the subway note

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 9.25.10 AM Every once and again, on a single day, the stars align and men look at me.


Which is to say, I can feel men looking at me. In that half-flattering, half-alarming sort of way. Alarming because it is unusual and the looks are flagrant in a way that men so rarely are.


I’m not saying that men don’t look at me on other days. They probably do. Men in New York look at everyone. I’m just saying that on a single day, about once a month, a disproportionate number of men look at me—or rather they look at me in a way that I am aware of them looking. It is a rate increase such that I begin to wonder if my skirt is see-through.


It never happens on the days I feel prettiest, which makes it that much more discordant and strange. Usually I am makeup-less and exhausted and fighting the sort of zit that threatens to consume. I’ve actually found it’s often near that (cough, cough) so-very-special-time-of-the-month (which let’s not tell the men about, alright?). And I’ve found on such days it’s best not to look in the mirror. Because on this day—this strange and particular day of the month--I never look as good as the accumulation of glances makes me think I look.


And every girl, every woman should surely get to feel so beautiful, once a month.


I’m not trying to be ridiculous in committing this, what’s-sure-to-be-relatively-inane-and-most-definitely-vain piece of half-fiction to paper. But it’s early and my mind is addled by the reintroduction of geometry and quadratic equations and roots and factors and holy hell, I wasn’t any good at any of that stuff to begin with.


So if you’re already turned off, stop reading here; it won’t get any better.


It happened the other day. I walked into the train station and immediately became aware that something was amiss; too many following eyes. I checked my fly, my panty-line, my teeth, the front of my shirt to make sure no buttons had come undone and then concluded I must just be in the middle of my own near-monthly phenomenon.


And then I got on the subway, found a seat, and did my best to both ignore and bask in the rarity of those-multiplied-sidelong-stares.


About half-way through my ride uptown, a young man (youngish, my age, maybe a little younger, a few years older?) un-hunched himself from his laptop and looked right up. At me.


And didn’t stop looking.


Which quickly made me nervous. Because I wasn’t looking at him, but I could feel his eyes. And the glances I’ve spoken of are not usually sustained things.Which made this an outlier.


(And so early in the day).


Not long after, he put his computer in his bag and went to stand by one of the train’s doors.


And then it happened. And I knew it was going to happen--in that way that you know something’s going to happen and nine times out of ten you’re wrong, but damn if this isn’t going to be the one time you’re right.


He walked right up to me and his lips started moving. Words I couldn’t make out. Such was the comfort of a set of headphones. But he kept talking, and I hesitantly paused the music.


Can I borrow a pen? he asked.


Oh god. I knew where this is going. (Please, please don’t let this go where I think it might be going).


Oh, okay, sure. Dig, dig, search. Hand it over.


He took my pen, wandered back from whence he came, only to return a moment later.


And a piece of paper?



Umm, sure.


I looked to my left, the man next to me had one of those legal notepads. Easy access. For a moment I thought he’d offer it up. Instead I had to dig and search and with little skill tear a piece from my Wexford composition book.


I imagine as my parents read this, they’ll know exactly why I cringed as the whole thing happened.


I am person who lives in fear of restaurants that make your birthday a public event. Please, please, I think, do not sing. I do not want the large sombrero placed on my head. I do not way everyone to turn around and laugh and clap at my expense. (I embarrass more easily than anyone has any right to).  I fear public proposals and jumbo-trons and sky-writing and all the stuff between.


So the fact that this boy was doing this totally lovely and bold thing was all well and good, but for the fact that the whole of the subway car was watching it unfold. And smiling.


And I was struck by the sudden need to protect this boy (who needed absolutely not protection—what’s wrong with me?) but also to hide.


As he got off at 34th he handed me my pen, along with the note he’d written, leaving me to two more stops with a subway full of sympathetic and smiling eyes.


And my own supreme discomfort.


It was a lovely note. Saying he’d probably never see me again, but wouldn’t be nice if he did.


And so I should…wait for it…not call him, but look him up on Facebook.


There was something so dissonant about just how bold he was and then how he couldn’t leave his phone number, but rather a name and a non-virtual entreaty to a very virtual request: a Facebook friend request. Oh, this age of technology and its many eccentricities.


I’m not on Facebook.


And can’t imagine getting back on it anytime soon.


But I am in a debt to that boy for how courageous he was. I am in a debt to the mysterious monthly phenomenon. It is a buoying thing, a buoyancy-making-thing. It makes confidence and courage  easier to come by. And the more often those things are grabbed by my wily, little fists, the more often the monthly phenomenon seems… apt—the more often life is richer and more exciting and, dare I say, fun.