“They would not listen, they did not know how-”
Perhaps they'll listen now”
-Don McLean, Starry Starry Night
Your train is late again. It’s been “arriving in 5 minutes” for the past 20 minutes. It’s not like you have an exact deadline to keep, but you’d rather have the whole affair over with sooner rather than later. Besides, the platform has started to fill up with highschool kids, all of them loud in a way that seems aggressive, jostling you with their backpacks as they push past. A few of them mutter apologies but most ignore you. There’s a tall boy standing next to you; He’s talking to a pretty girl in a blue sundress, their heads bent close together, hands almost touching. Suddenly he puts his arms around her waist and pretends to dip her toward the tracks, and she shrieks and pummels his chest with loosely-clenched fists. They are in love, or close to it, and you wonder what you look like to them: small and mousy-haired and intruding on something that is somehow both private and a spectacle.
When you next glance at the sign, 5 minutes has become 3 minutes. You reach into your bag and rummage around, feeling for the hard edges of your journal. Sometimes, sitting in a lecture or stretched out on your bed, you allow yourself to imagine the absolute worst situations unfolding in agonizing detail. You are supposed to be “working on this”, according to your guidance counselor, who you don’t listen to because she’s an extraordinarily plain woman caught somewhere between her late thirties and the onset of middle age, the kind of woman who gets ignored even by the guys who hang out on overturned crates outside the corner store and are willing to forgive your acne and the hair your roommate Sue has lovingly dubbed “a crime scene” (“I don’t get why you won’t just brush it, Chlo, like fine if you’re trying to make some big feminist statement, but you just look like you don’t care”).
This time you decide to picture your bag splitting at the seam, your journal tumbling to the floor in slo-mo and landing splayed open. The high school boy next to you, the one with the girlfriend, picks it up. As his eyes travel down the page his laughter turns into a grimace. He flings the book away as if it’s caught on fire.
What really happens is that your fingers brush the jumbo-pack of gum your mother sent you last week, along with a quickly scrawled note that read
please try and stop biting your nails. much love.
You put the note up next to the mirror you share with Sue, hoping it would motivate you, but whenever you see it all you can think of is the Christmas two years ago when you stumbled across Mom’s secret stash of vodka bottles, pushed all the way to the back of the freezer behind the Lean Cuisines, and how she still gives herself a sticker every day on her sobriety calendar, a row of smug yellow smiley faces staring up at you from the fridge. You’re so good at holding onto memories like that. You can’t even remember your first kiss, but you can still feel the icy blast of freezer air against your face, and which flavor of Lean Cuisine was the jenga block that sent the whole thing tumbling down to the floor (lemon chicken with steamed garden vegetables, caked in so many layers of ice that the letters were almost illegible).
2 minutes. Your phone buzzes. It’s from Sue: How r u doing? You don’t bother answering. Sue never texts first unless she wants something from you. Sure enough, Going to the corner store later? Need a few things. 1 minute. It seems like time is speeding up. Calm down, you idiot. You’ve made this trip a hundred times. You smooth your hair, step a little away from the teenaged couple, one of whom has finally been brave enough to grab the other’s hand. 50 seconds now? 40. 30. 20. 10...
Arriving! Arriving! You hear the dull roar from the tunnel for what seems like hours before light appears in the mouth. It looms toward you, and you step forward and close your eyes and then you are falling backwards instead of forwards, and the train is thundering past you so fast that it blows your bangs off your forehead. You open your eyes. The high school boy, the one who read your journal in your fantasy/nightmare, is staring into your face. His hands are on your shoulders and he holds you at arm’s length like you are a wild animal prone to attacks.
“Thanks,” you say. Then, feeling like you need to something more, “I must have blacked out for a minute.”
Everyone on the platform is staring at you.
“Should I call someone?” asks the boy. He turns to the group, stretches his arms out as if asking for help.
“Should I- should I call someone?”
“No,” you say. “That won’t be necessary.”
You feel like maybe you should say more, but how to explain to him that you weren’t going to do it? That in all the times you have visited the station, you have never once actually planned on doing it? How to explain that standing with your toes on the edge of the platform, watching the train plow into the station and knowing that if you were a few inches further forward you would be crushed reminds you- what? That you are in control. That it is your choice to go on living in the face of everything.
You don’t say any of this, of course. They would all think you were insane, and maybe you are, but right now it doesn’t matter. Right now you shoulder your bag and walk out of the station. On the way you pull out your phone and text Sue. Going to the store after all. What do you need?