The Kingdom of Secaucus
On my way home from the city, I took the wrong train.
By accident, though I am the kind of person who would exchange the tree canopies and scraggy power-plant exhaust chimneys for the beach and acres of fresh wood, on purpose. After a transcendent evening with my good friend Chin, I left Wall Street at 9:10, and my subway ride just made the connecting 9:37 from Penn Station. Or so I thought.
When I raced to my track and bolted into the train, I felt triumph and a burning sensation that erupted in my throat. The pain was worth it until I realized my mistake. The helpful conductor recommended I leave at Secaucus to wait for the later train I hoped I didn’t have to take.
The Secaucus train station is a series of four isolated platforms that rise above the Turnpike and the Meadowlands. From the Meadowlands-facing side, I can see the Empire State Building. That skyscraper is made visible by its fluorescent green crown, tall among the sea of lazy weeds. But the roar of the Turnpike below dominates the aural scene and the entire universe.
And that entire universe consists of just me and the friendly lampposts, kept yards apart. They just illuminate the emptiness. I am cold. So I take out my headphones and clamp them onto my ears. The opening sitar descent from Thunderball’s Road to Benares tears through the velvety night.
I have an intense fear of heights. I can’t stand near the edge of a balcony. When Beetle brought me to her breathtaking Herald Square terrace I fought to keep from either falling or choking on my own vomit. My fear of heights is less an objective concern than it is my self-awareness: given insufficient restraint, I would fling myself over high railings and throw my life away for the simple — drastic — fall.
When I was sixteen, I asked my not-as-yet boyfriend to take me to a high place. I visited his sprawling Hyderabadi house. We spoke together in an damp upstairs bedroom. He used the computer by the window while I leaned into the river of luxurious bedcovers.
And though I loved talking to him, I felt sick. When I went home I knew I’d have to face my grades. My grades weren’t just bad. These were why-on-Earth-haven’t-you-dropped-out-yet bad, so terrible my friends felt pity for me even when I lied about my grades to make them more palatable. I lived it, that weightlessness. I doubted myself until my mind bled. And I hated the fact that I never did homework no matter how much I tried or how diligently I reminded myself to do it.
I just wanted to step out from my conscious and live the deep beats and melodies that sang into the sky and Earth. I felt so distant from the bed, the room. Him. I wanted to reach out, mention the colossal weight on my ribs, and hope for some reassurance.
The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them:
“Can we go somewhere?” I asked. “High? Far away from here?”
Before, we had been talking about the places and people in our lives. That was the worst. All I had done, had ever wanted, was to get away from most of them. My feet rested on the invisible ledge and the pristine world remained, tranquil and pleasant, waiting for me below.
He nodded, getting up from his chair. Together we went downstairs, grabbed the keys from his father. We went, along with his sister, to Birla Mandir.
Birla Mandir is a temple and one of Hyderabad’s tallest structures. It took ten years to shape and carve it from powerful Rajasthani marble. Its views are stunning and offer a glimpse of both Hyderabad and Secunderabad, sprawling twin cities that squat about a gigantic manmade tank. Future Boyfriend pushed me by the small of the back up the wide stone steps while his sister lingered by the deities. She may have felt prayerful. I just yearned to savor those few seconds of charged fear and excitement between stability and the fall.
My legs hurt from the strain but I reached. I reached and saw the two cities spread below me, waiting for me to jump. I let my feet cross the impossible threshold for a second. Nothing held me back. No crushing gravitational pull. Both Future Boyfriend and his sister stood further away, watching a street procession while rapt with discussion. I could fall and they would never know.
I could be the last woman on Earth.
Its only hope.
Its only future.
A moment later, a familiar, debilitating panic clawed me away from the ledge. As I moved back I panted so hard my chest burst. I clutched myself, waiting for the others to finish watching and turn back.
Later my boyfriend told me he thought I was ill. I told him I thought I was dying.
Later he told me he understood my question. He loves high places and deceives himself less. His deepest fantasy involves being let out alone deep into the ocean, on a sailboat.
At Secaucus, I conduct a solo symphony. The weeds respond to every minute flick of my arms. The brash streetlights ruin every shot I try to take with my awful cellphone camera. And then I reach the end of the platform. My platform is a little longer than the other three.
Here, at the end, there remains nothing but the dark and gravel and the highway below. One misstep and I could careen onto the highway. I push my toes past the gate, as far as I dare to take them. The world is dark and quiet and I might fall.
But I don’t.
The self-preserving monster pulls me back from the edge. The music stops and I remember myself. I turn off my iPod and stop the seduction. I watch the silent traffic as the nausea paralyzes me. Five minutes later, the train whistle rips the fragile air.
As I get on the train, the Kingdom of Secaucus waits. We have a secret, it and I.
I close my eyes. When I open them again, I am far, far, away.
Originally posted 2012-03-08 23:53:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter