When the train finally arrived and it looked like I would make my appointment I breathed a major sigh of relief. Now we boarded fairly easily and quickly and I found a seat next to a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties. “Is this seat taken?” I asked. “Does it look like it is taken?” she replies with a friendlier half smirk than her words implied. “I’m sorry”, she smiled as she spoke, “Sit down, please. You look a whole lot more pleasant than the oaf I had to sit with from D.C. to Wilmington.” She had an easy manner. Well dressed in business attire, suit jacket and skirt, light brown hair, longish and neatly coiffed. She said that her name was Lorraine and effortlessly uncovered that mine was Sean. I was not really interested in talking but she had such an easy manner about her that made me relax and almost willingly join in the conversation. First she told me about the guy that sat next to her earlier. He was rather large and overweight smelling like a combination of body odors and stale cigarettes. His arms, side, and butt spilled generously into Lorraine’s seating area. “He should have to pay for part of my ticket”, was her thinking. She tried to be grown up and relax, and then she caught a whiff of this guy and had to stand up, excuse herself and squeeze by “Mr. Hygiene” to look for another seat. Unfortunately there was standing room only and she couldn’t possibly stand the whole way to New York City. She was not shy so she walked back to her seat and asked, “Excuse me sir but would you mind sliding over to the window seat?” “Oh no!” he quickly replied, “I am claustrophobic and I cannot possibly sit on the inside, very sorry, but no way”. Lorraine said, “You, sir, are making me claustrophobic and unless you are willing to pay for the half of my seat you are taking up, you are going to have to move to the window seat”. He protested but she finally convinced or should I say, cajoled, him to move over by getting louder and louder and more and more insulting. “When was the last time you took a bath pal? Have you heard of a toothbrush?” “Jesus!” he finally said as he struggled to stand and switch seats, “take the goddamned seat lady.” She placed a folded newspaper between her and the oaf so as not to come into direct contact and sat down.
As she was telling me this story I glanced down several times to make sure I wasn’t encroaching upon her space. I am leaning towards five or so pounds overweight, since hurting my leg and taking a break from running but thankfully I was surely within the boundaries of my seat. At just under six feet I feel slightly cramped in a typical train seat. Lorraine, several inches shorter, slim and fit looked quite comfortable in her reclaimed window seat now. The conductor stopped by to punch my ticket and lingered a little longer than necessary looking at Lorraine’s legs. “Seriously?” she said glaring at the conductor. “Oh sorry Ma’am I was daydreaming, been a long day.”
I was actually planning to review and organize my thoughts to prepare for my interview, but I was enjoying the distraction. She was very different than many of the people that I have known. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I am not a great judge of character so I wondered what my wife would think of her, what my brother would think of her. Assertive but not pushy, relaxed in her own skin, unlike me. I measure every word I say. The filter mechanism is so ingrained I don’t even realize it is happening anymore. When or why my guard went up I’m not sure. My brother, who is almost ten years older than me, always maintains that I was a most spontaneous and care free adolescent. According to him I would sometimes blurt things out that would embarrass me or others but mostly I unabashedly spoke my mind, revealing my feelings. He asserted that around thirteen, maybe fourteen, I became quiet and contemplative. Right or wrong I disagreed; I feel it was a more gradual change, one brick at a time, until I was surrounded. Throughout my later years I’ve been cautiously trying to remove the wall but it is an even slower more incremental process than building the wall. Instead of panicking I’m starting to use breathing techniques and meditation to keep me sane through the process. The fleeting times when I’ve felt so incredibly alive were experienced with my wife especially when we first met and were inseparable. I had never felt my heart pound, like it did, with the anticipation of waiting to see her, the total and complete abandonment to passion and unselfish pleasure when we were wrapped in each other’s arms. Then later, the other side of the coin, my blood rushing to my head in jealousy when I found out another was pursuing her. Well, the point is, I guess, if there ever is an actual point to anything, I began feeling emotion again. It was kind of an emotional new beginning. Still in most aspects of my life I was living in a most guarded way.
In my youth I felt that something was wrong with me as I stumbled around trying to find out who I was and what made me tick. I didn’t feel I was good at any of my pursuits. I tried playing musical instruments, drawing, poetry and no innate talents emerged. These arts eluded my abilities yet I was intensely drawn to them, especially creative writing. Sadly, it seemed, I was more skilled in the practical arts of the city streets, like fighting and stealing. I fact, these skills came in very handy growing up in South Philly, but looking back I wonder if it was just more bricks in my growing wall. I must say I came to life and felt every fiber of my being and tingled with emotion when I was in a fist fight, talk about being in the moment. Fear and bravado converged in a stance, a stare, a sneer, a violent flurry of punches, stepping in, stepping back, swinging, ducking, blocking, and landing an upper cut. Laughing, standing victorious shaking as the violence dissipated out of every pore. Or, as often happened, lying in a bruised heap, on the ground in defeat, beaten and spent was still an emotionally charged event. Looking back I am so embarrassed and ashamed by the way I was. How the streets began to take hold of me and shape me into something so reprehensible, so unrecognizable to who I am today. This is what sometimes happens to inner city kids without fathers or structure or discipline. With emotional and psychological gaps waiting to be filled by whatever city life had to offer a poor kid. The streets can have much sway and can fill any empty spaces with booze, drugs and crime, but I digress.
She asked what I did for a living and without much effort found out why I was going to the “big apple”. I told her about my job interview. She got uncharacteristically quiet and listened intently while I sketched for her, in general terms, how I ended up next to her on this train to NYC.