I wait for the train
Going to church
Wearing my pretty turquoise dress
I stand on the open air platform
Applying purple eyeliner and mascara
A young woman approaches me, stares for a moment, and holds out an earring.
She asks if it’s mine.
I shake my head and smile, no, it’s not.
She walks away without a word.
I feel her circle back around to face me again.
Do you have a dollar?
For you? Sure.
I pull one out and hand it to her. A flash of surprise almost lights up her slack face.
I know my dollar won’t change anything for her. What can I do to change the system?
I’m tired of asking myself this question.
I sigh and go back to applying my mascara.
I step onto the train.
I daintily sit down in my pretty turquoise dress and neatly cross my legs.
Ten minutes later, she comes through the car asking for change.
I notice her dirty sweater (on this hot, muggy day) and sagging black leggings.
“Amber” is tattooed on her neck.
Who’s Amber, I wonder?
A sister who died?
I chuckle to myself at the thought of someone tattooing their own name, like, maybe they just got tired of people asking their name.
We make eye contact and I smile.
She gives me a small, unsmiling nod of recognition.
Hey. You alright, she asks?
Yeah! How are you?
What a stupid question, I think.
Good, she says, an automatic response to an automatic question, trained like most of us to claim “good” even when we are clearly not. She isn’t.
Who do any of us think we’re kidding?
I notice people noticing our exchange.
Do they think we know each other?
I give no indication either way and pretend not to notice them looking at me.
She continues down the aisle, speaking her request again.
She sounds tired, tired of asking this question over and over again.
I’m tired of hearing it.
I sit back and re-cross my Teva-sandaled ankles.
I wait for my stop. I wait for the oppressive systems to fall.
It’s a funny existence, isn’t it? I feel like I’m playing some part, wearing a costume, acquiescing to the production, sometimes being brave enough to ad lib some lines to alter the scene a bit, mostly just playing along while telling everyone I’m just doing this job until another script, the radically better one we’ve all been waiting for, is written.
I transfer to the 6 train, take out my notebook and start writing down these Sunday morning thoughts.
I look up to notice a very tall man standing by the sliding doors, eye catching in his sharp, navy blue suit, replete with rows of golden buttons and accompanied by the shiniest patent leather shoes I’ve ever seen.
I glance twice at the badge sewn on his shoulder before I realize he’s wearing a uniform.
I want to take a picture of this satisfyingly perfect image.
The crispest, cleanest, neatest man in uniform I’ve ever seen.
I imagine he’s going to a chief’s retirement brunch or fundraising gala.
It’s September 11th.
Shadows and light move across his face and reveal the bravery he wears on his body, uniform or not.
Who did he lose?
Was he there?
I long to hear his story, one of thousands from that day.
Somehow, I know I don’t need to. I can feel it across the subway car.
After church, I sit in Central Park.
I see slim, fashionable European tourists strolling along the path.
Pot-bellied men playing softball.
It’s a warm, breezy day, the sky marred only by the roar of the helicopters flying back and forth.
I see life all around and the wild, tender heart of human existence.
I see New York City.