On My New York Ish

New Yorkers—and after six years here, I consider myself one-- are known for being pretty blasé about everything. In a city where there is so much going on, you train yourself not to react to anything unless it's major. Still, we are some of the most observant people you'll ever encounter. We listen, we watch, we are intuitive with strangers. We're always kinda on guard even when we seem like we're not. We can tell when something's off.

I'm on the subway on my way home from work. I get on, take a seat in the corner. Everything seems normal. Not too many people at one end of the car. No offensive smells. Not too many teenagers. I see a bunch of working people on their way home too. A few conversations. No loud noises. All is right with the world. Not things that I consciously think about, but I observe them before I choose a train car.

So I'm sitting, reading my book. Before the train gets to the next stop, I hear a girl yelling. I didn't catch what she said. I look up to the other end of the car and see a black girl with wild hair and orange sweatpants sitting cross legged on the seat facing the window. Her back is to the rest of the train. There was so much pain in her voice. Raspy like she's been crying. She yells again, something like "Why?!!! Don't touch her. She's just a little girl! You can't do that to a little girl!!!" Then silence. It was disturbing. I wonder what has happened to this girl--17-20 at best—that has caused her to yell out on a train. I wonder if she is the little girl she is trying to protect, if someone has done something to her and who?

I notice the train has given her the requisite 5 seats to battle her demons. One to her left. Three to her right. There are two middle-aged white men sitting just beyond her three seat invisible insane box to the right. She yells out again. The train moves. I go back to reading my book. Crazy isn't something you encounter everyday, but I've encountered it enough times on the train not be alarmed. She's not moving. Just yelling at the window. Everything is okay. No one else seems particularly alarmed. We all seem to be in agreement that she's just the standard New York crazy.

She yells out again. I don't remember what it was. The doors open. They close. Headed to the next stop.

She gets up and attacks one of the men to her right. Just gets up, walks toward him and yells "you can't do that!" and tries to claw at his face. He grabs her wrist, stopping her from hurting him. His other hands grabs the other arm so she can't move. He's up out of his seat, holding her so she's immobile. She's yelling, squirming, trying to get free. Somehow they end up twisted with her down on the seat, him pinning her. She's yelling, "why are you hurting me?!" He has to. For his own safety. For all of us. No one knows what she'll do when he lets her go. His friend is standing over them, watching, on guard for whatever comes next. They're still. No one knows what to do. No one is moving or talking. We're all frozen. My mouth is literally hanging open. I can't believe what I've just seen, what I'm seeing. (Contrary to popular belief, New York is a town of relatively sane people who behave reasonably well.) All I can do is watch. A big black man gets up and walks down the car. He observes, comes back to his seat to pick up his Timberland shopping bag and gets off the train, presumably to go get help. (I note that cause when was the last time you saw anyone just leave their possessions aside on a train?) I finally snap out of my trance and get off the train to find the conductor. I'm on the platform looking for someone with their head out the window. I don't see anyone. The man with the Timberland bag appears from inside another car and is walking toward me. I ask him, "did you tell the conductor?"

"Yeah. I can't let them beat on that girl like that."

The man didn't beat her. He just held her down. He restrained her. He hurt her, but he had too. (I can only imagine what this man must be feeling right now. He was a decent person—evidenced by the fact, that he didn't hit her. How he must feel for HAVING to hurt a woman, a girl at that.) I get back on the car to witness what's going on. The train is not moving. The man has let the girl go and she is getting off the train. She's on the platform and I'm on the train. The train still isn't moving. I sit and the woman next to me, who just got on, asks me what happened. I tell her.

The train still isn't moving. I get off again and look for the girl, but she's gone. I don't know why, but I have to see if she's okay. At the very least, to see that she hasn't jumped on the tracks. (don't know why this was my concern. Maybe because she's unstable and that is the most dangerous thing you can do in a train station.) The conductor announces the next stop and I get on and take my seat in the corner. The doors close. I read my book again, but I wonder what will happen to the girl. She's off the train, yes. We're all safe again. But what if she does jump on the tracks? What if she gets on another train and attacks someone else? What if the next person she attacks, isn't so humane and beats the shit out of her? And why did I just watch the man pinning her like everyone else? Could I have done anything? Shouldn't I have jumped up and run for the conductor as soon as the train stopped? Should I have gotten off and stayed and alerted the subway attendant and had someone come get that girl? This was major. Why didn't I do anything? Why did I do nothing but watch? Why did I freeze? Am I that blasé by living here all these years?

I got off the train at my stop and I walked to my apartment. I turned the corner to my block and I made the sign of the cross over myself and I said outloud, "there but for the grace of God, go I." I sent up a silent prayer that the girl will be okay. That someone will be more active than me, that someone she encounters next will have compassion on her and the sense and humanity to go above and beyond and do more than I did. That's the best I can do at this point.

Pray for that girl, ya'll. Please.