|Look out, York!|
The end of a great day in York, the night crisp-cold, sharp lines cut by the full moon down every building and around every tree. We get a late train home, full of people with the same plan. The Butler and I find seats across the aisle and facing each other. Not a long trip home, so we don’t care.
I sit at a table next to a young woman reading. Across from her, a muscular young man checks his camera. When he asks her to tell him which of his photos are crap, an American accent comes out of his mouth.
I’m not fond of American accents that don’t come from former Confederate states. Nothing political in that sentiment; my Civil War ancestor got disowned by the family because he fought for the North. It's just what fits in my ear better, accents from the south of the country.
So, on the train, Annoyance #1, this Yankee sitting across from me, going over his holiday snaps. Then comes Annoyance #2, their conversation. Specifically, the way he intrudes on the woman’s reading with a near childish request for assurance that his photos are great, the woman’s dignified enthusiasm for his work, like a fond mother for a child. This guy is hard work. I have sympathy for the woman.
Annoyance #3 is what tips things off. After repeatedly telling the woman that she should say if a photo is lousy – and it takes her a while to get there – she says she prefers one shot of a location over another shot of the same location. That gives him permission to say how angry she looks in the next photo, but then she always gets angry with him when he tries to take pictures and how could he take good pictures when she’s nagging at him, and picking fights? In fact, now that he thinks about it, all of these photos are of arguments.
Annoyance #3 isn’t so much annoyance as that o-shit feeling in the pit of the stomach. In my former life as a trauma therapist, I met lots of people in relationships where conversations like this always led to a box canyon called, It’s Your Fault I Hit You.
The woman must have that o-shit feeling, too, because her comments on his photos now parrot his own, and if he changes his mind, she changes her mind, too. There’s no enthusiasm in her voice. She quite artistically monitors his level of emotion and adjusts hers to save herself.
So the photos gone through, she turns back to her reading. He sits for about 3 seconds, then asks if she’s done her homework. She closes her book and looks at the table. He asks if she understood him. She nods, continues to look at the table. He makes her repeat the question to him so that he knows she did in fact, understand. He then keeps asking questions about her homework and does she understand why she should do her homework and does she understand why he asks if she has done her homework. By this time, it’s clear that the homework is her ESL course, which surprises the hell out of me. The woman has an accent, but there’s nothing in her spoken English that leads me to believe she isn’t fluent.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, the woman stops looking at this man and looks out the window where it’s so dark, she can’t see anything but her own face. What her expression says, I can’t see. Maybe she doesn’t trust it to anyone but herself. I stare at the Butler across the aisle who cannot hear this smiling man at my table speaking in a very low voice like he’s a normal human being, telling this woman that he’s putting her through all this in public because he’s her husband and he loves her and I’m still staring at the Butler to keep from leaning over and telling her that this guy’s an asshole or that she should run fast and far or come with us to safety. I don’t say any of this because the worst thing I can do for her is say anything. Speaking up for her would be another reason for him to hit her later.
‘I’m your god,’ he says to her.
The o-shit feeling ratchets up several degrees. My little pea brain goes into overdrive trying to think of something I can do for this woman, some way to help her without making it worse. But it’s a short train journey, my expertise has always been at cleaning up the mess, not stopping the mess. I’m not smart enough to come up with something that'll do more than ease my conscience while at the same time, not anger this woman’s god.
Our stop comes. The Butler and I get up to go, but there’s a bottleneck at the exit. And there’s me, Lot’s wife, turning back to stare at that guy, everything I feel right there on my face. I know it’s there because our eyes meet and his face reacts to mine. The people in front of me move. I turn around and walk off the train, no pillar of salt, just a conduit of social condemnation that this man can take home with him and take out on his wife.