I read somewhere that every once in a while you get a glimpse of how other people see you. This morning, that every once in a while happened to me.
Standing on the platform at 125th, I was ready to declare the MTA’s express train service to be a farce. Every minute that passed by, I was mentally estimating how far I would have been on the local train. 96th Street? Possibly. Museum Mile? Probably. Wherever I would have been, there was no doubt I would have been far away from Harlem by now.
With Feist on repeat, I was trying to keep my morning calm but everything in me was ready to move on to my Bone Thugs compilation. This was the commute I had bought the obnoxiously large headphones for. Mornings like these, blocking out the noise was the best way to block out the rest of the world. Being deaf to new York can sometimes be a gift, because no one ever- wait. Stop. Did this man just touch me?
It wasn’t just a tap, like a I’m looking for directions tip deal. I was a shoulder shiatsu squeeze that said, “We’re well acquainted.” And as I turned around ready to furrow my brows into one line of rage, I looked up and saw him.
He and I hadn’t seen each other since I went away to college. By then, I had decided I was far too grown to see him anymore and had folded up our high school love like my old school sweatshirts. He was one of the things I felt couldn’t fit into my adult life and he was back like flared denim, staring me dead in the face. And here I was on a subway platform, with obnoxiously large headphones, staring right back. It was the throwback with broad shoulders I didn’t see coming. And unlike Mariah’s “The Roof,” I was not falling back in love with the tune.
Right behind him was a woman staring too, regretting putting in curl formers the night before. She held onto his belt loop and waited for the introduction that went: “This is Leslie.” And that was all.
We hashed out some small talk while I stood in the glare of eyes that seemed equally agitated with me and the humidity. And as the train finally pulled up, I inched closer to the crack between the carts making it clear we would not be spending the rest of our morning together. And as the noise swarmed into the station, he leaned over saying, “Bye, Les” and “I still got your scarf.”
It was nothing. But it was something. Because I remember when all I thought about what it would be like. Seeing him again and the person I’d be at that moment. I remember looking ultra prepared in all social situations with even a 5 percent chance of seeing him. And here he was on a day with 95 percent chance of humidity, when nothing was perfect, not my morning or my hair. And I was as sure as I would have pretended to be years ago.
Maybe those moments of little nothings are what we need to see the person we’ve grown into. And there will probably be more moments of nothing in years to come. But I think every one of them will be another marking point, another reminder of where you were and how things have changed. You don’t get them often but I think every once in a while you get just a glimpse and it helps you take a look at it as a whole.
Today, see yourself through someone else’s eyes. Note where you used to be, how far you’ve come and use that glimpse to illuminate the whole.