My stop arrives and I wait until everyone exits even though I’m pressed for time. I end up being the last to leave the train. I can’t stand to be casually touched. I’ll do it occasionally- shake a hand or two, give my Aunt a hug once in a while, slap a high five at a game, but in a subway it’s obviously inevitable that you’ll be pushed, brushed, nudged, pinched, squeezed, cupped and jostled by those around you. This is what I try to avoid it at all costs. It’s unsettling to think that another person, one to whom I have absolutely no relation, has touched me. I take extra precautions to avoid contact. I move away more space than is necessary. I constantly switch sides of the platform when walking; and I always carry a bag to create a buffer zone when I sit. It’s a matter of personal space.
I run down the stairs, careful not to touch the handrails. I find my spot on the platform and wait for the L train. The L comes equipped with a mechanical PA system. Instead of the muffled voices that are standard on the older subway cars, I am met with a clear and precise male or female voice calling out the stops and announcing that the doors are closing. I’ve become close to these voices. When I doze off, I hear them in my head. I hear the voices when I go to bed at night as well.
I take a seat and prepare for the ride. This is the longer ride of the journey. There are still several vacant seats left. In the two-seater across from me is a woman whom I see every day, but neither of us acknowledges that fact with a greeting. Her light brown hair is cut close to her head. Her clothing is usually loose fitting and it’s hard to tell what department she’s been shopping in- men’s or women’s. She always boards with a book to read. The brown book bag she carries every day rests on her lap. Her book is drawn close to her face. I can’t read the title; she’s folded the book so she can hold it with one hand. Extraordinarily thin and possessing a mousy face, I’ve given her the name Eileen. She looks like an Eileen. She looks as if she speaks like her name is Eileen, very nasal and high-pitched.
Midway through my ride, a teenage girl boards the train. She’s popping her gum. Great. The large gold hoop earrings her ears barely hold are the size of a bracelet. It’s a wonder her ears can sustain the weight. Her book bag sags on her back; probably empty. She taps her sneakers to the song on her iPod; a song that is loud, unreasonably loud. I feel badly for her ears again. She leans against the subway door with one foot flush against it and the other tapping on beat. There are available seats all around her so it makes me nervous that she doesn’t sit. Why is she standing right next to me? Right above me? Why would she lean on the door when the sign clearly states do not lean on the door? When she falls out when the doors accidentally open then she’ll sue the MTA, right?