Dawn begins long before sunrise. The first light comes into the sky at around 4:30 a.m. and I’m awake without an alarm at 4:25. My limbs are sore and I’ve been tossing and turning for a few hours of restless sleep.
I quietly put the suit and boots on and pack my pads into the daypack for the last time. My dog looks at me, confused by this much movement at an hour that is usually so still. I promise him I will walk him when I get back.
Outside the birds are singing in the half dark. A stray person here and there hurries along on their way to a job, or maybe home to bed. Thick cloud cover and cool muggy air.
Over on the next block a whoop and some animated laughter probably coming from people who have yet to sleep.
I walk down Broadway to 149th Street and I sit alone on a bench in the median center strip facing north, waiting for my wingmen. I wonder if wingmen are needed this morning, but it doesn’t matter. My friends are part of this now, and I could not deprive them of a 4:30 a.m. wake up call and a trip uptown to see me home. This morning it is all hands on deck.
Everything feels freighted with finality. This is it. The last time.
Larry, Teddy and Jack arrive looking fuzzy with sleep. I am surprised nobody balked at such an early start. I am restless to begin and I pace as they get ready. After a moment alone I begin my nineteenth and final crawl. I move along on all fours and remind myself to make special note of all the sensations, to store away everything that my senses can hold. This affair is about to end.
At 151st Street a shopkeeper and another man stand and watch me from the door of a bodega. One man asks me where I’m going.
“I’m going home.”
“We all got to go home sometime,” he says.
As I crawl I mull over the spirit of this experience and I recall the origins. This whole thing started a couple years ago with a picture in my head of myself crawling, a laugh, and an overall feeling of desperation and helplessness. I wanted to crawl in protest of the destruction of our planet. I was outraged over the BP oil spill and various other man made horrors. I was going to crawl to the White House from NYC with a picture of earth on my back and a go-pro camera strapped to my head. I abandoned all that for many reasons, most of them logistical. But I could not shake the picture of myself crawling.
All the way up Broadway people have asked me what I am protesting. The impulse to protest, or to crawl, was brought on by a need to do something, to find a gesture, to take some kind of action that felt true to myself. I wanted to find a public act that symbolized our/my collective desperation and perseverance. As far as I can tell the way we are living is driving our world to its knees. With all our tools for making things easier and for finding answers we as a species seem to be more lost than ever. At least that’s how it often looks to me.
I imagine the people I’ve seen on Broadway and maybe people the world over, feeling a weight on their backs, in their hearts and souls. Maybe this weight is the burden of modern life, the burden of being conscious in a world gone mad. Crawling seemed like a way to maybe show compassion or solidarity, to make a living metaphor of this collective burden we all share. Instead of crawling I could have curled up in the fetal position in perfectly chosen locations. But this crawl was never about surrendering. I went down and kept moving, kept pressing on as so many humans are doing every day. The idea has always been to keep on, to get through this journey, to make it home safe and sound. As far as creating a coherent and specific form of protest, the crawl never become that, at least not as far as I can tell.
On a personal level I wanted to stir myself up, to shake things loose and shock myself. Ultimately the whole thing may boil down to an overpowering desire to blow my own mind without blowing up my life. In that I believe I’ve succeeded.
Anyway, forget all that analysis for now. I need to get present. I am here inside the final crawl and all else can wait.
I am here with my sweat and the gray muted dawn. I crawl strong past Trinity church and the last active graveyard in the city. The graveyard here is on both sides of Broadway. This land was once Audubon’s farm. The reason the graveyard is advertised as active is because there is still space available. Call now if you want to be buried in the ground on a hill overlooking the Hudson with mighty oaks moving in the breeze above you and a hawk holding on at the top of a white pine. Squirrels are busy on the ground. Crows are causing trouble and planning something.
I am here now alongside this burial ground, my leather clad hands sliding across great smooth slabs of blue stone.
Off to my left we have The Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of architects, composers, writers and artists. They say the honor of being elected is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States. I crawl past that hallowed hall, sweat dripping off my face, drops falling and splashing onto the smooth red bricks.
Now I stop and rise up onto my knees. I can see my building. There it is, just across the street. I’ve come home so many times, but never like this. I’m glad it is only 6 A.M., less chance of running into neighbors. Not that I care anymore. Not that I ever did. I am definitely not ashamed and not quite proud, not yet anyway. I am completing the task at hand.
I round the corner and arrive at my building’s front door. 800 Riverside Drive. Early morning, before seven, so the entrance is still locked. I dig out keys and unlock the door, still on my knees. I crawl in past the empty doorman booth on a long narrow rug. Crawling on a rug is soft quiet. I move through the courtyard across the concrete where my scraping boots echo loud. The lobby floor is some kind of marble and I slide in near silence like I’m on ice. I pull open the elevator door, crawl inside, and press 8. On my knees I am rising. I am being delivered to a higher place, the 8th floor to be exact. When the elevator dings the door slides open and off I crawl.
I am finally on my knees at my door. This dawn arrival must be quiet. I don’t want to wake up my loved ones. My keys jingle as I unlock the door and crawl into my apartment, across the threshold. I stand up and close the door as gently as I can. Everyone is sleeping. Dreaming. This is the start of my life after the crawl. Here on earth. Wide awake. I am home.