There was a time in my life when I was allowed to have some personal dignity. That time ended the day I went into labor and people started wandering into the delivery room and feeling me up with impunity.
So Jessica and I are waiting for one of those damned D.C. subways, and it arrives, and Jessica and I crowd in, and I guide her to an empty seat next to a businessman who is going to regret what he does next, which is to give up his seat so that I can sit next to her.
The train lurches to a start, which I am not expecting just then, and I’m not holding onto the pole because I am trying to step over to the vacated seat, and so I go crashing into the poor businessman who should just have stayed seated, let this be a warning to anyone who was raised to be polite, and the crash dislodges his briefcase, which lands on some poor bystander’s foot, and because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, I bounce off the businessman and go reeling back into the chest of some oblivious politico holding up a newspaper that will never be the same again, and then I propel myself into the seat, stepping on the same poor bystander’s foot that has already been squashed by the briefcase, which, yes, I also stumble over because the businessman has not been quick enough to pick it up, and I accidentally kick it across the floor of the subway, so that everyone looks up to see what the hell is going on, and finally I tumble into the seat next to Jessica, spouting apologies to everyone around me.
Because this is not New York, no one says anything although I would appreciate even a tiny, “What the fuck are you doing, asshole?” No one even raises an eye to look at me. They are all pretending I don’t exist. They are all thinking Jesus save us from the tourists from Podunk, Kansas.
Jessica has watched this whole escapade with a very serious expression on her face. Someday, when the pain is not so fresh, I will find it funny, but not today. Today I feel like the rawest rube to ever set foot in this rodeo, which is not a feeling I enjoy or try to cultivate. Jessica is obviously trying to process what she has seen because after a moment, she pipes up.
“Oh,” I say lightly, with a laugh that dismisses the maiming of three different people, “the train started and I wasn’t holding onto anything.”
I would like that to be the end of our conversation, because I would like to pretend it never happened, and then I can pull the remnants of my tattered dignity about me, but let’s pretend it never happened is a concept Jessica does not grasp and never has.
“Why weren’t you holding onto anything? You are supposed to hold on when the train is in motion.”
Damn straight is what those three businessmen are thinking, and we all know it, even though they are studiously not looking at me.
“I was trying to get to this seat,” I say. Now shut the hell up.
“And so you couldn’t hold onto anything.”
“No,” I say. Maybe if I don’t encourage her.
“But you should have been holding on to something.”
“Well, next time I will.”
“Because I bet that man did not like it when you fell on him.”
“No,” I say through gritted teeth. “I am sure he didn’t. Maybe if I were a super model.”
“And that other man did not like it when you messed up his newspaper.”
I am bright red with embarrassment at this point, I don’t even need a mirror to know that, but I say calmly, “No, but at least he can still read it.”
“Sort of,” she says, giving the newspaper a look. The man does not so much as flinch to show he’s listening but you know he is. “And that other man—”
“Yes,” I interrupt, wondering if anyone would blame me if I actually said, out loud, “Will you shut the fuck up?” I don’t. That would just make her cry and then I would be a hayseed who can’t stay on her feet on a moving subway and the world’s worst mother, so I refrain. “Yes, I am sure that man did not like me stepping on his foot.”
“Because he also had the briefcase dropped on his foot.”
“It was the same foot.”
“Really?” I say. “The exact same foot?” Because what the fuck else am I going to say.
“The exact same foot,” she says, and gets out the map.