“This is my second time riding BART” – a true story from someone you meet on the subway.
Something compels you to shift your luggage out of the way. A woman and a man in their fifties sit down in the newly available seats.
They’re the kind of seats that are all facing each other in a group of four.
The man looks to you and says something.
“What?” you take out one earbud.
“I said, sorry you’re now a little blocked in.” He gestures to a dog stroller next to him.
“Oh! That’s fine I’m going all the way to the end, basically” you smile and put your phone down.
He unzips the carriage and pulls out a Yorkie in a puffy coat.
“This is only my second time riding BART,” the woman next to you says. “I’m visiting from Phoenix.”
“What brings you here from Phoenix?”
“I took a bus all the way here. I hate flying.”
“It takes eighteen hours.” the man looks up from taking off the dog’s puffy jacket to reveal the dog’s orange sweater.
It takes eighteen hours.
“Nineteen if you count the transfer” she concluded.
You take out the other earbud. Maybe she hadn’t heard the question, so you repeat it more loudly over the screaming BART. “Well, that’s far. So what brought you here to San Francisco?”
“Oh, San Francisco. Well, him” she nods to the man sitting across from her.
“And Ray, my partner,” the man says, and then looks down to his tattooed arms “but she didn’t get here in time. His heart just didn’t hold up.” You notice one of his faded tattoos is of a heart with 25 años on it. You wonder how long that’s been there.
She didn’t get here in time. His heart just didn’t hold up…
A minute of silence, then the woman slowly comes back.
“Ray wanted me to see the city, but I never made it out here. So, I’m seeing it now. He would’ve wanted that.”
You ask, “So what did you see?”
“I wanted to see the sea lions.”
“But this one didn’t like the sea lions very much.” He pulls off the dog's orange sweater to reveal a yellow T-shirt with a cartoon Tweety Bird on it. “She was afraid of them.”
“But that’s all I wanted to see, though. My daughter was telling me about all these restaurants, and all I really want to do is see was the sea lions.”
All I want to do is see the sea lions.
“Where are you headed?” she points to your suitcase.
You straighten the ribbon tied to the handle. “Memphis.”
“Ah Memphis, for the music?”
“Yep, and probably some touring, you know Graceland.”
“Yeah my aunt always wanted to see Graceland, she never did before she passed. I guess that goes to show…” she trails off.
“You know,” the man pipes up, “Ray was surprised that I was such a big Elvis fan.”
“Oh really? Who doesn’t love Elvis?”
“Yeah, I told him, you know, Elvis in those early years, before he gained all that weight, you know?”
“And what about those velvet posters?”
“Oh yeah, like the ones you can get all from Mexico.”
“Why didn’t you make any of those velvet posters?” she asks him, then turns to you, “he’s an artist you know.”
“Because I get to lost in the details. I always get lost in the details.”
You want to say something profound, or hopeful, or something, but nothing good comes to mind. You stay quiet.
…I always get lost in the details.
The train goes through a loud spot and screeches. It comes above ground and the woman gets a phone call. The man puts the dog, still wearing her T-shirt, back into the stroller. He is misty-eyed, lost in thought, and you see the puffy bags under his small glasses.
“Heh, the restaurants we been to today must think we’re crazy” – he seems to snap back in – “one minute ordering food, the next minute were both crying.”
“Well, he was just sixty three, four years older than me. He had a heart condition that was under control because he was taking pills.”
The train screeches again, cutting him off. You don’t hear the rest of the story.
“…Even though she didn’t get here in time, I couldn’t have gotten through it without Tammy. We, my partner and I, were in the process of adopting his three grandkids. They got taken away from their mom by the state. That’s when Tammy took them in. Well, now things have changed…”
“That was actually my daughter on the phone just now.” She picks up on the conversation, “yeah, I’m keepin’ em. I’m keepin’ em now.”
Well now things have changed…
“She’s known Ray since she was five years old.” He smiles and catches himself.
“Yeah he was my mom’s friend originally…”
“and your mom wanted something more…”
“right, she did, before she found out he was gay, but they stayed real good friends. We ended up being neighbors. Ray was the best thing ever for me. He was like my dad, my uncle, my friend.” The man smiles at this.
“Me and Ray, we would just talk for hours,” she smiles, “about nothing really. Like we had these games”
“What kind of games?”
“Oh silly ones like – how much money would someone have to pay you to lick a cow’s ass.”
“Well?” – Jokingly
“Hell, I’d do it for like five thousand dollars – Ray would be like I need a million dollars and be real drunk when it happens.”
“Yeah I really miss him” Tammy says.
…I really miss him.
“Well, our stop is coming up,” the man turns to the BART map. “It was really nice meeting you.”
“I’m glad to meet you too.”
You think, what else am I supposed to say? Something contrived like ‘sorry for your loss’? Jesus why is talking about grieving with strangers so awkward?
“Nice to meet you,”the woman says, turning, “I hope you have a safe flight.”
“And you a safe bus ride back home! Bye!”
Smiles. The BART doors open. The two get up, adjust their coats, and push the dog stroller out. The BART doors close.
You watch the figures in silhouette on the other side of the darkened window. The train pulls away.
Not sure what to do, you look around the car. A woman listening to music. A couple sitting quietly together. A young man absent mindedly swaying while standing and holding a handle.
You put your earbuds back in.