Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The dark side of New York

I know I talk about a lot of meaningless shit on this blog, and I do it because I enjoy trying to make y'all laugh and feel good; but sometimes, things happen that are not happy, not funny and not easily forgotten. Sometimes things happen that really affect you, shake you to your core and make you question things you thought you knew about yourself. Last night on my commute from work to home, one of these things happened to me.

I got on my usual train at my usual time, headed uptown on the 4/5 from the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop. I spotted a seat and quickly moved to grab it, and as I sat down, I realized that a woman across from me was raising her voice at one of the two children with her. I had my earbuds in, listening to music, so I couldn't quite hear everything she was saying, and I tried desperately to ignore her. But after a while it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to, because she wasn't going to stop.

She looked like she was in her 50s, and she was with two young children, a boy and a girl, probably 10 and 8, respectively. She wouldn't stop yelling at the little girl, saying something about how embarrassed she was by her, and how she deserved to be embarrassed for what she had done. It was not immediately obvious what this poor child did that was so terrible, but the woman was clearly unhinged.

She just kept yelling and saying terrible things, and her verbal abuse reached a peak when she reached across the little boy, threatening to hit the girl with a rolled-up magazine, and then making a fist and threatening to punch her. The girl, shockingly, was not sobbing or even crying, but just sniffling a little bit. At this point my heart was in my throat and my stomach was in my shoes - why wasn't someone doing something? This woman was threatening to beat this child, in public, and no one was doing or saying anything. More importantly, neither was I.

At this point, the woman caught a person of another race - I didn't actually see the person so I'm not sure which race he or she was - staring at her, and she said, "What? What are you looking at? Please. The [inaudible race of people] beat their kids more than anybody. And have sex with 'em too." Of course, all of this was laced with obscenities.

At this point, a seat opened up next to me, and the woman instructed the little girl to move across the train from her and sit in the seat. She obeyed, taking the seat beside me, sniffling and looking embarrassed and terrified. My heart cried out to do something, to take this little girl's hand and tell her everything would be OK, that she didn't deserve to be treated this way - no matter what she had done wrong - and that she deserved love. The woman continued yelling at her from across the train, and instead of following my heart and my gut, I did nothing. I sat there, along with everyone else on the subway car, feeling angry, scared and helpless. I knew what I was witnessing was wrong, but I didn't know what I could do to stop it.

I thought of writing the little girl a note and passing it to her as I exited the train; but then I realized I didn't have a pen. I thought of hugging her on my way out, whispering in her ear that she would be OK. But what if this unhinged woman had a weapon? Then I would be endangering everyone on the train, including both the children. So I did nothing. Aside from snap some photos of the woman and boy (but not the little girl) on my iPhone.

The thing about New York is that all these nasty sides of life are right there for everyone to see; had it been six o'clock anywhere else, some small town in rural Mississippi or Alabama, this exchange would have taken place behind closed car doors. But because it's New York, and everyone takes public transportation, it's all out there in the open as a reminder that life is not always good and people aren't always good and terrible things happen to innocent people everyday.

As I exited the train, I paused outside the train's window and looked back in at the girl. She was still sniffling, and she looked up at me. I smiled at her, weakly, trying to convey a million emotions with one human expression. I just wanted her to be OK. I wanted her to know that everything was going to be all right. I'm not really even sure if she saw me.

Dear little girl on the express train,

You are a person who deserves love. You deserve a happy life, and you are capable of doing great things, no matter what the adults in your life may tell you. You are beautiful. You have god and the universe inside you. Never let someone talk to you like this again. Never let a man threaten you, or take advantage of you, or abuse you. Never accept abuse from anyone. Be brave. Be yourself. Love others. Everything will be OK.



  1. Well an upstanding mother across the street from this house in da ghetto just instructed her young child to "throw that shit in the mothafuckin' trash can." Model parenting.

  2. wow, i've been in the same type of situation as you. it feels like you SHOULD do something about it, because you know it's wrong, but you don't. i honestly think that maybe it was the best idea to just stay out of it, but I know it must have been hard. having a little war going on in your mind, trying to decided whether to do something or not. i hope you didn't think about it for the rest of the day feeling bad or anything. because it definitely showed that you're a compassionate person, and that you at least know the difference between right and wrong. i hope you don't have to witness things like this very often, but then again, i know the world isn't perfect.
    - Darien