Looking at the people surrounding me, it seems unlikely any of them will have any great meaning in my life. I will see hundreds of thousands more like them before my inevitable death, and never know their names. But then, aren’t I as meaningless to them as they are to me? About ten minutes from my stop, I start to tear up. The thoughts in my head consume me as they have for months, and the grey bags, weighing heavy under my eyes, remind me of the control they have over me.
Why do I feel so lonely? How did my life become like this? I used to be fun. My cushy job in the city once seemed like a godsend to me, but now I am trapped in its comfort. The mere thought of change prompts me to grip the safety rail so hard, my knuckles turn white.
On the outside, I give the impression of being content, satisfied, and normal. On the inside, I’m fighting every day to keep up that image. I don’t know who I’m doing it for. I’m dissatisfied with this mundane life. These thoughts start a fire inside of me. It brings out an urge for extreme pain and lust, anything to jolt me out of this purgatory.
The foul stench of the subway car doesn’t annoy me, because I don’t care any more. If I get home to my perfect little condo and realize I forgot to pick up eggs for my breakfast, I won’t be frustrated. If I went home to find my complex had burned down, I’d calmly book a hotel room. Nothing affects me because I’m comfy like this. I’ve become complacent. I’m numb.
My stop approaches and I stand up. When the doors slide open, people rush around either side of me, their legs propelled by a sense of purpose. I lag behind them, anchored down by the heavy feeling of sadness welling up inside of me. As I exit the train, I feel as if I’m walking through Jell-O.
Standing alone on the platform, I look out over the now empty tracks, and experience a moment of solitude. I always feel this alone, even when people bustle around me, their voices infiltrating the empty space between my ears.
Standing there, my heart doesn’t pound. I don’t sweat. Instead, I decide to let myself fall. What power do I have in this world, other than the choice to end it all? It’s going to be painful. My heart will pump fast, and a rush of adrenaline will send me into shock. Finally, I’ll belt out a scream, one that none of these meaningless people will be able to erase from their memories. This memory will be the only way I will ever matter to them.
I take one step towards the edge, then another. I’m about to close my eyes for the last time, when I see a young man wave to me and smile. I stop dead in my tracks.
Do I know him? His face looks hauntingly familiar. I’m overwhelmed by a strong sense of déjà vu. This type of thing drives me crazy. Maybe, if I bang my head against a wall, the contents of my mind will shift and the hidden memory will surface. My pulse races as I anticipate a social interaction, and the possible embarrassment of forgetting someone I’ve met. Did he notice I was walking towards the edge of the platform?
Slowly, the man passes by, not waiting for my response. I stand dumbfounded for a second, paralyzed by his simple act of kindness. Then, everything goes foggy.
Shooting into a sitting position, I return to the living world. For a moment there, I didn’t exist. I didn’t remember hitting my head against the bedpost, or seeing the swirl of stars before I passed out. Looking around now, I see that I’m back in the bedroom of my average, boring, cushy condo, not at the subway stop.
It feels like I’ve just blinked. In reality, minutes have passed. I am left only with the memory of a dream. I understand now, that I was the smiling man—the man who looked at me, who had my face, who waved to me as I passed by. In my dream, I saw the person I want to be, the me who felt good reaching out and helping others.
In that brief act of kindness, I gave the hopeless me in my dream, the strength to carry on. Perhaps one day in the future, when I feel powerless and purposeless, I will not jump. Instead, I will choose to become that smiling man. I will remind myself I am not alone, and not the only one who feels this way. I will know, that by reaching out with a simple smile, I could save a life. Even my own.
Smith, Ryan Tyler. “Crowded Red Line platforms at Park Street”. [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)] Wikimedia Commons, 7 May 2017, https://commons.wikimedia.org.