It’s been two months (give or take) since I threw caution to the wind and picked up my entire life and plopped it in one of the largest cities in the world. I’m surrounded by millions of people on a daily basis. There are people everywhere; clogging the sidewalks, tourists being tourists, filling up restaurants, etc. I’ve never felt so alone in all of my life.
Don’t get me wrong, this is partly what I wanted. The idea of just blending into a crowd and not recognizing another living soul in your travels is soothing to me. It gives me time to just rattle around in my head, I don’t have to interact with anyone and I can just wander. In that space I get to be whoever or whatever I want to be. Feel like wearing clashing neon clothing? Nobody cares. Spill coffee on yourself? No one bats an eye. It’s the ultimate freedom and yet on the opposite side of that coin you’re literally alone in a fast paced, undulating sea of people.
It was a weird adjustment at first. To be sitting on the train, surrounded by people and yet everyone is completely alone and absorbed in whatever it is that other people do on mass transit. People listen to music, sleep awkwardly, read, eat, you name it. Everyone is in their own personal time bubble; the star of their own show.
I day dream a lot when I’m on the train or I make lists while I listen to whatever music I have downloaded to my phone when I’m underground. It was in this mobile day dreamery that I noticed a woman who got on the train.
She was seated next to the door across the train from me. The reason she caught my eye is because she was wearing a leopard print plush coat, zebra print top, faded skinny jeans and open toe (and heel) lace up snake skin high heeled boots. She had her bleach blonde hair held up with a rhinestone encrusted clip and a leopard print bag. I try not to be overly critical of people but my first reaction was to ponder why she’d chosen so many different animal prints. Hadn’t Coco Chanel advised to not look like a walking petting zoo? It was clearly a decision. This was not the case of a clashing laundry day outfit where this was all there was to choose from. She had made the active choice to put these items on, together. She looked in the mirror, decided “I look AMAZING.” and went out the door. Props to her! It was a bold choice. I might have opted for a solid colored top is all.
When I’m on the train I try not to make eye contact with anyone because that’s creepy and also because I don’t necessarily WANT to talk to anyone when I’m trying to get from point A to B so I spend a lot of time looking at people’s shoes unless the advertisements are particularly entertaining. For whatever reason that day I didn’t have my headphones in so I listened as the overly cheerful recording announced what stop we were at, what transfers were available and where we were headed to next. All the same, I was zoned out, looking at the woman’s shoes and wondering how she’d come to decide on that outfit for the day.
As I sat there mostly zoned out looking at the snake skin pattern on her laced up boots we arrived at Grand Central Station, 42nd Street. She had stood up upon the inclination that we would soon be at our destination and so she was facing the door, preparing to depart. It was in this moment that the gentleman next to me broke the 4th wall and leaned over to me and said, “Those are some big feet.”
I was in shock. I mean sure, you hear about people talking to strangers on the train but those are mostly people looking for money or asking for directions. Here was a man who was now leaning into my own personal space making actual conversation. I was dumbfounded. Do I answer him? Do I make eye contact? Is this how mugging happens? Are we basically engaged now because he breached the unspoken subway rule and reached out?
“Yes,” I said, “They sure are.”
I didn’t know what else to do but acknowledge his statement. Because it was true. She had some pretty big feet which then led me to wonder where she’d gotten shoes that big that weren’t basic lunch lady attire. It hadn’t occurred to me until the guy sitting next to me had brought me out of my reverie that her feet were in fact, pretty damn huge. I’d been fixated on pattern selections.
It was in that moment that I no longer felt like I was alone.
We didn’t speak again. I got off at the next stop and proceeded about my business but it put a lot of things in perspective for me.
It may seem like you’re invisible, it may feel like no one really sees you but you are seen. People may not reach out and acknowledge that they have seen you but they do. That moment on the train discussing the shoe size of a complete stranger with another complete stranger made the world feel smaller than I thought a city of 8 million could feel which was so needed. I no longer felt outside. I felt like I was part of.
Also it was a really good reminder not to pick my nose in public because while no one may call me out on it, someone is always watching.