The 7 train from Flushing, heading into Manhattan, teemed with humanity every morning. I would catch the 7 train at 74th Street, watching Queens Blvd. pass me below as I sunk into the music piping from my Walkman. Everyone on board the 7 train looked exactly the same, preoccupied, needing to be somewhere, even if that somewhere wasn’t that important. Faceless faces everywhere, ignoring one another, their faces buried in the morning’s New York Times, or simply staring off into space. This was my commute to work every morning.
Until I first saw her.
She seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere, a pale-skinned, crystalline-eyed girl standing in between the faceless face, holding on to the handrail, looking amused. She was something different to look at, so I stole a few glances her way. Somewhere in between Queensboro Plaza and the tunnel heading into Manhattan, she returned my glance. And smiled. And coyly looked away. Time froze for me at that moment. Oh shit oh shit oh shit I’m in trouble she’ll think I’m some stalker.
But, no. She looked at me once again. Smiling once again.
This was my stop. It wasn’t hers. I made sure we made eye contact as I walked off the car with the rest of the faceless faces getting off at Grand Central. It was all I could to keep from thinking about this girl all day long. Who was she? Where did she work? What was she like? Would she like me?
I searched through the car every morning and every night on the way home, through the faceless faces, searching for this girl. A few days passed, and it dawned on me that perhaps this girl was a figment of my imagination, and she wasn’t there after all. Maybe my drinking was catching up to; I was hallucinating now?
The 7 train that one morning wasn’t as crowded. For once, I found a seat. In front of the girl.
Play it cool, son. Play it cool.
We exchanged more glances. I wanted to say something to her, something smooth, but terrified I’d blurt out something idiotic like, “Come here often?” She’d laugh in my face and tell me to get lost. So much for playing it cool. I played it so cool that I just sat there, the two of us making eye contact. I was hoping she’d make the first move, at the very least lean over the aisle and ask me my name. But there’s still rules to be respected. If I wanted to get to know her, I needed to make the first move.
All the while, I was conveniently avoiding that I was in a relationship. One that I wasn’t happy in.
Grand Central, next stop. I got off, but not without bidding her good day. She smiled and whispered the same to me.
Don’t be such a chickenshit next time, I reminded myself as I trudged the sad bastard walk up that long flight of stairs to the street, thinking I’d probably blown my chance with this girl.
The next time, I wasn’t going to miss my chance. And when that moment came, there she was, as the doors to the subway car came open at 74th Street. There was no way I could avoid her; we were within inches of each other, face to face, and someone had to say something to one another.
I gathered myself as quickly as I could, and said the first thing that came to mind:B
“You know, if we keep meeting like this, people are going to talk.”
Oh, that was fucking smooth. What’s next, “Hey babe, what’s your sign?” Idiot!
But she laughed. Loudly. And replied, “You’re right. Maybe they should talk.”
Her name was Suzanne. She loved J.D. Salinger, a strong beer, and the Stones. She loved to talk, and that’s all we did on the 30-minute train ride. Just talk, freely, getting to know one another, because there’s no better place to meet a random stranger and learn what you want to learn about them than on a subway car, right?
And I never felt more at ease with another woman like I had with her. Unlike what I was feeling with my girlfriend, who made me feel pressured to move into a another step in our relationship that I wasn’t ready or even willing to discuss with her.
When I got off at Grand Central, not before getting her phone number, I walked off the train with my chest out, happier than a pig in shit. Then I realized I had a decision to make.
And someone was going to get hurt.