COMPROMISE

I left Mia’s without saying goodbye. I get the urge to be alone after drinking too much. Thoughts get through the cracks too easily. Everyone suddenly wants to touch each other. Too much to bear.

What time was it? My phone was dead. Had I already missed the last train home? I didn’t know how to walk there from Mia’s place. Stupid.

It was cold. Based on the stores open, maybe it was one, two in the morning. My coat wasn’t warm enough for me to walk far. At the corner, I found the subway stairs. I let myself take them.

The platform was quiet. There was a faint scuttling of rats over the track. I could hear each breath, each movement of their feet. I could hear the fur matted with dirt and sewer water.

From the other side of the track came a cough. The smell of cigarettes. An older man was slumped over a wooden bench. The cigarette was so low to the ground I thought he might be snubbing it out.

I wondered if he had been drinking too. Would he make problems for me? People tend to make problems for me when they drink. That’s why I had left Mia’s. She is still friends with my ex. I knew he would probably be there tonight. I didn’t want to sit out on account of him. 

When he came into her kitchen, I felt the weight of every unwanted touch. I felt the sting of a slap matted with dirt and sewer water. I thought another beer, another gin would soften the blow. I couldn’t let myself feel it! I couldn’t breathe. I needed the night air. 

The man on the other side of the tracks coughs again. He barely moves. I let myself feel safe.

I settle into a bench, then stand. I move farther down the track, where I can get a better view of him. He is in a suit. His tie is loosened. The cigarette smoke traces up his fingers, rubs his wrist. 

I grab my own wrist reflexively. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m stupid, but fine. Everything will be okay. 

“Can we talk?” He had asked, like there was still something to talk about. What can you say to someone after they have done that to you. How can you spell it out in words? How can you begin to explain what you feel. 

THERE IS AN OUTBOUND TRAIN ARRIVING IN FIVE MINUTES.

The limp man begins to shuffle, fidget. He will be home soon. 

There is not much of a home for me to return to. 

Mia told me she didn’t want to pick sides. Which meant she had picked a side, given the nature of it all. But I wanted to forget. Maybe to forgive, even. I did not want to rehash the particulars. I did not want to have to drink more to exist in the same space as everyone. I wanted to let myself be the gracious, cool, happy, friendly person—I wanted to be unaffected though I had felt the full effect. I would compromise.

I had stood outside her apartment for a full half an hour telling myself that I would go back in. That I would be able to work this party tonight. It would be hard work, but it could be done. I could act. I could smile, I could talk, I could drink with everyone else. When I started walking, I was still thinking just one more moment. Just one more minute. It will pass. You can let yourself feel safe. 

The man stands.

THERE IS AN OUTBOUND TRAIN ARRIVING NOW.

He wobbles a bit, drops the cigarette to the ground. Smothers it with a scuffed leather shoe. 

Mia didn’t know. She couldn’t have known. She couldn’t have realized. I’m sure she wouldn’t have invited him, if she had known. She just wanted to have a home. I should not let myself feel hurt.

The lights of the train burst into the station. The man lifts his head. I see that he has been crying.

With a deliberate step, he reaches the yellow line. With another, he steps off the platform, onto the tracks, into the rats. 

A wet thud. The train horn thunders. The brakes squeal. The station at once begins to fill with life. 

I let myself feel.

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