I’m on the NYC subway taking the 2 train from downtown Brooklyn to Times Square. It’s a week from Christmas on a Friday night. The man sitting across from me appears to be half-drunk, although I know he isn’t.
He is smiling and I see his speech is a direct result of his almost toothless mouth. Still, his words doesn’t always make sense. His mind isn’t altogether and I’m wondering how he got that way.
But my heart is breaking for the boy who’s sitting at the very end of the train cart with his hood over his head, slumped over.
“Hey, son!” Yells out the almost toothless man. “Take a picture of me and the tree.” The man speaks loudly, too loudly, saying he somehow got the tree and is trying to sell it. It’s a small, Christmas tree he seems to have gotten by ill-means. He asks if I’d like to buy it. I glance, half-acknowledge him and turn my head the other way.
“Hey, son!” He says again. “Come here.” The boy gets up from his seat and walks over to his father. He stumbles as the train turns. “Take a picture of me and this tree.” The son walks away. Annoyed, the father pulls out his cell phone and from the corner of my eye I see he’s taking a selfie. Now, he’s turning the phone around to show everyone saying, “You see this picture here?!” My head remains turned. Not because I’m apathetic, but for the dignity of his son.
“You see, my son is too much of a f****** coward to take the picture!” he yells.
My heart breaks. “Poor kid,” I whisper into my scarf.
“Now you made me miss the stop and we have to turn around to go back to 125th,” says the father.
“No we don’t.” The kid replies. He gets up and points to the subway map. “We didn’t pass it yet.”
The father, in his stupor-mind, isn’t convinced. He begins saying harsh words to his son. The boy walks away and looks outside the subway’s doors, using his hood to shield his face from those on the train.
I want to go grab the boy’s hand and take him with me. To hug him. Love him. Tell him it will be OK. I want to negate the father’s words by telling the child: You are loved. You are special. You have purpose. I want to help him escape from a life he didn’t sign up for. Free him from embarrassment.
My stop is next. We’re on 34th street headed to 42nd. And I feel sad. I want to help, but can’t. I have to leave the boy. My stop is here, and I’m getting of the train.