Metro Center. February 13, 2010 at about 6:00 pm. I saw a woman on the metro platform stretching out her hip in the same way a friend of mine does. My friend actually just had surgery on it, so I briefly wondered if the older woman in front of me had the same kind of problem.
She was with her family; her husband or significant other and their teenage daughter. A homeless man came by offering people some pitiful looking short branches that looked like he just plucked them off of a snow covered bush from outside. The gentleman in the family took one and the mother took another. I didn’t see if they offered anything in return, but I did catch them later trying to adorn their daughter with them. She had pigtails, but from her stance and her age, you could tell she was wearing them to be ironic in a budding hipster kind of way. She was not interested in the shrubbery.
I followed them into an Orange line train where they sat behind two young women. They were about college age. I stared a little bit longer than I should have because one of them reminded me of a woman I see at dances around town from time to time. After deciding that it wasn’t her, I turned my gaze away and onto a woman standing by the door opposite me.
For a moment I thought I was looking at a woman I knew in high school who I had just friended on Facebook not too long ago. I sat in front of Dervilla for four years in various honors classes. Class valedictorian and Homecoming Queen. Neither assertive nor meek, but incredibly pleasant to talk to even during stressful exam weeks. She was one of those girls that was almost too perfect to have a crush on. Did I mention that she was a redhead?
This new woman on the metro had light brown hair and was 10 years too young to be Derv. She didn’t notice my lingering gaze because she was distracted by the antics of the two college girls. I turned to get a faceful of flash from the large camera one of them was now using. They giggled as they started to take what were probably meant to be artsy pictures of each other.
I turned back to the direction of not-Dervilla. She was smiling as if caught up in a memory of her own. I followed her gaze as we pulled out of another stop. One of the college girls took over a vacated seat in front of the other so they had more room to pose and take pics. Flashes came at a steady pace, and I had to turn away before they caught my disapproving eyebrow in one of their pictures.
The light brown haired woman that reminded me of high school was still smiling, but her eyes were doing something different. They were straining. She was still remembering something, but it wasn’t hard to see that it was not a completely happy thought.
Another stop passed and it became apparent that she was trying very hard keep herself composed. I tried to look elsewhere, but my gaze kept coming back to her. She didn’t notice. She was lost in something that was obviously painful, but there was something about it that still caused a smile to break through her now quivering lips.
I felt guilty for witnessing this very intense and personal moment. I thought about saying something; maybe even offering the packet of tissues in my pocket. She wasn’t crying, but she was getting very close.
Then I thought better of approaching her in the same way you would think twice about jumping into the middle of a tense game of Jenga; not wanting to be the one to upset the tenuous balance in front of me. I wanted to respect her effort to keep it together, but it didn’t look like that was going to last much longer.
The flash bulb from the camera kept going off as she eventually turned to face the door. She was intent on getting out at the next stop. I hoped that it was the one she wanted. I could still see the reflection of her face in the window. She needed to get out even if it wasn’t.
Finally the doors opened and let her go.