Los Angeles is not known for its subway. People who have lived here for years don’t even realize there is a subway. Admittedly, it’s not very convenient – doesn’t reach most of the spread-out city. But it’s there, and I take it.
One of the perks of taking the subway is the opportunity to watch people. Usually, I read or knit or nap – anything that detaches me from all the other people I share a space with for the twenty-minute ride. But there are rare occasions when I just watch the people around me and start to wonder how they got there and where they’re going (in life).
You have your standard “crazy” people – the ones that make you avoid taking the subway alone after the sun goes down. Business men and women suited up with matching briefcases. Nannies, mothers, high school students, tourists. Tall, short, disabled, and lazy. Granted, it’s not an entirely representative microcosm of Los Angeles (you won’t find movie stars on the subway), but the Metro still provides the glimpse into the lives of someone else.
Yesterday, a girl – probably in her late teens or early twenties – boarded the train with her boyfriend and an older gentleman. Their clothing were tattered and dirty; it didn’t seem like they showered in awhile. They fulfilled the stereotypical image of the cast-offs of society. Everyone around them avoided eye contact and were annoyed (slightly intrigued) when their actions were not “what you’re supposed to do in public.”
Sitting there, just observing this trio, I noticed the girl had cutting scars on the top of her left arm. I wasn’t surprised. I kept thinking to myself, not out of pity but from genuine curiosity, “What happened to this girl? How bad is the pain in her life?”
& – – – – //
About three years ago, I met someone who would change my life. She has so many of the qualities that I wish I had; she is full of life and laughter, finds amusement in the simplest things, precocious, and not cynical about the world around her. When she sees me, her face is the greatest expression of pure love. When she cries, I want to fix everything that is wrong with world so she doesn’t have to cry anymore.
She’s one of my best friends and she’s only three-years-old.
I remember a day in the summer of 2006 when she helped me cope with the death of my former boss. The circumstances of his death are still unknown to me and the thought that haunts me most is whether he died alone. He shut himself off. He just faded away. And I feared, “Will that be me?”
Sitting on the couch, I had Iggy* on my lap and just looked at her. She was about 7 months old then. Still couldn’t talk or walk or do anything for herself. Everything was still new for her. Blank slate. I started crying and thought, “How do we get so screwed up? How do we get from Point A to Point Fucked-Up?”
I made a promise to myself and to her that day. I promised not to let all the downs in life prevent me from living my life. I want to help show this little new person that things don’t have to be so bad.
& – – – – //
That day with Iggy flashed in my mind when I was watching the girl on the subway. How did she get from being just like Iggy to where she was now?
A few stops later, a mother boards the train. She’s pushing a stroller with a three-year-old girl in it. The child has no hair, a scar on the top of her head, and patient-identificaton bracelets on her right wrist. They sit across from Subway Girl and her two male companions. And I find myself asking, once again, “What has happened to this girl? How bad is the pain in her life?”
Such an interesting juxtaposition of humanity, really. Subway Girl with her self-inflicted scars sitting across a child, around Iggy’s age, with scars designed to help save her. And I realize, maybe the two are not that different. The world puts us through so many trials and heartbreaks and beatings that maybe it’s just a straight line from Point A to Point F. And maybe, by the time we get to Point F, some are just too tired to keep going.
When Subway Girl stood to exit the car, she wished the mother to have a good day. It was sweet and soft and heart-felt. And I saw a small glimmer of hope.
Maybe there’s still hope for her to get to someplace past Point F. Maybe there’s hope for all of us.