From December 16th
Tonight, as I waited on the crowded Uptown F platform at west 4th street station I was probably thinking about how much I wanted to be home already, and maybe the book I’m reading. Then, down the platform, a woman’s loud screaming. A man’s raised voice. I had three near-simultaneous thoughts. First, it’s just teenagers hopped up on hormones. Second, a woman has been pushed on to the tracks. And then third, I have to get over there. Somehow, in the millisecond between my first and second thoughts, I had deciphered the words, “Get off of me” from the amongst the woman’s shrieking, sending my body into full alert. It wasn’t just teenagers. A man appeared to have grabbed—or tried to grab—a woman’s purse. But she wasn’t giving it up. As everyone on the platform and the downtown platform across the tracks stared, I moved closer and closer to them. The woman struggled. Screaming into his face. He backed off, and I followed her down the platform. Hoping that was the end of it. She was walking so quickly, but I caught up enough to ask, “Are you ok?” She looked at me for the first time and simply answered, “No.” But he had followed.
He pursued her up on to the stairs, so I did too. Tried to maneuver my body closer, in between them, as he grabbed at her. She kept screaming at him. Again, “Don’t follow me. I said not to follow me. Don’t touch me. Let go of me. Go away.” Then, almost imperceptibly, his body shifted. He lunged down to her hips and began to lift her. As if to throw her over his shoulder. Somehow, I don’t remember how, I wound up on the steps above them. Went from yelling, “Leave her alone,” to screaming in his face, “Put her down now. Let go of her.” A woman a few feet from the bottom of the steps came forward, her voice joined mine. “Leave her alone. Let go of her now.” Startled, he put her down. I continued to scream at him, over and over. I don’t know what I was saying. She got away from him, hurried down the steps. I watched from the corner of my eye as she moved further away. I was still screaming into his face. Determined to keep his attention where it was now—on me. I don’t remember what he was yelling back at me. I remember vaguely understanding that he was saying something like, “Ok, you said to put her down and I did.”
He had braces on his teeth. The kind with clear rubber bands. He was saying something about how he was going to call the police. Walked past me the rest of the way up the stairs. I caught up with the woman, walked with her down the platform. Up the first set of stairs, up the second set on to the A, C, E platform. Just in case he came back. I asked her if there was anything I could do for her. She said no, she was going to go home.
I remember the eyes of the people on the platform. They were scared. Or intrigued. Vaguely interested, or nervously unsure. I remember a crowd of MTA workers, their bright orange vests with neon yellow stripes clustered on the platform across the tracks as they watched. I remember a woman in a soft-looking grey beanie standing with her back up against a pole, her eyes flicking back and forth. I remember the blush painted perfectly on to the cheeks of the woman screaming from the bottom of the steps.
I remember being scared. Being scared that he would turn on me next. Grab at me, or even have a weapon, maybe just a pocket knife. It’s happened before. Last May I intervened as a man viciously and unendingly beat a woman against parked cars that shook, then on the street, into the shiny black asphalt. Just like tonight, I walked closer and closer. Raised my voice. My heart pounding so hard in my chest it made my ribs shake and I heard it in the bones around my ears. Kept my eyes on him, while in the periphery of my vision I watched her get away and hurry off. Only then, he had turned on me. Backing me into a car as his friends struggled to hold him back. Maybe it was reckless. Looking back, I realize that if his friends hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened to me.
I am so tired. I am tired of violence against women. Implicit and explicit. I am tired of having to walk into danger over and over and over. I am tired of almost always having to do it alone. I am tired of following women down streets, out of subway stations, around corners, into bars to make sure they’re safe. I am tired of watching people watch. I am so fucking tired.
I remember her eyes, too. Wet with held back tears, and red rimmed.