Things that also happened this morning:
- A guy on the train to work got angry at a woman he didn’t know for reasons that weren’t immediately evident. My guess is it was space-related, because the car was really crowded. Like, people not being able to get on and having to wait for another train to come-crowded. I first became aware of the man when he started yelling, “THAT’S RIGHT, BITCH! WHAT, BITCH? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
It was loud and sustained enough for me to look up from my book, but by the time my eyes had landed on the zone of interest, no one was speaking anymore. I was frowning, and when the aggressor observed my reaction he grinned at me, laughed, and shook his head. The practiced tantrum antics of a six year old pantomiming being in a fight. I am angry so I roll my eyes. I am angry so I move my head.
I held his gaze until he looked away first, because I have been through the process of training a puppy and know about dominance posturing (look it up! it’s fun!), and then went back to my book, assuming that tension was behind us as a group. Someone didn’t share a railing or scoot in far enough, we handled it poorly, and now we move on. But then, at the next station, shifting happened within the car and the same voice started shouting, “BITCH! [pause] BITCH!” at regular intervals. Maybe six or seven times. Again, I looked up, and again I couldn’t see the woman he was yelling at (though I heard her voice briefly), and now he had disappeared from eyeshot too. Again, my expression was one of disgust and now, of searching for someone to speak up to. Where did this guy end up? Where had he moved to so I could tell him to shut the fuck up?
I couldn’t spot him, but it was still echoing through my bone marrow — the repetition of the word bitch. Said like “shit.” Said like a slur. It was the first time I really understood people’s aversion to it. Something about shouting “bitch” into a woman’s face in a public place with a car full of witnesses you know aren’t going to do anything turned it from an altercation to an abusive act tone-wise, and it was fucking scary and mortifying.
I didn’t end up spotting him, because thing one was immediately followed by thing two (see below), but there was a brief moment where my furrowed-brow-searching-the-car was observed and met by a 35-ish-year-old finance guy who I think, too, was understanding for the first time something new and terrifying about what it can mean to be a woman.
- For the majority of the ride I was sitting on a bench seat with an elderly woman in an ankle-length down coat to my right. We were separated by a metal pole. A tall 30-ish woman with a ponytail and light jeans had been holding onto the railing above our heads for most of the time, standing calmly.
Immediately following the second round of “bitch” screaming, as my eyes were searching the car, I heard the patter of dripping water at the floor by my feet. I looked down and saw a pale green stream of water dripping from this girl’s jacket and followed it up to her hand, which was covering her mouth. She had puked.
I looked down, then back up, and said, “Are you alright? Do you need help?”
And she mustered a garbled, “Sorry,” hand-to-mouth, before she scrambled off the train at Union Square.
No one else on the train had noticed but the elderly woman to my right, and we exchanged a glance that felt heavy and tired and strange. The kind of human connection you don’t really want to share.
It didn’t occur to me til just now that his screaming might have been what made her puke, but I really hope not.
New York City!