Summer was all but a memory against the relentless pull of winter, and an icy scent crept into the air with the arrogant foreboding of a cat playing with a mouse before killing it. Depeche Mode’s “Waiting for the Night” broke the silence of my car as I drove over the dark curves of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. I usually sing along while driving, but that night I wasn’t in the mood to emote. I wanted to be lulled into a peaceful numbness by the soft, vespertine passages of the instrumentation. I wanted the low drone of David Gahan’s voice to drown out the thoughts racing through my mind. I wanted to think of nothing.
I’m waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything’s dark
It keeps us from the stark reality…
The road was clear, and the absence of streetlights left my silver two-door in the center of an abyss. My rear and side view mirrors were completely blacked out, and I couldn’t see beyond the reach of my headlights. Inside my car, I took deep, slow breaths. My face was blank, my eyes focused on the white dashes separating lanes on the parkway. The anger I felt was trumped by a feeling of helplessness: that drowning sensation of speaking but not being understood—of struggling but only sinking deeper. She can be so irrational, I started to think, but I dismissed it. I tried to lose my thoughts in the music and the darkness outside my Acura as I drove into the first rest stop I came across.
I’m waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
And there in the still
All that you feel is tranquility…
The scenic overlook sat on the cliffs of New Jersey, facing New York City. Across the black split of the Hudson River was the skyline, giving the night a golden aura that offset the pale luminescence of the full moon hovering over it. It wasn’t the famous stretch of silhouettes made popular on t-shirts and coffee mugs, of the Empire State Building and its surrounding spires, but rather a modest cluster of high-rises on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. The view carried with it a touch of humility, being something so easily overshadowed, so thoughtlessly overlooked when compared to its more famous counterpart, and yet still worth seeing. These were buildings people lived in—places where lovers shared moments on the couch or in bed, where children awoke on Christmas morning, where families got together every evening for dinner. There was a comfort in knowing that those distant glows were portals to homes and not just offices—dark, cold, and quiet as crypts after dusk.
…and in the glow of the moon
I know my deliverance will come soon
I got out of my car and walked towards the scenic overlook. A boulder sat near the stone barrier between the pavement and the steep drop from the edge to the river below. I sat down with my hands in my pockets and stared out into the glow of the city lights. The wind cut effortlessly through my thin, blue plaid shirt. The silence was interrupted only by the sounds of me blowing my nose into a wad of napkins I kept in my pocket—another foreshadow of winter and the inevitable head cold that came with it.
There is a sound in the calm
Someone is coming to harm…
I was only alone for a few minutes. A dark Lincoln pulled up to the parking spot beside mine, and out of it came two distinctively non-descript men. I didn’t have to look. I already knew. I shut my eyes slowly and sighed—not moving.
They decided to play games first. One walked by the stone barrier to my left and lit a cigarette while looking out towards the skyline. The other moved over by the patch of woods to my right, gazing at his shoes with a casualness so contrived that he couldn’t possibly have thought I was buying it. I sat motionless and watched them out of the corners of my eyes as they gradually closed in.
Finally, Officer Lefty pulled a flashlight from his windbreaker and shone it in my face as he shrunk the distance between us—his gait now a confident stride.
“Hey,” he said, flashing his badge as I turned towards them.
“Highway Police. How’re ya doin’?”
“Whatcha doin’ out here tonight?”
“…Just getting some air.”
“Why’d you come here?”
“…I dunno, I just needed to get out of the house and I thought to come here.”
“Why’d you need to get out of the house?”
“…I just did.”
“Why? Give me the reason.”
“…I got into an argument with my girlfriend.”
“…Uh, just stuff.”
“What kinda stuff?”
“…You know, stuff. Just an argument.”
“So you came out here to smoke or somethin’?”
“No, I don’t smoke.”
“So you’re just here by yourself.”
“You don’t have anything on you, right? I’m not going to find something in your car that I’m not gonna like, am I?”
“No, I don’t have anything.”
Officer Righty hadn’t spoken. He just stood slightly behind me with his flashlight, watching me closely as I was questioned. Then, he decided to add his two cents:
“You say you don’t smoke, but you got a pack of cigarettes in your pocket.”
They stared intently as I slowly reached into my jeans and revealed to them the ball of napkins I had with me. Holding it out for them to see, I stared blankly into the night sky. Both of their faces were dark spots in the air behind their flashlights. There was a moment of silence, and then Officer Lefty moved to take the attention off of his partner’s error.
“’Kay. The reason we stopped here is because you didn’t have your headlights on. You have to have them on if you stop here after dark.”
“…Ok. I didn’t know that.”
“Mmm kay. Just remember that next time. You have a good night.”
I stared as they retreated to their car and pulled back onto the highway. Alone again, I tried to forget about them, tried to relax there on my rock overlooking the skyline—but the solace of my sanctuary had been tainted. In spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t go back to that headspace—that moment of thoughtless bliss. The rest stop became hostile and frustrating, just like the house I went there to escape. The cool radiance of the moon devolved into nothing more than the pathetic efforts of a poor man’s sun. The golden incandescence of the underdog skyline became a pattern of lights in blocks of stone. My mind couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried. After a few minutes I sighed in defeat, got into my car, and made my way back down the winding highway home.
Published in issue 7 of Instigatorzine, September 2010.