She paced back and forth on the ferry Thursday morning.
I first noticed her while I sat and made mental notes and worried about CL, planning my two stop-overs, figuring time between planes, continuing my calls to my friend... who was waiting for me to show up, this great, strong woman brought to a bad place by people she'd trusted, in a place she'd loved working, doing the thing that gives her joy. Betrayals and lies and the burden of too many things causing a maelstrom of anguish she was drowning in, unable to swim any longer.
She paced, lips moving as she worked something out in her head. She was lean, her legs were thin, very thin... feet encased in ivory shoes, a plain black dress, light coat... pocketbook to match the shoes, clean and tidy... perhaps late 60's.
The train had been late, I'd missed the 8.30 Ferry by a minute, forced to wait for the 9 AM, thwarting my plan to arrive at the airport, to try and snag an earlier flight... still, well trained in the ways of New York, I dashed to the 'R' train, just in case I could make up time somewhere.
Right, on the 'R' train route.
Lost in thoughts of what was to be done when I arrived, I didn't notice when someone sat next to me, until her Natasha Baddenov (a far better version than Cate's in the unnamed Raider's film) voice said, "So, vat do you dink I should do?"
Internal monologue started..."Great, crazy person. I do not need a crazy person today, I don't have the energy to be kind or interested or anything. Please, let them go away."
Turning to find something semi-decent to respond, to not take off her head lost in my own stress, there was the Ferry Lady. A face, sculpted at one point in life with clean, clear lines...cheekbones still strong and firm, the skin like some fine piece of silk that had been crumpled and smoothed.. Tinted blonde hair in braids wrapped around her head, deep set light jade green eyes. The look in them, the air around her, those lines showing she had not had an easy life, this woman. A small wrinkle was between her brows, head tipped, while she studied me carefully, seriously, waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Vat do you tink I should do?" Leaning in, she closed the personal space, and we went from two strangers to two acquaintances discussing something important.
"I guess it depends.... about what?"
"I have house, in Queens... is my house, not my husband house. My house, I vork hard and save and save and I buy house, and I rent house. Two women call, vant to rent upstairs. Vone is teacher, has two cheedren, husband drive limo. Limo drivers, dey make much money, you know?"
I thought for a moment... thinking of the plethora of gypsy cabs I've taken, the limo driver I know who does it legally.
"Yes, yes they do. And, teachers have a steady income. What is the other woman like?"
She adjusted her handbag... glanced down the tunnel to look for the train.
"Deese one, she is not teacher. No husband. Two daughters. Young, you know? Vone is working in beauty supply shop. Da modder, she is helper at nursing home. I don't dink they make so much money as teacher and husband. I vorry about dis, because she say to me, "I pay you deese much every week, not on once a mondth." I dink to myself, dis not goot. Last time deese happen, I have to put woman out of house. Deese people, dey call first. I go from Staten Island to Queens to show house. Is nice house, two bedrooms, living room, bath, kitchen. Has oil heat, I pay deese. I have new carpet and paint put in. Not cheap, to have deese done, you know?"
"It sounds very nice. How much are you asking?" even though I'm leaving, it's automatic to check on an open apartment.
The train pulled in, we kept talking, she had my arm by then.
"You tell me your stop, I make sure you not miss it." she said, as I glanced out the window to see where we were. "Don't worry, look, I tell you. Oh, $1200 month. I can get more, but, I vant to be nice. House is paid for, my house. So, vat you dink I should do?"
We talked a bit more, weighing pros and cons, and she decided on the teacher and the limo driving husband. She went on, telling me of her life, how she had been married for 24 years to the same man, and how his mother didn't like her still. That the mother causes problems in the marriage.
"She not like me. Is because I am Roossian. She is German, come here after var, married American soldier, bring my husband vid her, he liddle boy. She still very mean. He talk to mother, vant me to go with him to visit her, and use my money to go, I no agree. Such problems she cause me. She say I am stupid Roossian." She looks down her nose at me, haughty. "Me! Stupid! Come here, vid nudding. I work hard, I have two houses." her voice was proud. "One in Queens, I rent. House in Staten Island, my name, too. I buy him two cars, he not pay anything."
She makes a dismissive gesture, her thin hand floating on the air for a moment, the skin translucent in the light.... then drops it back to twist the ring on her left hand, reaches up and pats her hair. She leans forward suddenly, taps my arm with a delighted grin.
"I show you, I show you man I love, long ago." she pulls out a wallet, inside a photo, from the mid-60's. A handsome man, a woman...her in her youth, Slavic face firm in the semi profile, looking up at the man, slender and pale with the blonde hair back in some twisted style. "He vas writer, for CBS, I go all the shows. Ve love each odder... but, " paused, she sighed. "...he is Jew. His modder, she vant him marry a Jewish girl from Brooklyn. He love me, but..." again, the sigh, accompanied by a long look at the photo from so long ago, still in her wallet. "... he listen to modder. My heart, it... fall into many pieces. Later, year later, he call me, he divorced, because he love me... please, he say, come see me. I need you. I love you. I-- I not go see him, so scared vill make so much I hurt before. You know, dis kind of scared?" The light jade eyes look at me, remembered pain there, a sheen of tears.
"Yes. I do." I'm thinking of a place locked and put away.
"Now, he live in California, producer wid big movies." reflected pride in his accomplishments, achieved without her in his life, yet, her voice carries a note of warmth, her smile is wide, and I realised he'd never left her thoughts, her heart... . "So, I marry this man." A different photo. A different tone. "He is handsome, funny... not so nice. I don't talk dis marriage to you. Here my husband, 24 year. His mommy's boy." She laughed.
"Do you have children?"
"No. Only man I want de children wid, he not marry me, I scared to say I still love him. So, I have dogs. Dey love me." She shows two large white dogs. "My babies. Dey are reason I not alone, not husband. Oh! Your station. I tell you, I let you know when station come!"
I stood up, swaying in the subway train surfing stance.... held out my hand...thought better, and quickly hugged her as she sat, looking up at me. "Be safe, take care, alright?"
"I go wid teacher. You are right." she smiled, showing discoloured caps on her teeth... that fact overridden by the sudden beauty in her face, the way her eyes glowed. She held on to my hand in both of hers as we slowed and stopped. "You, you not be sad, have scared feeling. Tell man you love him."
I protested there was no man... avoiding that door... and laughed.
"No, dere is man, I know. Be happy, not like me. Not alone. No scared." she smiled again, and I was gone out the door, laptop and overnight bags weighing down my shoulders, her story weighing down my heart.
Some days, you meet the most interesting people on the train. Some times, they amuse you, befuddle you, irritate you.....even frighten you.
Some days, they give you a piece of their life... leaving you on a train platform, with tears on your face.