I hate taking the 4, 5, or 6 train. I dread the morning commute even the night before. While falling asleep I think of the transfer from the R line that I have to make at Canal Street. I see myself walking up the stairs from the lower level where the yellow line pukes the passengers into the poisonous Chinatown station air. With each step, the top edge of the stairs slowly lowers and if I’m out of luck it gives the sight free to the 6 train just pulling into the station; perfect for me to get on. Well, the ride on the 6 train is not that bad until 14th Street. There it gets crowded and we have to stand really close to each other. Everyone's in each other's business. It’s then that I begin to feel my chest tighten. I have trouble breathing. I feel sandwiched by the other bodies pushed against mine. 23rd, 28th Street--more people get on. How? There is no space. They don’t care. Squeeze in one more. Sadly, there are little spaces throughout the packed train car into which people for one reason or the other don’t move into. The people at the door can see those gaps and that’s a problem. They want the others to move in farther, but don’t want to say anything. So, they get upset.
Once, on my way downtown on the 6 train, a man wanted to get on, but people preferred crowding the exit instead of moving in. The man picked out a random woman at the door, said, “excuse me,” and pushed her further into the car to be able to get on himself. The woman was trying to accommodate him, but he didn't stop pushing her even after he was able to step into the car. He kept shoving her farther inside where he thought would be the appropriate place for her to stand. All the woman said in appalled disbelief was, “Jeeeez!” He pushed her past my back. When the train traveled on the man was standing right behind me. I felt strange. The man, the woman next to him. Nobody speaking. The two in a quiet disgruntled standoff. As I headed off the train to switch to the yellow line my heartbeat had worked itself up to my throat. On the N-train I felt still stirred from the scene. When I got home, I closed all the shutters and cried.
On another occasion I was standing on a packed green line train again and two mothers with a stroller each wanted to get on. There clearly was no space for two strollers on the car--unless some of the passengers would leave the train. The mothers pushed their strollers on anyways. My heart started beating faster and I gripped the pole tighter. An older man holding The Daily News wouldn’t budge to their penetration. In response, one of the mothers fiercely asserted her need to push the stroller inside by yelling at the man to move. The man moved and let the ladies and everyone else in the car know that he was furious. Nobody cared. A bit later the two mothers began taking pictures of their babies with their phones. I clung on to the pole for dear life. Each snapshot emphasized by a full-volume shutter sound, burning itself into my brain. I feared I wouldn't make it home. When I arrived at home I cried again. I don’t understand. I do not understand.
One afternoon, a beggar was on the Brooklyn-bound R-train asking for money. He wasn't able to speak clearly. It seemed like he was mentally handicapped or had a speech impediment. I felt really bad, but I didn’t give him any money. Nobody on the train did. As he realized that he would leave this car empty handed, he singled out a guy and stared at him. I cringed. It flamed up within me--this familiar heavily beating heart. Then came the sweat, the tension, and the heat. The beggar began to accuse the young man of ignoring him and called him a white boy. The rest I couldn't really understand, but he probably called him arrogant for not giving him money. I couldn’t stand this anymore and got off at the next stop.
I cried on the way home from there. The evening ended like any other, but something happened that night. Now, each day I cry on the green line. Each time, around 14th Street, when the car gets cramped and I stand there mushed in, I can’t stop shaking. I try the best to suppress it, but some people notice. Awkwardly, they bury their face in a magazine, or look away, or go over to nag somebody who pushes them. After I get off the train at 51st Street, I compose myself. I dry my eyes, take a deep breath, and after the first step, I begin to think about the ride home. We are horrible, truly horrible people.