Early Morning Heartbreak


That is what I’m thinking as he holds her close and rubs her back with an intimacy inappropriate for the 8:50am subway. Other commuters look away in discomfort but I want to stare at them, sore thumbs sticking out in this sea of professionals, uncaring and enveloped in each other. I want to know what they mean to each other, and what kind of journey they might be on. I want to hear their stories.

She moves to exit the train and I try not to stare. Why aren’t they getting off together? I try not to stare but I have to get a look at her face.

They both have that look. That ragged, malnourished, run down look. I am already making up stories in my head about how they are in recovery together. Maybe they are coming from an early meeting, maybe it was particularly emotional, an explanation for their displays of comfort and intimacy. I feel uplifted to think that they are recovering, my heart full at the thought that they have each other fight this battle with.

Until I look back at him.

He is slumped against the subway door, his eyes barely opened. Without her body to support him he is slowly sliding, moving as if he is sitting down in a chair very very slowly. I watch with trepidation, wondering if he is moments from crumpling to the floor. There are plenty of available seats and I want to suggest that he sit down, but instead I just watch him, unsure of what to do, monitoring the situation for signs that I should intervene. When he finally gains enough control to sit down, I feel immense relief, as if that has made everything okay. As if now he is healthy and I am no longer witnessing a devastating display of human suffering. We reach my stop, the doors slide open, and I walk off of the train and into my office, back into my uninterrupted middle-class professional world.

Throughout the day I see them in flashes — a tattooed arm rubbing her back, a messy high bun as she exits the train, his body slumped, succumbing to something stronger than him, crumpling against the subway door.

I can’t stop myself from wondering if you are on a subway somewhere, fighting sleep as your body crumples and jerks back and forth with the movement of the train. I hope there is a woman who wants to stand beside you and hold you up. I hope you are rubbing her back.