I’m saying too much again. As the words leave my mouth, cutting and jabbing, I swear to him they are just toothless dogs and it shouldn’t hurt; that this is my way to show love. A surprise to no one but me, this doesn’t fly and he calls my house-on-stilts princess complex on the rug. Tone of voice apparently means something even if your words are benign?
I’m in perpetual 101.
I rush out cause I’m late again. I notice my downstairs neighbor’s door slighted cracked. She’s heard most everything, I’m guessing. “I fought every day with my husband. I was fighting with him the day before he died,” she says. This is salve only as I’ve never known two people with more passion and fierce love.
Besides us, that is.
“Watch your tone of voice,” I write in my iPhone productivity folder. I imagine our future children watching us, even our dog watching and picking up tones, habits. I refuse to perpetuate iron clad stronghold habits.
3 Train. The mundane is a neutralizing anesthetic and we text about makeup sex.
As I board she immediately captures me: a wiry Asian woman with a knowing, lopsided, smirk on her face. She’s wearing Naval Academy blue and is alarmingly pale. Her legs are crossed and gangily dangling over each other, as if they cling to the other for warmth on this day where New York City proper has received its first snow of the season. Her smirk: an enigma, full of knowing intrigue and paltry blandness. Hers is a smirk that seems afraid to freely move, as facial muscles tend to do, into anything but a Mona Lisa-esque mystery of mischief and marked vigilance. Why the plastic, embarrassed-laced smirk, I wonder as we lock eyes?
The answer lies uptown of these tracks, uptown from this 110th St station stop on Central Park North with the nameless-to-me New Yorkers whose days propelled them onto the train 13 or so minutes before me. The answer is with those who live on 145th St and have 2500 square foot living spaces, those who barter on 125th and sell incense sticks near the Apollo Theatre, but go down to Chinatown to restock. They know who left the lingering farts that cling to these plastic seats. Or what sticky, candy-handed children left germy residue on the pole I’m pretending is clean.
And someone must know about her smirk. And this mess.
Her pale, wiry fingers eat Beef Jerky out of a bright, friendly, green bag but there’s nothing ‘green’ about it. Plastic, processed, intestinal. The grassy green bag isn’t what catches my eye first as I enter the 3 Train, hoping my last text of “You are 10 feet tall to me.“ (Kissy lips emoticon) goes through.
No, it’s this mess: randomly, widely discarded beef jerky strewn all over the subway floor. Some of it is smashed into gnarly bits on the grimy floor, resembling wet dog food. Some if it’s cleft in twain, looking forlorn and forsaken. It’s spread on all sides of her in such a way that it seems she would have had to throw it with force for it to cover such a wide surface area. It’s impressive actually, but I can’t track it to save my life.
I try to piece it together as we eye each other cautiously.
Was there a turbulent fight with smashing, stomping mayhem, leaving this ninja-skilled waif of a woman feeling justified to let the jerky junk lie? Or is she lame? Have a slipped disc or previous broken back injury? Is she incapable from bending over to pick up her trail of naughty, literous, geometrically titillating trash? If that’s the case she’d need a caretaker, and the young mom with a stroller doesn’t seem game.
The woman eats on with a quiet steadiness, catching my eye now and then with a glistening hint of mischief. I realize I’m staring and instinctively revert back to my phone. But she gives no indication that this was her doing. She’s not owning up. No matter, she’s the axis of this salty circle. She and that glaring, green bag.
We reach 72nd street and she’s finished the remaining contents, packs the bag away, into another bag into another bag, like a Russian Doll, leaving the oncoming passengers no idea from where the mystery meat on the ground arrived. But I know. And the guy with the tats next to the mom with the stroller knows.
The stroller. Inside a child: watching, soaking in every ounce of body language and tone of voice.
I lose myself more as we lurch from stop to stop and am distracted by reading someone’s Kindle over their left forearm. Apparently, Iron deficiency is one of the leading causes of memory loss and accounts for a national IQ lowering of 4.8%? "Eat more kale,” I write in my productivity Iphone folder. When I stir from evesdropping, I find the wiry enigma gone. She wasn’t lame after all. I feel unexpected, acute sorrow. I wasn’t ready for her to be taken from me so quickly.
I need her today. It’s was as if we were having an eye-to-eye, meeting of the minds across the aisle. My eyes were saying, “I know you left this mess and are too embarrassed to clean it up, but I’m not gonna call you out. I’m gonna keep quiet.” And her cutting, knowing eyes are saying, “I see you, too. I know you probably yelled at your mother earlier and threw an entitlement hissy fit over wanting to sing better than you can, that you are looking at grassy green fields across the way, grab bagging at any excuse to feel sorry for yourself. Or maybe you just raised your voice to you husband. But I’m gonna keep your secret, too.”
But here’s the thing: the secret is, the secret’s out.
Someone is always watching.
Still I’m thankful for our mutual extension of grace or at least our imaginary made up doing of such. “She who has been forgiven little, loves little,” I think.
I swim in the mental soup of iron deficiency, IQ loss, beef jerky and grace. It pours out pungently in my mind as 28th St flies by us: People are always watching. Somebody is always on your trail. Even if it’s just you leaving beef jerky on the subway floor. Or being unnesscarily carless with words and tone.
I think of my other careless looks to strangers, or pushing through a turnstile instead of letting that ELDERLY man go ahead of me, yelling at the grocer lady who didn’t do anything but land on the bad end of my attitude. I think of more devious acts of lethargy and meanness. I think of what a small island this is and how you never get a second chance to let a stranger know you think they are worth the effort to show kindness, to pick up your trash trail. Someone is always watching. Not in the creepy, stalker way; but constantly receiving information about us. It may be the beginning, follow through or end of an attitude or action, good or bad, but there’s not much with which we really get away. We wear it on sleeves and shoulders and in glances and huffs, puffs and raised voices. OR in smiles, easiness, thankfulness and peace.
I get out at the Grand St. Station and head down to Chrystie St. Casting in Chinatown. The open air markets greet me, as does a replied text alert that make the pleasure sensors in my brain beam.
“To me, you will always be my radiant bride.“ (dancing lady, kissy face, thumbs up emotions)
We text like teenagers and I finish my audition. I question my shoe choice.
Walking back to the subway I text, “What’s your honest opinion of beef jerky?”
I enter a market I never knew existed. Nothing is in English. No one speaks English, but I can’t shake the grassy green bag, her dangling legs and knowing side eyes.
I get back on the uptown B train with the only thing I wanted: a bright, friendly green bag of beef jerky. I eat in silence as the passengers board and imagine how much Iron I’m ingesting. I’ll forget the likely ground up intestines and alarming sodium content.
I people watch.
“Eat more bok choy,” I write in my iPhone productivity folder.