Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Life, Maybe Death, and Christmas

I think I saw someone die on the subway today. I can't be sure, of course, because 1) I've never seen anyone die, and 2) I wasn't close enough to pronounce him dead.

I had just switched to a no. 2 or 3 express train at 96th Street and had settled into the front end of whatever car I was on, reading Rules for Saying Goodbye ... which is, in some ways, like my psychological biography. The circumstances of the heroine vary from those in my life, but sometimes I feel like she borrowed the thoughts right out of my own head.

I was completely engrossed in Chapter 21: Engagement; or a Hostage Situation and ignoring a very slight commotion in the back end of the car. At 72nd Street, the train paused with the doors open for longer than usual. I didn't look up. A man sat next to me and opened his own book. There was something comfortable about the stranger beside me, both of us reading.

Then an announcement: "We are delayed due to a sick passenger on this train. Please be patient."

A few downtown no. 1 local trains passed across the platform, but I did not feel any need to hurry so I continued reading. More announcements were made. At some point I realized the sick passenger was on our car. I leaned forward slightly, but could only see others standing about and looking down. So, I leaned back and continued reading. And then a final announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, please transfer to the no. 3 train across the platform."

I shut my book and stood up and as I stepped off the train, I looked toward the back of the car and saw a middle-aged, bald man laying on the floor, his legs buckled under the seat as if he had slumped over while seated. There appeared to be a pool of blood by his mouth, but I couldn't be too sure because I looked away immediately and walked across the platform without looking back.

I have hated the sight of blood since I was young, which is kind of funny since both my parents are nurses. I can't even watch horror movies because all of the blood and gore gives me anxiety. I know exaggerations are how rumors start, but I think blood is what I saw.

As I held onto the pole in the express no. 3, I knew most of my fellow passengers were thinking the same thing regardless of whether or not the man was going to live, "This Christmas is going to be a bad memory for somebody ... if he has anybody."

As the train continued to 42nd Street, where I would switch to a Queens-bound no. 7 to join my titas in Woodside for Christmas, I was reflecting on how quiet our car had been when the man passed out ... or died. The initial commotion had been small enough to keep me from looking up from my book and the onlookers had been deathly still - pardon the pun. Only a few had been crouched down around him, but then again, what could most do in this situation if one were not well-versed in the medical field?

I felt the stranger I had been sitting next to earlier looking at me. I looked down at him briefly and then averted my gaze. I wondered if he had been thinking about the silence, too. The calm of an awkward Christmas afternoon.

2 comments:

Todd said...

I had a "death on the subway" experience, but it's one of the few things I decided not to post about because it really upset me.

BNY said...

That was the weird, surreal thing about it. I didn't feel all that upset.