I was waiting for the D train at Seventh Avenue today, trying to get downtown to meet a friend for a movie, and a man came over to where I was sitting and sat down. He was in his mid-thirties, handsome and well-dressed; he had a lot of stuff with him: a box with a handle, an expensive-looking tote, a bag with a bit of ribbon attached, as if it were a birthday gift, and a plastic Ziplock which held two sugar cookies.
"Is this going downtown?" he said, pointing to the empty track in front of us. "Or here?" He pointed to the tracks behind me.
"They're both going downtown. Where are you trying to go?"
He let his bags fall around his feet. "I'm trying to get to the World Trade Center."
"E Train," I said, "This one here." I showed him, gesturing to the sign above us which showed the big blue circle. I returned to my book.
"That's a good color on you," he said. I was wearing a dark brown cashmere sweater, probably my favorite. "What I mean is, that's a good color on you." The same words here were meant to clarify something, though I was unsure what. "I'm a make-up artist, that's why I noticed. I'm also an image consultant."
"Oh," I said, not looking at him too much, still focused on the pages in my lap, trying to disappear from the world.
"I've just been at the Hilton for hours. There was an auction. A charity for children." He continued talking, and I wasn't sure if he was trying to make conversation, or pick me up, or if he was just listening to himself talk, like practicing talking. "I was one of the items. It was weird. I mean, you could bid on me." He rubbed his eyebrows. "You could win a day of shopping and make-up consultation with me."
And I wondered, when he clutched his make-up box close to him, if perhaps he was leaving the auction unbought. He was out of order somehow, like one or two molecules out of the trillions that he was made of were slightly misaligned, and it was jarring him to the point of near-madness. "So, that was weird," he said.
I almost said to him that I knew what it was like to build yourself back up one atom at a time, holding yourself upright day after day when all you wanted to do was to fall over and sink into the earth, closing your eyes. I almost said to him that even when you expected to be tied in a straight-jacket and thrown into a padded cell because your mind had become so unhinged--even when you were begging for that straight-jacket, when you wanted it--all you can do is wait it out.
"You know, I've never done that before. So that was strange." I told him that I thought it probably was strange. He looked back at me, started to say something, re-thought. Then he said "I just want to go home."