Melissa on the Q

ImageIn the beginning I was most enamored with riding the subway.  It was a haven for people-watching.  Folks fat and slim and rich and poor.  Eyes kind and eyes shifty and beady ones too.

Every ride was pure novelty.  Pure magic.  Like riding an escalator for the first time.  Or boarding the monorail at Disney.

All the colors of the rainbow forced together.  Perfectly acceptable to lock eyes with strangers.  Most of the time they avoided my gaze.

It took me just a few weeks to notice the stink.  I began to miss privacy.  The freedom of owning a car.  Other commuters became obstacles.  I stopped observing them and started staring at the floor or the wall or my phone.

One time I noticed a girl with Down Syndrome on the Q.  She whispered things to the man next to her and he nodded and whispered back.  He didn’t resist when she locked arms with him.  I assumed they knew each other.

It was around eight on a Tuesday night.  We were deep in Brooklyn and so the train was mostly empty.  I chose to stand because I was anxious.

I was about to see my estranged girlfriend.  We’d been fighting over inconsequential things that had become consequential.  I was staring at the floor of the car, working a dozen arguments over and over and over again.

And the handicapped girl appeared in front of me, her arm outstretched like she was going to pull me up from a ledge.  Like she was going to rescue me from some great catastrophe.

She must’ve been in her late twenties or early thirties.  Unruly blonde hair.  Slightly overweight and wearing a dirty sweater two sizes too small.  There were little scratches all around her mouth.  Like she’d had a cactus for lunch.

Her eyes were trained on mine.  They were liquid.  She looked right through me.  Didn’t say a word.

I thought she was asking me to steady her.  I told her to grab the pole.  She shook her head and thrust her hand in my face.

I shrugged and said I didn’t know what she wanted.  She said it looked like I needed a hug.  And then she hugged me.

I held on to the pole as she buried her face in my chest.  She looked up at me and smiled and told me her name was Melissa.  She said she’d seen me in a dream the night before.

I patted her on the shoulder, politely encouraging her to let go.  But she just buried her face deeper into my chest.  We hugged throughout the rest of my ride.

The train reached my stop and I told her so.  She let go.  Said she hoped to see me again.

I realized everyone was staring.  An elderly woman in a big hat was scowling.  A couple of teenagers were gawking and laughing.  A man in a suit stole glances from behind his newspaper.  All of these people united by disgust.

I never saw Melissa again.

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