Train of Thought

Stories happen at every point of every day. They happen on the street or behind closed doors. Some of us weave intricate narratives while we wash our hair in the shower. Others write them for a living. Stories are a constant throughout our lives, they can be simple boy-meets-girl, or they can be more complex boy-meets-girl-hates-girl-hates-boy-meets-in-10-years-fall-in-love. They can be love stories, murder stories, stories of missed connections, or stories of no connections.

My story is about a commonplace ride on the train; a simple point A to point B story line. I got on the train. Then I arrived at my location, promptly getting off it. My story isn't an interesting one. But good stories are rarely our own; they’re the ones that occur around us, our second hand experiences, even the ones we create in our minds about those around us.

When a young man, large and draped in a light jacket, shuffles through the open doors, dragging his flat bottomed sneakers on the salt encrusted grooves of the train car’s bottom, reeking of weed, I wonder what his story is. How did this man’s night start? His shoulders bent with what I could assume was the weight of his backpack; was it full of books? He seems young enough to be of high school age, though his size seemed to say college to me. Recalling there’s a community college nearby, maybe his class just let out and he’s headed home.

The night air left a chill in my bones, even though I was bundled in my heavy winter jacket; this guy’s glorified windbreaker and sweat pants seemed to say he had just climbed on the train from his front door. Maybe – the obvious scenario – he had just stopped at his dealer’s place and was headed somewhere. The smell heavily wafting from his clothes seemed to suggest the same.

The train clatters along the tracks, pulling into a station. I chance a look up, both to see what station we’ve arrived and to look at him, hoping to spot some sort of clue. As is usually the case, we make awkward eye contact; I linger too long, realizing too late that my eyes have overstayed their welcome, quickly moving into uncomfortable territory. But it’s too late to linger on his story. It’s too late to linger on his clear eyes and solemn, dejected demeanor. It’s too late for me to ask why there’s a whimper in his down-turned lips, or the slump in his shoulders – the muscles of his shoulders and back crushed below the weight of someone’s world, probably not even his. In a different story I would ask what ails him, maybe craft a long friendship. I could ask him if he's okay and truly listen. But that's the story we craft in our minds, the better, more sincere version of ourselves that can only exist in a story.

But it's too late for any gesture or question. My train has arrived and I must go – this is my stop. Hopefully it isn't his.