Completely unprovoked and unassuming, an elderly woman walked up to where I was sitting on the R train this morning and spit on me. It was more of a spray than a glob, which took me a while to process (Did she just spit on me? How can spit be sprayed? What just happened?), but yes, it was almost as shocking as if a random stranger had come and kissed me on the cheek. I would have preferred the kiss, obviously, but I imagine both to be equally disorienting.
I had just hopped onto the train and settled in my seat when this happened. This is why I think the “attack” was unprovoked. There was hardly any time to offend her (although perhaps my scent was offensive – Tina wouldn’t have let me out of the house if this was the case, though).
Anyhow, once I got over the sheer randomness of this encounter (there were only about 15-20 people in the train), I said to the woman, “Excuse me, you just spit on me.”
That’s when the curse words started to fly.
“What’d you say, !@#($*&?! You better stop talking to me &($*#@*. Mother%$&*^% I can still hear you breathing!”
Uh, what? You spit on me, remember?
At this point, everyone was looking, staring, wondering. I looked at the gentleman who was sitting right across from her and he shook his head and put his forefinger to his mouth, signaling for me not to say anything.
My stop was next. The cursing continued. I stared blankly at my accuser.
I listened intently to hear if there would be any racial epithets. None.
“Okay, it’s not because I’m Korean,” I thought.
Grand Ave/Newtown. My stop.
I simply swabbed away the spittle, took one last look at the angry woman, and walked out the sliding doors.
It was an unsettling experience for sure, and I immediately thought of Cate’s recent post about another unnerving subway ride.
“The world shouldn’t be this way,” I thought. In the words of Neil Plantinga Jr., “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.”
A rush of dis-ease hit me when she started cursing with the most piercing invectives – I as absolutely shocked that such venom was being directed at me.
What did I do? What did I say? I did nothing wrong. I didn’t even react harshly when the deed was done.
I felt flustered and tense, angry and… scared.
Why was I scared? The woman was 60-70 years old, I estimated. She was frail and small, almost as if I could have broken her with a single loud yelp. The tale of the tape was no contest.
And then it hit me. This is exactly what I felt as a child growing up – hoping to mind my own business, disappearing in the realm of safe longings – yet having to live in the constant fear of blindsiding anger.
I felt like a child when she cursed at me. Helpless, humiliated, and… scared.
The names and faces are different, but the feelings are the same. Shellshocked by anger. Wondering where it all went wrong. What do I do with this rage, this stiffness, this fear that explodes inside me.
But this time, I wipe away the smear, bow to the one whose anger I bear, and walk away into a beautiful life.
Some things never change, but some things do.