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Out of reach

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I said yesterday that I wasn’t going to talk about this in public. I guess I lied. With the Subway incident that occurred on Monday, it seems to be stuck on repeat in my mind. Maybe if I write about it… maybe that will help me to think about other things…

On a very ordinary morning about twelve years ago, I hurried up the steps of the elevated train platform in the Bronx where I were living at the time. It was after 9 am, the platform was busy but not crowded. The stairs left me off at the end of the outdoor tracks where the wind hits your face to make sure you are awake and ready to start your day. I remember being cold and zipping up my heavy winter coat. A man was pacing nearby. Not in a way that concerned me, just like he was impatient… maybe late for work, I thought. We made eye contact at some point and I said good morning. I can’t remember whether or not he responded. The train appeared in the distance and the people on the platform started to approach the edge. And then, in a split second that seems like forever… in my mind it goes something like this: Movement that I see out of the corner of my left eye… man too close to the edge… too close to the edge… why is he there… train is coming… he is going to get hit… he is going to get hit… I lean forward… I maybe say something… maybe be careful?… he leaps… not falls… but leaps… jumps up and leaps… and then the sounds… people screaming… crying… the man just gone… the only trace of his life, a few splatters of blood and body tissue… I am frozen. People are moving around me but I can’t process. I sit down where I stood. I pray. For him. That his pain is over. For his family. For the pain that is about to consume them. Maybe a few seconds go by… maybe a few minutes… maybe longer. A tap on my shoulder. I look up. A fireman lifts me up by my arm. He asks me something. I answer. I don’t remember what was said. Several of my would-be fellow passengers are huddled together speaking to police. I wonder if I should contribute what I saw. I don’t.

I walk down the stairs and head toward a different train station. I am late to work. I hate being late. Even though — or especially because — I am currently working for my father. I feel tears coming but I am afraid once they start I may not be able to stop them once I get to work. I hold it in.

I arrive at work and walk to my husband’s desk. I recount the morning. He hugs me. He tells me I have blood on my coat. He tells me that I am not okay and I need to go home. I remove my coat and walk into my father’s office. Soon after I am back on the train. Back in my winter coat. And now I cry.

Learning that a man pushed another in front of a train this week immediately brought me back to what I witnessed 12 years ago. I have never really been able to understand suicide. I have never felt that kind of pain. I have never felt that isolated. It overwhelms me to think that in a city so packed with people, someone can still feel so alone and out of options. I dream of tearing down the walls that we have built up around us. I can picture a world where we let our weaknesses show as a badge of our humanity. Where we celebrate each other not despite our flaws but because of them. It is, after all, what we have most in common.

I wonder if I had struck up a conversation with ‘him,’ could that have affected his plan? I talk to strangers more now because of it. Just in case.

Jessica Alfreds is a Chef, Caterer, and Event Planner based in New York City. She is currently working on her first cookbook, teaching herself how to sew, and attempting to live a purposeful life. Jessica is a 3rd generation New Yorker and currently resides in the East Village. Visit jessicaalfreds.com.

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