Today while I was returning from a practica at Dardo Galletto studios, the A train arrived just as I reached the platform. I thanked my lucky stars for having a short wait. Together with a herd of other New Yorkers I boarded the already full train. I was soon cursing those same lucky stars. Full trains and crowded platforms mean one thing: the train is experiencing delays. We sat on the platform for twenty minutes. The conductor remained mute. He made no announcements explaining the delay, no repeated promises offering hope that the train would soon be on its way.
Finally, the doors tentatively closed. They slapped open and closed five more times before they made a final, successful attempt. The train sputtered to life, chugging slowly beneath the Upper West Side. Around 96th street, it stalled again. Then it inched past the subway platform at 96th street. Someone muttered something about a body bag. I was wearing earplugs (the decibel level in the New York City subway system is above the level deemed safe in some factories). I pretended not to hear, imagined that the man referred to some other body bag, somewhere else, at some other time. I had my back to the subway platform. I didn't try to look. Everyone in the train remained silent. No one crooned necks, no one played a peeping tom to someone else's tragedy. There has been too much bad news lately, in the Middle East, in Japan, with the economy, hell, we might as well throw in China while we're at it. Personally, I have been dealing with a coop board whose recalcitrance has got me questioning my faith in others.
After 96th street the train made speedy progress to 168th St., where a woman boarded, sat across from me, and asked, how long have you been on this train? I replied, forever. I paused to consider whether I should fill in the gap, and then did, someone said there was a body bag. That broke the silence. The woman next to me (who had boarded at 125th St.), added, someone jumped, or was pushed, onto the tracks. I was on the C train. They made us get off and go upstairs while they turned off the electricity [the third rail carries very high, usually lethal voltage], and retrieved the body. The woman across from me, shocked and seeking communion in her distress, looked me directly in the eye. Sometimes words fail me. I stuttered. I leaned forward, distracted. As I did so, an item fell out of the plastic bag I held on my lap. A man standing near me bent over and picked it up. Without saying a word, he tapped me on the arm with it, returning it to me. I had not realized the loss.
That brought back the silence. Such is life in New York City: the tragedies and triumphs of life lived in the open, the fleeting, subterranean sense of community.
Resources for those affected by this, and similar, events:
Samaritans of New York: For those in crisis, for friends and family affected by the suicide of a loved one, and to increase awareness about this issue:
Samaritans 24-hr crisis hotline: 212-673-3000
For those in crisis, or needing more information about suicide and related issues:
To find a counselor or therapist:
To find a suicide or crisis hotline in your state:
National Suicide Hotlines:
1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-273-TALK