What Old You Would Do

When I take the subway, I often walk down to the end of the platform to wait for the train.

It's a habit I inherited during my early days in the city, while toiling away at Bloomingdale's. We'd close up after a hectic night, and I wouldn't want to run into coworkers (or infamously annoying customers) on the train. What was there left to say after a long day? "I really loved folding sweaters with you this evening—the cashmere is so fabulous this season."

So I'd trot to the end of the platform in my black dress (black shoes, blacks tights) to enjoy a more peaceful subway experience. Bonus: It's rarely crowded after rush hour on the first or last car, meaning you'll always snag a seat. This is essential when you’re further downtown than 14th Street and Queens-bound.

Tonight was no different.

Clip-clop down the stairs.
Swipe through the turnstile.
Past the snack man.
Past the benches.
Past the people.

I poked my head around a beam to get a better glimpse of the tracks. No trains were approaching, so I took a defeated step back toward the wall. I was suddenly very tired. Once the train arrived, my plan was to put in my headphones, zone out the world, and possibly take a quick nap.

But as I moved away from the edge of the platform, there was something in my peripheral vision. About three feet to the right of me lay a crumpled up man—mouth open, eyes shut.

I shut my eyes.
I did not want to see this man.
I did not want to know the end of his story.
What I wanted was to get on a warm train and slip into sleep.

So I turned away.

But... his face haunted me, and I found my own jaded indifference pretty sickening. Had this actually been my first year in New York—had I been rushing down the stairs, desperately trying to escape Bloomingdale’s—I would not have thought twice about the value of a man’s life.

I walked back to the edge, irritated with myself and confused by the situation.

The man was still there, with one foot dangerously hanging too close to the tracks. Where he lay was extremely precarious, as this hidden strip of the platform is not meant for standing. Five inches more to the left, and his foot would be smashed by an oncoming train.

His body was contorted into a position that looked grotesquely unnatural and he showed no signs of life… so I stepped closer.

Was he already dead? His chest went up, and then down.

Up, and then down.
Up, and then down.

For what felt like an hour, but was in actuality about 20 seconds, I debated a plan. My conclusion was this: I would be unable to move this man safely. He could be violent or severally injured. But someone should know that he was here, in the belly of New York, alone.

Up, and then down.
Up, and then down.

“Oh my God.”

I jumped, surprised and on edge (literally). A woman about my age stood directly behind me. She had brown hair, brown eyes, and, ironically, a Bloomingdale’s brown bag.

“I know. I think… I think I should tell someone,” I said, piecing together my thoughts while speaking.

“Yeah, yeah sounds good.”
“Let’s tell the guy in the booth?”
“Yeah, I’ll… I’ll come with you. I can try and hold the train if it comes,” she said.

Suddenly, with Brown Bag on my side, I felt confident. We were at least doing something. She and I rushed back down the platform, past the people, past benches, past the snack man, and through the turnstile.

“What’s he look like—what’s he wearing?” The man in the booth seemed rushed. I gave my description: jeans, dark jacket, tee-shirt.

“Oh God, the police were here looking for him. They must have gone the wrong direction.” Brown Bag and I waited while he made a call. Moments later, cops ran past us, toward our mystery man.

A few seconds later, the N train barreled into the station. “Do you need me?” I asked the MTA employee. He shook his head, so I hopped the turnstile while Brown Bag held the door of the train. We exchanged a “thanks” and a “have a goodnight,” then found our seats.  As we zoomed away from Prince Street, I could see the cops holding up the man (both feet still in tact).

I was breathing fast and no longer wanted to take a nap. My chest went up, and then down.

Up, and then down.
Up, and then down.

Sometimes our younger selves know best. 

This is a different station, but for reference, the man was sitting where the red sign is located (bottom left).