1. Friday I had lunch with a coworker. She is honest, brilliant, and sad. The first two things make it easy to forget the third. Of course, she is so much more than any of those things. I told her that I find people, in general, fascinating. I love to hear other people’s stories. Even if it’s just about their day. I watch people closely. I remember the way their mouths move when they speak. I remember their gait. I remember their nervous laughter, and their crooked smiles. I’m trying to figure something out about them, as if there are clues to a person’s soul.
Usually, I can look at someone’s smile and tell you whether or not they’ve had braces. It has nothing to do with their teeth. It has everything to do with the way their lips move around their teeth. It doesn’t work that way when you’re trying to see what makes a person who they are. In fact, maybe I’m not even looking for who they are. Maybe I’m looking for who they’ll be to me. Are you going to hurt me? Please, don’t.
2. Tuesday night a man made a choice. I was on the train reading a book, standing although there was room to sit. I’m trying to stand more. My knee is improving and I like having the option. This man sat in the seat directly to my left. I barely noticed him until he stood. I thought he was getting off at the next stop. We were getting closer. When the train stopped, he stood there unmoving. Maybe that’s when he decided.
As the train pulled away, he rushed toward me, pinning me to the back of the train car. He put his forearm under my chin, against my neck, and his other hand my dress. My body went limp. Until then, I didn’t know it remembered how to go numb so quickly. I could have lived without the reminder.
Two men pulled him off of me. The minute his skin left mine, I snapped back into myself. I reached for my phone to call 911. He stared at me, eyes wide and incredulous.
"You gonna call the cops on me?"
I stared back. Then it hit me. The fear, the proximity of danger, the intensity of the situation. He’d never considered that I would do…anything. He thought I would take it. He thought I would count it among the things that make a bad day. Like a missed train, a traffic ticket, or coffee on a white blouse. Or maybe not. Maybe he didn’t think of me at all. Maybe he looked at me and saw vapor in the shape of what was rightfully his.
The men who grabbed him, let him go and formed a wall with their bodies between us. He ran into the next car. Then another. And another. I lost sight of him. We all did. The two men asked if I was okay. They kept their distance. They were smart.
I spoke to the cops. I made a statement. If they find him, I want to press charges. They likely won’t find him. I care, and I don’t. I left something on that train.
If I could go back to Tuesday, I would take a cab.
I can’t go back to Tuesday.
3. After what happened, I started re-reading “An Untamed State”. At first, I wasn’t sure why. Now, I think I know.
I miss Miri.
Sometimes, I feel like she and I were in group therapy together only the two of us made up the entire group. And we would just speak our truth at one another, and listen, and speak, and listen, and know undoubtedly the other person got it.
After what happened, I needed someone who got it, but I didn’t have to talk to. So I read, and she spoke, and I listened. I listened to her story all over again. I nodded at what I knew and frowned at what I could only imagine.
I cried when she refused to, because the tears have to fall from someone. I know the story. I get it. So it may as well be me.
4. I have a real life friend who knows. She’s also a mentor and an adviser. She gets it. She lets me text her about things that don’t matter and things that do. She doesn’t make me call her. She knows I can’t always say what I need to say. I often need to write it. Talking becomes hard. She doesn’t make me say what I can’t. When I’ve been good she tells me, “I’m happy for you” and I believe her.
I’m trying really hard to believe anything.
I believe her.
She gave me permission to feel, and cry, and scream into the night from my fire escape. I did. Someone yelled, “Shut the fuck up!” It reminded me of the movie “Coming to America” and I laughed and laughed on the fire escape. I doubled over with laughter. I laughed until I cried.
Yes! Yes! Fuck you too!
5. The way back is never linear or paved for your comfort. There are potholes long and wide. There are valleys and canyons. There is the invisible gaping hole on the left side of you. You’re not entirely sure you’re entitled to it, but it’s there. You think things like, “this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me”, but that just makes you sadder. You think, “I bet this happens to women all the time, so I’m not special”, but that doesn’t do the trick either. You think, “if you don;t get your shit together, Ashley Ford, everyone is going to think you’re a freak”, but you can’t bring yourself to truly fear what other people think, because you can’t make anything else matter.
I didn’t go to work for two days last week. One day I went to the police department to check on my complaint (no progress) and the next day I took my first vacation day. I used it for an emergency visit to a therapist. I used it being afraid to leave my apartment and being angry with myself for being afraid. I curled up in a ball on my bed.
I’d gone numb pinned against the back of that car, but my body reminded me what I’d missed. It came back at once. His arm against the tender part of my neck. My own sour thoughts. “Lucky for you, I don’t visibly bruise.” His other hand under my dress. God, his fucking other hand. I’d like to remove that hand from it’s person. I’d like split it’s palm, break the knuckles, spit on it and say, “Nobody gets to touch me.”
Depression is odd because of the way he takes you away and leaves you right where you were at the same time. Sometimes, I am still on the train. Other times, I’m here. I’m present. I almost forget. Then I’m back on the train and I feel silly. What are you doing? Why are you back here? Be an adult, Ashley. Be well!
Soon the depressive state left. Or so it seemed. I went back to work, but I couldn’t focus. I told everyone about the DIY projects I wanted to do to my room. I did them. I spent a lot of money. I want to spend more money. I want to spend all of my money. I couldn’t stop tweeting. My tweets were erratic, jumping subjects, too close together, talking to no one and everyone. Look! See! I’m okay! Bad guys can’t get me down!
I am fooling no one.
I stay up all night and all day painting. I convince myself my knee is healed and I walk around the park until I fall into the grass, my knee screaming uncle. I text the man who is the closest thing I have to a real father. I tell him what happened. I say I’m fine. i say I’m getting mace. I say please don’t call me, I don’t want to talk. He calls anyway.
I’m so fucking glad.