This is a true story.
Indicators that I may, in fact, be an adult (and a very particular kind of adult at that) include: 1. I find trolling the aisles of Whole Foods deeply, deeply satisfying. 2. I think the playlist in Whole Foods is always "just right".
I paid for my kamut puffs, and as I prepared to leave I discovered to my dismay that my MetroCard must have fallen out of my pocket. The new, unlimited monthly MetroCard I just bought for the first time a week or so ago - that had about $75 worth of time left on it. Panicking, I checked and re-checked every item in my bottomless bag to no avail. I fought back tears as I listlessly left my name with Customer Service and proceeded to retrace my steps throughout the store. My throat and stomach began to hurt intensely from the physical restraint of trying not to cry.
I no longer felt like an adult.
I allowed the tears to roll as I fumbled for $2.50 in change for a Single Ride, and began the long, lonely multi-train journey from Somewhere Awkward in Manhattan to Somewhere Awkward in Brooklyn after 11 p.m.
As I sat on the sweltering platform trying to stifle my tears, I remembered that the likelihood of someone in this town actually noticing the Crying Girl on the subway was significantly less than anywhere I've ever lived, as was the likelihood of them caring should such hypothetical noticing indeed occur.
I took great comfort in this. This deep, almost primal yearning to be and feel alone has been increasing steadily in me in recent weeks. Perceiving the indifference of my fellow subway passengers was an epiphany of sorts, like stumbling upon an ancient hieroglyphics code, or discovering a recipe for an elixir of strength. No one cares. I am free.
Then I decided that maybe it was first found by a homeless person who was able to sell it to the aforementioned single mother of four at about half of its remaining value, so that both parties walked away from the transaction beaming, feeling like for just one night, fortune was on their side...
I laughed out loud, and was reminded of the passage I read tonight in Swami Vishnu's Upadesa at the Sivananda Center (I was reading it because for the third time in the last couple weeks, I arrived at satsang too late and had to wait downstairs in the boutique area until the silent meditation was finished.) Something about pain being illusory in the way that an iron rod is hot when you first take it out of a fire, but that with time "it will lose its heat because heat is not its nature...in the same way, pain is not your nature...that is the message of Yoga and Vedanta."
Without a second thought, that is, until I am about to leave the restaurant and I am suddenly reminded of this very evening, this very moment all those years ago, and the same pain begins to creep into my throat and grip my stomach, and I am overwhelmed by the desperate wish to shake my younger self and shout, "How dare you waste the best years of our life like this! Life never had to be so hard..."
The pain causes me to double over as the pubescent maitre d' catches my arm and says, "Are you okay, Ma'am?"
"Yes-um-hm...yes..." I stutter as I stand up and regain my composure. "I just...thought I saw someone I knew."
He nods knowingly, but rolls his eyes to my back as I leave the restaurant.
"Crazy old lady," he thinks to himself. "Rich people like her have no idea what it's like to be a starving artist in this town..."
He returns to reviewing his sides between reservations. He's got that funny feeling about tomorrow's audition...like this one just may be The One.
Interestingly, the main lighting track is off, so the whole car has a darkened, theatrical glow. I notice the man across from me is almost asleep, the buttons on his just-too-small shirt opening at the fold to reveal a billowing pot belly. I wonder where he's coming from, if he has anyone waiting for him and why he is so tired. I wonder what his dreams are, and if he will ever realize them, or if he is content with his life like the crystal merchant in The Alchemist.
A peal of laughter startles me, and I turn to observe the World's Most Delighted Couple holding each other in a peculiar embrace that reminds me of a contact improv exercise. After a moment, I realize that they are of that particular breed of young & trendy New Yorker who remain terrified of subway bacteria and will do anything to avoid contamination. He is leaning, back against the rail in the familiar wide-leg surf-like straddle, her hands are on his shoulders as both his hands grip her forearms. She is telling the most fascinating story, and they are safe here, together.
But by the time I get home, I no longer need to cry about it. The iron has cooled long enough away from the fire, or perhaps something really has shifted.
The mysterious pain continues to come and go in waves, and I confess it is unlike anything I can remember feeling before.
Delighted to be alone again, and free - I look around my room and take stock - of my clean clothes not yet folded, my dirty clothes not yet dry-cleaned, my frizzy hair, my sweaty everything, my unpaid bills, my letters never sent, my walls not yet adorned, and I conclude a change is coming.
A change is coming because for the first time in my life I understand that if I waited until my stomach stopped hurting and I found my MetroCard to tell this story I could be waiting my entire life.
And so I write. For everyone everywhere who has ever lost a MetroCard on a Wednesday evening, and for the woman in the restaurant all those years from now. And especially for the maitre d'.
I'd wager $75 he gets the part.