F TRAIN SUNDAY
It was on the F Train, I was with Billy, best boyfriend I ever had, if I still do. On the way to his house after we went to Soho for lunch and a movie. I was looking forward, he’s so nice about it. Wall Street job and working on a degree but always nice. Never guess his father was a cop. We’re just sitting, I’m kind of leaning against him, the train is half empty, and I’m thinking how lucky I am. He just knows how to be nice. It’s not my looks like with most guys, he cares about people. Me or anyone, it’s built in.
Then it happened, this woman sitting on the other side that looked a little like my mother, with the long thin face and a way of holding her head. I wondered am I gonna look that good in my fifties or are my boobs gonna drop when I have a kid. Mom’s didn’t. Thinking about myself, and I notice this woman, like there’s something wrong, it’s not natural like mom, it’s like an effort. Got a couple of bags, little plastic bags alongside her and she’s having trouble with them. I forget about Billy and going to his place, noticing her, wondering what’s wrong. She’s not drunk or a druggie, she’s got a little class.
Then I see her hands. She’s having trouble with these two bags because of her hands, they’re really, I mean they’re fucked. They look like something from a medical book, huge knuckles and bent out of shape, and I look away. Then I have to look back, I can’t help it. She’s not looking toward me so I’m not embarrassing her, but I see that some of her fingers are like stuck, she can barely move them as she’s trying to get these bags together. It was so painful to see, and then I thought, I’m feeling this for half a minute, she lives with it every day. A woman who ought to be with someone, it’s in her eyes, she just has class. Not money, but class, like in school everyone would want to be her friend.
I dropped my eyes, and I must have showed something because Billy says am I okay, and I say something. I don’t know what I’m feeling but it must show, because he turns in his seat and asks me again. Quiet, he’s not loud like his family. I say I’ll talk about it later and he says okay, and then he asks do I want to go home instead. And I do, except it’s the weekend and my family’s there, the ballgame’s on and they’ll want to know about the movie and Billy and whatever. But he leaves me be, and I’m back seeing how it is for this woman, who’s finally got these plastic bags over her wrist and getting ready to get off the train. And I know Billy gets it, he doesn’t miss much, but he never says a word. She’s standing up as the train slows down, and she can’t do what older people do, which is lift herself by the bar, she does it the hard way.
It’s a process, and it takes a while, and Billy whispers should he help her. No, I say, it’s private, give her her space. Christ, he says, and it ends up she’s getting off the train and my eyes are getting wet, and I can’t think where to go, just want to be alone. Me, right? Miss cellphone Brooklyn.
You want to go home? he says, it’s okay. Yeah, with my asshole brothers and moron sister. And it just comes out – You know what Billy? I can’t ever be alone and think things out for myself.
Where does that come from, right? He gets this look. He knows he didn’t do anything wrong, so it’s just me being a woman, right? And I’m angry. I never get angry. I’m angry that I’m gonna get old and something like that can happen to me, or I can get hit by a car talking on my phone about nothing.
And then I glance over and he’s back inside, he already did his thinking, and his eyes are closed to me. Mine are gonna be wet. I never cry, so he thought I was like him and knew what I was doing all the time. It’s not you Billy I say, it was that woman. It got to me.
Okay, he says, I get it – I’ll call you.
But he gets it like something out of a book, I’m thinking, and maybe that’s how he gets me. From on top, from outside, detached. We get to his stop and he looks at me, right. Gentle, no pressure. I shrug and stay on the train. I stayed on the fucking train to the end, and went to a bar for drink, then got back on and stayed on it and then back again, until I knew my family would be asleep. Then I lay in bed thinking what do I do with Billy, best boyfriend I ever had, and I had a few, right? Get married and watch his career. Have babies and buy a house and wait for it to happen to me like everyone. Or don’t get married, which I always knew I would, and wait for it to happen and try to keep myself up like that woman, if I have what it takes. Meanwhile what do I say when he calls? That I lost my mind? That’s what it feels like. All I want to do is get up in the morning and go to work, lose myself in my work and hope I forget it happened and get back to myself.