do know is that my grandfather liked to drive his car into Manhattan and through Harlem, the neighborhood in which he was raised in and where I also live. Today I am thinking about him as the trains go by, and for a moment all is as expected. Then time comes back.