Last Week I Saw Wild Horses Running Through Suburbia
A typical Monday morning is an unusual time to have anything resembling an epiphany.
To awaken at 6:30 on a Monday morning is to find yourself completely devoid of any enthusiasm for life. Submit to the rigors and routines of the week, give up the ghost of the weekend, return to the daily grind of the working world: do not expect to any encounter anything remotely unique, inspiring, or even noteworthy. Expect the expected.
Last Monday began identically to countless Mondays that preceded it: I absent-mindedly brushed my teeth, washed my face, dressed, swallowed pills, packed my bag, and lurched out the door, shielding my eyes from an overzealous sun. I started the car, still half-asleep, about as fit to drive as the majority of DUI offenders. My 1993 Toyota Camry puttered to life, and I began driving from my (mom’s) North Shore Long Island home in the suburbs to a nearby train station.
Long Island was shorn by massive glaciers that passed across the land over two separate occasions (about 60,000 years ago, and then again about 20,000 years ago). The North Shore got the rocky accumulations of gravel and debris, while the South Shore got the outwash plains, leaving them with their flat and sandy beaches.
Seen from a bird’s-eye view, northern Long Island is a concerted effort to plot and divide hilly, lop-sided terrain. While some of the eastern parts of the North Shore are extremely affluent and exclusive (i.e., The Great Gatsby’s West Egg is a stand-in for northern Long Island’s Great Neck), my mid-island location offers an endless simulacrum of middle-class suburbia. Viewed from the ground, its pleasant repetition, molded by oppressive zoning regulations and a prevailing like-mindedness, uniformly paved-over by glacial conformity.
Back to last week: I drove past the familiar ranches and split-levels as sports talk radio droned out the thrumming of my P.O.S. car with amiably inane chatter. In the morning I find myself drawn to the reliable language of sports, reassured by its well-worn platitudes and transparent statistics.
About a mile into my journey, I passed a T-junction that connects one small residential street with an even smaller one; an intersection that occasionally features a local police car (the sort of provincial knowledge collectively filed away in a community’s subconscious). The police have good reason, too, since the street has the kind of stop sign that practically dares you to roll through it, using one of those “I’ll turn this into a full-out brake if there’s a cop around” moves – which is exactly what I would have done, had I not seen a cop car parked across the width of the smaller street, completely barricading it from the slightly larger one.
“That’s weird,” I thought in my pre-caffeinated stupor. Must be an accident, I figured.
As I passed the barricaded street, I saw something that, in the moment, could best be described as incompatible: two large horses galloping down the street, headed in my direction. Fast. They ran right past an ineffectual policeman, his hands raised in a futile “Uh, please stop…” gesture, and cut across the lawn of the corner house, continuing in the direction back from which I had come.
I kept driving, bewildered — this is not a common occurrence in suburbia. A few seconds later, I saw an approaching car headed in the direction of the horses. “Should I beep my horn in some half-hearted attempt at a warning?” I wondered. My driver’s side window doesn’t work, and it would be pretty difficult to convey the nature of the situation through the use of my horn or hand signals. What was the protocol here? Flustered, I let him drive past, hoping he’d see the cop car and slow down. Grisly images of equine-on-car collisions flashed in my mind, but I also felt some comfort in knowing that there would be another witness to the absurdity of what I had just seen (I had already forgotten about the cop, that poor schmuck).
Seeing two loose horses barreling unimpeded down a quiet street is a good way to shatter the familiar surface of glassy ennui encasing your typical Monday morning. I’m not particularly experienced with horses, but I’m not a complete stranger to them either; I’ve ridden a couple, and I remember that the second time, it really hurt my balls. Unlike most 3rd grade girls, I’ve never taken time to admire the beauty of a horse, and I still don’t really care to. I could care less about the Kentucky Derby, War Horse, or anything else involving horses. But seeing two of them inexplicably careening (and they were careening, it did not seem graceful in the least) down the street and past a hapless policeman was pretty f-cking awesome. It’s just about the only thing that could’ve penetrated the dense fog of self-absorption that clouds my daily routine. I felt like I was living a scene out of the movie 12 Monkeys, or that I was having one of those particularly convincing dreams that starts with you waking up in the morning. And, metaphorically speaking, to say that I was asleep at the wheel wouldn’t be far from the truth.
How often do we really take the time to appreciate the miraculous fact that we are self-autonomous entities (on a blue and green planet in orbit around a gigantic flaming ball of gas!) surrounded by other marvels of unimaginable variety and scope? Once in a while I remember to look up while walking in the city; the inbred tendency of urbanites is to always be looking down — looking up raises the risk of eye-contact. But, being a suburbanite at heart, occasionally I remember to look up and admire the towering skyscrapers reaching up defiantly toward the sky. Most times I forget, though. It’s easier to forget, to occupy ourselves with only what’s ordinary, until we begin taking the rare things that actually are unordinary for granted. It’s like going to a baseball game and finding yourself staring at the big-screen Jumbotron instead of looking at the playing field.
Thinking these and others thoughts, I continued on to the train station and found a spot in the labyrinth maze of the large parking garage. I boarded the commuter train to the city, went to work, and came home. I texted a few friends about the perplexing encounter with the horses, and got some amused responses in return. Then I ate dinner, did whatever else, and fell asleep. And at some point, imperceptibly, the question had shifted from, “How many amazing occurrences are passing me by just outside the narrow frame of my attention?” to “Do I really care to find out?”
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”