The night I met the first girl I ever loved, I got arrested trying to cross the Williamsburg Bridge. It was Halloween; there had been a Halloween party, I met a girl dressed as the beautiful girl from every horror movie, and I ended up handcuffed in the back of a police van.
Let me start over. I like walking. At night, I especially like walking. And when I drink – or find myself elated, or find my heart thumping, drink or no drink – I succumb mercilessly to my love for walking home at night. I simply can't help it. If I find myself alone at the end of a long night, and the night air warm and dry, and my warm dry bed less than two hours away by foot, then by golly, I will go by foot. I love it. And I especially love it in cities.
And on this night, New York City was my city. At some point, I left the Halloween party with the girl dressed as the girl from every horror movie. She lived above a bar; we must have sat at that bar for hours. As I walked her outside and then turned to face her door – "Call me when you don't have GREEN PAINT all over your face," she said, giggling like the girl from every horror movie, but at the end, after she's been saved – I felt that thumping of the heart, that alarm. There she went. Through the square window of her door, I watched her stumble up the bright tenement staircase, like I was in a submarine, and she was a mermaid slithering upwards to the surface. There she would find warm, dry peace. I headed south.
Then east. South, then east. Etc. The bridge looked majestic as ever. Red paint illuminated, reflected in the East River's ripples like a Monet painting, but if Monet had painted in the 21st century and was as taken with the beauty of artificial lights as I am. Forget sunlight, Monet, forget moonlight. Come walk with me at night across the Williamsburg Bridge and feel the road to Heaven pass beneath your soles.
But so taken was I by beauty, rocked into nighttime daydreams by rhythmic walking, that I had made a grave mistake: I had missed the entrance point to the pedestrian path across the bridge. I was walking along the main thoroughfare! And there was no shoulder, of course; this was a bridge. I walked as close to the side of the road as I could, hugging the divider along the edge. Cars whizzing past! In clusters... hugging the edge, cars whizzing past in clusters, and then sprinting along the road as fast and far as I could before hugging the edge once more, to let the cars whiz past in still more clusters yet again. This for seemingly ten minutes. It's a long bridge.
Then a change... A car slows. Red and blue lights, a gun, two cops on Halloween night reciting lines from cop movies. I lie down on the pavement. A hand on the back of my head. Handcuffs. Driving across the bridge, these two buddy cops inspect my ID and explain to me the error of my ways. An anonymous call about an either suicidal or epically stupid young man in green face-paint running across the Williamsburg Bridge erratically. I tell them my version of events; I am a generally smart young man who had just made an epically stupid mistake. I also suffer gravely from an addiction to walking home dangerously long distances very late at night, officers.
We soon reach an understanding. A call comes in about gunshots in East New York. I can ride with them to East New York, or I can hop out here if I live close by. I am still about an hour away; actually, I have no idea where I am. "Here would be perfect," I say. The van stops abruptly. I am free in the night once again, wherever I am.
And that's how I met the first girl I ever loved.