“Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Eric Capton – Tears in Heaven
I’m on the train, going to work this morning. It’s one of those rare days I’m standing because I gave up my single seat to a woman with a leg cast. To give the woman leg room (*ba-da-dum cymbal crash*), I moved to stand in front of some guy that was seated on the other side of the door from where I was. He’s an attractive Latino, goateed, around my age. He had that physique of a male who used to be muscular but has gone soft over the years; fat over a solid core. He didn’t look thuggish, but definitely not someone you want to step up on. Yeah, I was checking him out for a moment – shoot me- I can only pretend to not see what’s dead in front of me, but for so long before my eyes get tired of staring hard left or right. I was listening to my iPod (metal mode in full blast), and had pretty much dismissed him mentally.
Fully engaged in the I see you, but I really don’t non-dance that we subways riders not reading or sleeping do, it took a couple of stops before I happened to look down and realized his face was slightly shining. Holy shit, I think he’s crying! He must have heard my thoughts as that was the exact moment he raised his head removing all doubt before lowering it more trying to hide that very fact. I looked to the woman sitting next to him, but I had already established that they did not know each other. What got me was in the microscopic amount of room allowable, she seemed to be trying to put as much space as possible between the guy and herself without negatively infringing upon the space of the woman on the other side of her. I did not understand that withdrawal. It was obvious he would have preferred to be anywhere but there at that moment. This was not the type of man who wanted to be caught on the verge of a breakdown while trapped around strangers on a NYC subway. I didn’t even think about it, I simply reacted. I got down on one knee reached out for his hands and held. Obviously, he tried to pull his hands away, but I wouldn’t let go.
“Whatever it is, it will be okay…” I said quietly. I have no idea what expression my face held, but when he looked at me, he stopped trying to pull away. In fact, he gripped tighter as he tried to regain control of his emotions. “No, you need to let go now”.
When I kneeled, I accidentally pushed into a woman’s space behind me. Before I could say anything, I heard her mumble a nasty comment and push back, holding her ground as it were, but I ignored her. I’m guessing she turned around at that point, accessed the situation and thought about it because I felt space open up around me. He looked at me, opened his mouth to speak, but only a barely audible sob came out.
“Just let go…” I said a little more forcefully to him, and he did. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t manly, it was just raw and my hands took the brunt of the punishment as this man did everything short of bawl in his pain.
I don’t remember what train stop we were between when I initially reached out to him. I know I was there for a several stops, making people navigate around me as we were right by the door. The woman who initially attempted to distance herself now touched me on the shoulder and offered her seat. Not letting go of his hands, she helped put my purse in my lap as I sat. I had presumed she was exiting at the next station, but she stood in front of us for a couple of stops before disembarking. Other than to nod my thanks to her, I did not take my eyes from him as he cried. Someone else silently slipped a pack of tissues in my lap, because they just appeared, as I saw no one put them there, so thank you whoever you were.
Eventually, his shoulders stopped their subtle trembling and he reached for the tissues with one hand, still gripping mine with the other. It was another couple of stops before he was in enough control to pull out a pair of sunglasses and cover his eyes.
“Thank you” His voice was understandably raspy.
“You’re welcome.” I nodded finally withdrawing my hand, flexing my fingers.
“Did you miss you stop?” He sheepishly half-smiled at my finger flexing.
I looked up, realized where we were and grimaced, “Oh hellz yeah”.
“Because you needed me.” I shrugged, it really was the only answer I had.
We both exited the train at the next station. As I went for the stairs, I felt him grab my hand and squeeze lightly.“Don’t you even want to know why?” he asked when I turned.
“No.” I shook my head honestly. “That wasn’t needed to help. Like I said, “Whatever it is, it will be okay””
He gave his thanks again and let go.
I looked for him once I was on the other side and saw him sitting on a bench further down the platform. His posture now better suited to the image I initially had when I first stood in front of him. With his sunglasses on covering the pain in his eyes, he was just another guy on the subway again. My train pulled into the station and I boarded, finally on my way to work.
He didn’t need me anymore, I was free to go.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”
Tennessee Williams – A Streetcar Named Desire
A beautiful story. Not many New Yorkers, myself included, would have been able to do that. We’ve all been taught somewhere along the line that it is assumed that New Yorkers will mind their own business, no matter what is happening right in front of them.
In all honesty, Bob, on any other day I could have just as easily been the woman sitting next to him trying to “distance” herself from the situation.Goodness knows, I have walked away/ignore a lot of things I probably could/should have intervened out of indifference. I honestly cannot tell you why I did what I did today, other than it totally felt like the right thing to do at that moment. I have to presume The-Powers-That-Be put the woman in the leg cast in front of me, just so I would be the one standing in front of the man when he starting losing it.
Well, hon, you’ve held my hand when I was raw, too. Thank you for being someone who looks twice, looks deeper, and wants to make a difference. You do.
Ah, but you’re a damned good friend, Q; we’re supposed to be there for each other when the tears fall. You’re hardly a total stranger, that looked liked he could have back-handed me into next year, had I been totally off-base in my gut instinct.
Yes, and so that’s why you’ve seen me at my worst.. But it’s my second sentence that applies to not just me, but the world around you.
reading this definitely pulled my heartstrings…a great deal. Right now I am going through a lot of difficult emotions – loss, hurt, betrayal and sadness to name a few. Trying to get through them and trying to find closure. Sometimes you really feel alone with your pain, like no one’s there to comfort you in just the way or ways you need.
You never got to know the man’s situation but just your gesture alone most likely made all the difference for him. Very sad but inspiring to read…
If more people showed that level of empathy and humanity, the world would be so much better…
I’m glad I read that.