To the college kid on BART who I tried not to look at
It’s Friday night and you’re on your way back from the city with your friends. You cross the platform at 19th street. The Richmond train is starting to fill up. There is a woman leaning against the railing near the opposite door. You wonder why she is not moving into the empty space to her right. You try making eye contact but she seems to be in her own world. “Excuse me,” you say, “can you please move over?” She flashes a dirty look at you before moving just enough to make space for you to lean. Your arm touches hers as you scroll through your phone. She doesn’t move over any more so you continue making arm contact. Finally she inches out of your way.
It’s Friday night and I’m on my way home from catching up with a friend. The car was nearly empty before but a wave of people surges in when the Pittsburgh train arrives across the platform. A group of college kids boards last. I notice that one of them is eyeing me as if expecting me to move. I scan the space and see that there is still plenty of standing room and that if I scoot over I will be completely surrounded by the chattering group. I don’t move. The kid brings his face into my periphery and stares me down. Now I am definitely not moving. I pretend not to notice him. “Excuse me,” he says, “can you please move over?” I feel a mini surge of anger. I decide this battle isn’t worth picking and I move, but only a little and not politely. He pulls out his phone and rests his arm against mine. He is trying to take more of my space. I try not to feel it. I try to stand a little taller. I start to feel annoyed by the girl chattering to my right and the two boys laughing in front of me. I feel trapped. I close my eyes and take slow breaths. I remind myself that I am tired and that I will be home in 3 stops. I can’t stand the kid’s arm against mine anymore so I scoot over just a little. I feel defeated. I feel voluntarily inferior. I think that I’m being overly dramatic. I feel exhausted. When we stop at Ashby a seat opens up and I squeeze out of the cluster just in time to keep from exploding.
You have surely forgotten this interaction by now but I play the scene over and over again in my mind, alternating between your perspective and my perspective. Your microscopic act of aggression has seeped into my bloodstream like a tiny speck of pollution. I wish I could explain to you that these minuscule gestures accumulate over time and become poisonous. Since I didn’t confront you on the train I have to spend two hours writing this letter or I won’t be able to sleep. You are probably spending this time playing video games, or writing an essay that you will get school credit for, or sleeping.
I hope you become aware one day of the tiny forces that hold our culture’s power structure in place. And I hope you are brave enough to leave your pretty perch at the top of this structure to help us tear it down. It will be much more fun for all of us, I promise.
The curly-haired woman on BART who gave you a dirty look