There is something so beautiful about train rides- if you ever just look around, there is such a variety of people. No one ever looks “normal”, & I don’t mean that in an ignorant way, I just mean no one ever appears to be what I’m familiar with.
And everyone just sits there, or stands, making sure not to make eye contact with one another, and I don’t even know why. But you know everyone is scoping everyone else out. And if not, we are all thinking 100 different things. Sometimes I just get this urge to ask that random Chinese women “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT RIGHT THIS SECOND?” and I would love if she would respond with an honest answer, like…”I was thinking about if I should make pork tonight”…you know? or maybe you don’t…maybe you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about…but it’s true- train rides are worth writing about.
You know what I saw on the train once? Two clowns- a man and a woman. They had to be in their late thirties, real deep in conversation, not even looking up at all the eyes that were on them, talking about what seemed to be as simple as the weather, something like that, something totally separate from the fact that they were dressed up as clowns. They were just in their own world with each other, discussing- who knows – maybe some gossip from the circus, or getting to know each other, while in face paint and red wigs. And I think to myself with pride and amusement: Only in New York City.
I was on my way to Grand Central Station to make a 6:00 bus to Albany. I was rushing and stressed and nervous, questioning myself why I was even going so out of my way to see him.
As I was trying to tie my boots- because I didn’t even have the time to put them on properly before I got onto the train- a man in front of me says “Don’t worry, get yourself together“, I guess thinking I was embarrassed about being in my socks in the middle of the A train in November. I looked up and gave him a quick smile. He said something else, and somehow I was now engaged in a conversation with him. I soon realized that he was drunk, and the water bottle he was holding was not holding water.
I didn’t fear John. Instead, I moved closer to him to hear him better, despite being subjected to smelling the strong stench of cheap vodka on his breath. He was on his way from work at Pathmark to his psychiatrist. John was a Vietnam Vet, and in his words he had a disorder that made him “forget his personality” from before he went to war. “What do you mean, you forgot your personality?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t know if I was a happy guy, a jerk, did I get into trouble… I don’t remember.”
Looking at his bottle, I asked why he thought he needed it. John and I spoke that train ride about alcoholism, war, the mind, life, death and I believe it impacted both of our lives, even if for just that train ride. He said he already felt like he was dead; that life wasn’t worth living. He tried to describe that by being in the war, he felt like he was living in someone else’s grave. He told me that for such a young girl, I knew him more than his own son. Sure, he was drunk, but what I gained from a drunk, Vietnam Vet with a psychological disorder will stay with me forever; what I gained was the opportunity to make someone feel important, approachable, understood, and maybe most of all- not alone.
And after all, isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day?
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