When he was sick

She felt the tears welling up behind her eyes, making her feel like she may sneeze. If only all of the emotions she had could be contained to that, to just a sneeze or a yawn, maybe she could manage to get through the afternoon. But the memories started flooding in, and she wondered if she was promoting her own sadness by letting them come, or if she would have felt this way even if she had blocked them from her thoughts.

She was sitting on an orange plastic subway bench underground on an otherwise sunny Sunday afternoon. She had started the long journey home from visiting an apartment on the other side of town, settled in for a long and bumpy ride. She had been going through the city the last couple months with a feeling of numbness, overseeing her daily agenda with a mechanical precision that made her feel in control. Like she was managing. Like she was doing just fine.  But very occasionally something would throw her off balance, a small glitch in the routine of her well-planned days. It was moments like this when she realized it wasn’t sustainable. It wouldn’t work. Different choices would need to be made. Reality, somehow, would emerge, and the raw emotion of it would boil over putting out her flame.

There was a man with a little blonde girl sitting across from her in the empty train car.  She couldn’t help stealing looks at them as they sat. On the third or fourth quick glance, the tears started streaming down her cheeks. She knew once they started, she couldn’t easily get them to stop. The all-encompassing feeling of sadness was mixed with some annoyance. Why now? Why so publicly?

The man was probably around 35 with brown shaggy hair and blue jeans. He was in a casual Sunday T-shirt, a little too worn to wear during the week, but too loved to throw away.  The little girl kept hiding her face in the side of his torso, mucking up his t-shirt further with the juice box all over her face. Her little legs were dangling from the seat, and sporadically kicking in glee whenever she took a sip from her straw. She would sometimes look up at him and say something nonsensical. The man would nod, or reply in an understanding tone of one or two words, always mildly distracted by the book he was reading, but stroking her hair absentmindedly as he read.

In the seat across from this pair, she wondered if he noticed her sitting there, silently wiping the tears that flowed from her eyes like a tap that wouldn’t shut off. He didn’t seem to pay her any attention. A lot stranger things have happened on the subway.  In the meantime, as she sat there, she marveled at her ability to cry without making a sound.

This would be the moment she looked back on years later when she thought of that summer, and her decision later that day to leave the city for good, and move back home.

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