Morning after

It’s out of order in my head
And time was moving differently,
So it’s very hard to remember what happened.

I think they call it processing
I was moving before I was processing, or as I was processing.
And everyone else was too.
Moving past each other, processing.

When you process
I think your soul and mind leave your physical body empty
And everyone can feel your emptiness.
It’s strange to feel another’s emptiness
To feel the oppressiveness of their collective unpresence

It makes you miss the way they used to be
(Even though you don’t know them
Even though you probably do know them
Because they probably walk to the same train as you
Every day, but you didn’t notice.
How could you not notice?
Not recognize any of the strangers on the platform — not one?
And if they’re strangers,
Which it seems like they both must be and can’t be,
Must be because you can’t file their faces
And can’t be because you feel a connection like you’ve met before, in a dream maybe,
But more likely just passing by each other every day on this one little street,
How can it be that you can understand each other without words, like old friends?)

I don’t understand why I can’t remember any of their faces,
Despite having seen them — really seen them — for the first time today

Except for one face.
It was on the train,
As we all huddled together (yesterday I’d say we crammed in together, but I’m certain today it was a huddle)
I saw many empty bodies,
But only one face.
It was like my soul had been one of those radars,
Beep … beep … beep
A sonar or something,
Searching for life forms among the dead.
And one life form bounced back.

His face was brown.
He was well-dressed, khakis maybe.
He had glasses on.
He had tears streaming down his face.
He didn’t wipe them.
He didn’t look at me, but I looked at him.
A grown man, with a brown face, and tears flowing without an end,
In the middle of the subway car.

I wanted to hug him
I felt myself choke back my own tears,
And I felt the person next to me choking back theirs,
And so on.

A girl,
There had been a little girl walking along the street
About 15 minutes before I wanted to hug the subway man,
And I wanted to hug her too.
But she didn’t want to be hugged.
She didn’t think anything was different today,
And she didn’t see my emptiness,
So I couldn’t have hugged her.
But I felt desperately that someone should hug her today,
Either because she might need it later,
Or because hugging people just seemed to be
The only thing that could fill the emptiness.

Physical contact.
The subway.
I normally hate the G because of physical contact.
But today I wondered if it was all of that physical contact
With all of those faces
Over all of those subway commutes
That had made me feel so empty and in need of a hug
Like we had been silently transferring each others’ pain, and hopes, and fears
Through touch
Every day on the G train.
Whatever had made us feel like one,
I know that today I didn’t mind being squeezed in next to my neighbors on the subway.
I wanted the subway car to be twice as packed
Like one big group hug that we’d never have to acknowledge again
To take away our collective pain and fear.

The newspapers in the coffee shop, where I first felt the emptiness.
They were untouched on the counter.
You can tell when a newspaper has been touched because its pages don’t quite line up,
And you can tell when its been read because it doesn’t quite fold back up,
And you can tell when it’s been enjoyed because it has crumbs and coffee stains on it,
And you can tell when it’s been treasured because it’s tucked under someone’s arm.
The newspapers — there were two — were untouched.
Displays of disbelief.
The most silent and peaceful protest.

I don’t think I listened to music on the way to work
Because I definitely listened to music on the way back from work,
When I had processed.

The strangest thing, I think,
Was feeling like my neighbors and I were feeling exactly the same way,
And there was a collective gratitude for each other — every single one of us.
Gratitude for not breaking the silence.
Gratitude for the other’s physical presence.
Gratitude to only be surrounded by people we were sure were also grieving.
Gratitude to have this moment before pretending things were normal.

I felt like a member of a community for the first time today.
I don’t think it’s called America.
I don’t think it’s called Greenpoint.
I don’t think it’s called New York.
I think it’s just a fleeting camaraderie between a ragtag band of idealists,
Who chose to join in each other’s pain, and each other’s strength, and each other’s hope,
At a time where we could have otherwise felt so deeply alone.