In 2007 I was doing a year of service with the Americorps program, Public Allies. On my way to and from work, I’d find the most interesting looking person, and write a short story about them. I recently moved and found some of them. This one was inspired by a ‘looker’ of a man that came in with a boy around 6 years old. By their body language, I could tell that he was mad. A female homeless panhandler came and shared a sob story. I couldn’t remember which scripted line she used, but at some point she lost her balance and almost fell on the boy. She said something to him that I didn’t hear, but the whole car saw the father stand up and yell, ‘what the f&^k did you say to my son?’. She bolted off the train without saying another word. Also, EVERY male in my stories was named Desmond. I don’t know why, I think I was in love with a Desmond at the time.
Desmond struggled on to the uptown 9 train, Tim laboring on behind him. He struggled to think what he’d tell the boy’s mother. He got the call today because she had the day off from everything – work, her life as a mother and as a wife. She’d turned her phone off while she got pampered. So that’s why he was the one at the school listening to how his son brought 3 pictures of his naked mistress. Pictures Desmond had put in an envelope and taped to the bottom of a chest in the boy’s room. Why did he move it? HOW did he even move it; it was made of solid wood and metal and weighed at least 100 pounds. He couldn’t focus on those questions long though. The image of his wife’s face let him know he had bigger problems. He winced.
A seat opened up and he shoved the boy into the open space. He groaned his acceptance of the punishment without looking at his father. Desmond held on to the handle bar, resting his head on his wrist. He couldn’t focus on any one aspect of his plight, or on anything going on around him. He didn’t hear he spiel about how she became homeless, or how much just 50 cents would do to improve the quality of her life. He just felt her fall into him as the train stopped suddenly. Instinctively, he caught her. With gratitude, she whispered ‘this is exactly where I want to be and who I want to be with’. Then her smelled her – the stench caused him to drop her – hard – he couldn’t resist the urge to cover his mouth and nose and heave. He tried to focus, see her face. But the putrid smell clouded his eyes. She gathered herself and stumbled off the train. He never thought he’d forget her walk, but life must’ve broken her, because there was nothing familiar about the way she hobbled off. She turned and looked at him as the door closed and smiled. Nothing about the evil face looked familiar. Then she laughed. A loud, cascading laugh that sent a wave of guilt through his body.
Desmond and Sarita were college sweethearts who started shacking up immediately after they graduated. Neither ever remembers whose idea it was, or if they even discussed it. Just that they looked for an apartment together and moved in. She was a nurse, and he worked at an entry level position at an investment bank on Wall Street. In the 90’s, nurses made more than the little guys on Wall Street. So while he struggled to maintain his wardrobe as he worked his way up, she carried them. They probably didn’t see it that way because they were happy. They were happy even after his company down-sized and he was out of work for 6 months. They were content still six months later when he took a job as a Manager at Costco’s, almost an hour’s drive outside the City. They’d bought a lopsided Ford Tempo to get him to work and back home to his love. Everyday he came home she greeted him with a long hug. She would wrap her arms around his waist and bury her head in his neck and whisper “I love you baby. This is exactly where I want to be and with who I want to be with.” And every day he’d inhale deeply and say in mocking disbelief ‘Yea? You sure?’ She’d look up at him with a faux insulted look on her face, and she’d kiss him so he’d believe her. They’d spend a few more moments holding each other and swaying in silence.
They weren’t so happy on the 3 year anniversary of him landing the Costco gig. Well, it was supposed to be just that. At some point he stopped looking for something else. She didn’t say anything, she just got silent. And the way she sat hesitatingly at the edge of the bed worried him. It seemed as if she wanted to tell him something – then changed her mind. She’d exhale deeply and go to sleep. It got to him. She wasn’t happy and he knew he was the reason why. He thought of how she used to be with him. He was thinking of her when he quit his job at Costco to look for his dream full time. If he dedicated all his time for the search, he’d have no choice but to succeed.
She kissed him with relief when he told her what he’d done. When he came home from his first interview decked out in his old power-suit, she had a surprise waiting for him. She’d traded in the lopsided Tempo for an Acura. She whole-heartedly supported the big chance he took, so she took one on him. She never wavered – not in the first three months.
She was steadfast at the sixth month too, but by then he wasn’t even looking anymore. She’d say good-bye to him and he’d leave in his powerless suit and the car she bought him and go to the local bar. Or to the movies. Sometimes he’d have company – and when they didn’t just do it in the movies, they’d go to her place. He promised himself he’d quit her when Sarita told him she was pregnant, and wrapped her arms around his waist and whispered to him that she’s where she wanted to be, and with whom she wanted to be.Although the pregnancy was getting difficult for Sarita, she still had to work because he wasn’t. And when the baby kicked, forcing her to sit at the edge of the bed, it reminded him of the times she sat there, no doubt contemplating telling him what a burden he’d become to her. He’d already broken his promises to take care of her, so it was easy for him to break the promise he made to himself.
She still loved him, even after he stopped bothering to get out of bed to see her off to work. And he no longer felt guilt when his company showed up mere minutes after she left wobbling off to work. His indifference to his house-guest made her want him more, and her need fed him. So even though he was going through the motions, it was enough for him to continue. There was no feeling in it. He only felt something that day, when he was in mid-stroke and heard a quiet whimper and a thud. Sarita had returned just moments after she’d left, and saw them. He didn’t remember how he got to her or when his company left. When the paramedics came they had to peel her out of his arms – her face drenched with his tears. He’d been her entire world for a long time, and no one calling themselves her friend or family was there to sit with him in the ER while he waited for her to get out of surgery. He cried alone when they told him she lost the baby.
He took great care of her when they released her, like a cracked egg. She didn’t say a word to him, she never looked at him. She moved out of his way when he walked by her in the hall, and moved aside when he reached for his toothbrush in the bathroom. Her silence made him angry, and he felt every emotion except guilt. And when he woke her up late one night to tell her that he’s where he wanted to be, and with who he wanted to be with, she asked him to leave.
He never saw her after that. He used to sit out front of the apartment building hoping to see her but never did. He didn’t know if she moved or if she died. She just disappeared. He met a woman he got to know well enough to marry, and by the time Tim was born he had stopped thinking about Sarita.