To Cower in Plain Sight

“You are a stupid whore. Actually fuck off”

The sticker was a grey message bubble, glossy and plastered to the hydrant at the intersection between Gardner Street and Chester Street. I had walked past it numerous times yet hadn’t noticed it until now. I had been making my way towards the crumbling concrete of the MBTA when it had skimmed past my eyes and pulled me back with an electric jolt. It hit me sideways, knocking me into a stream of consecutive thoughts.

Generic Boston hipster fodder.

Somebody who wanted their aggressions to be aired.

Misplaced passive aggression.

A personal attack.

A personal attack.

Somebody had put that sticker there, at this intersection for somebody in particular to see.

It was meant for me to see.

My blood ran cold and my legs became stiff as the thought sunk like liquid through the pores of my skin to my bones. I arrived at the nondescript train station soaked, utterly chilled.

The peeling green paint of the MBTA welcomed me into its rickety embrace.

The winter, one of the harshest in New England’s recent history, had oxidized holes in the sheet metal. Rust visibly ate through through the body of the vehicles as animalistic, putrid disgust corroded me from within.

As I entered the car, my oversized purse stuffed with clothes for the holiday weekend aggressively pulled me down into an empty single seat onboard. I hugged the bundle close to my body. Charging cables popped out and I pushed them back into the endless core of the bag.

So many people in my own life hated me. And I hated them bitterly.

I was running away from it, running with everything I could fit in a day bag, skittering across the hall as my shoes clacked through the hallway to the front door, checking for my key, locking everything behind the door. Yet, I wasn’t escaping- just lunging myself deeper into my own protective pit in the confines of my parents’ well-adorned split entry house. Desiring to sink into the grey, comfortable masses of their couch, away from their criticisms and memories of an emotionally neglectful childhood.

I jumped from the green to the red line to the eerily vacant rotunda in the heart of Boston’s Financial District; South Station.

It was 9pm and my eyes caught the glinting lights of a fast food Chinese stall.

My devout veganism guided me towards the greasy rice noodles. I scarfed them down, ruminating in my insecurities.

Somebody hated me and wanted to let me know.

It was too pointed, the writing too familiar, a toxin making its way through my bloodstream, arrow poison to my sternum. I had to react, right then and there. I had to go back to the apartment, write up an eloquent rebuttal and tape it right there, below the offending sticker. I had to.

I imagined myself at my keyboard, punching out 200 words with fingertips sensitive from a full work day throbbing as I wrote:

“You selfish, heartless bitch. If you only know what I’ve been through. Six months of medical issues that have torn away my health, my will to live, my sanity. Winding up in the office of a shrink one morning to be clinically diagnosed with comorbid anxiety, depression, panic disorder and yes- PTSD. The abrupt end of my five-year relationship that ripped what little I had left and sent me into a spiral of disreality. You are the last thing I need. If anything, you’re the one who needs to actually fuck off.”

The grimy, burnt noodles churned in my stomach and my adrenaline piqued.

The boarding call for the commuter rail echoed through the interior expanse of the station.

I chucked the noodle box into the trash can and scurried to down the platform to the front car.

No, no. That was far too risky. I had to come back to the apartment sometime, and if I were living with the author, I might not make it to the next day, even. Unlikely- but possible. If anything, the most proactive role I could take would be to re-frame the scenario entirely.

I imagined myself typing at the same keyboard, no longer acting on a personal vengeance but a collective narrative.

“Nobody is stupid.

Nobody is a whore.

We are all humans working to create a better reality for ourselves and others, and we can only achieve this together. We must come together as a whole, it is the only way we will survive”

It hit me.

So many of us carry within us the seed of vulnerability. With each abuse we incur on one another, the seed sprouts. It’s the ugliest, hardiest plant known to humankind. It is nourished by the slivers carved from our shoulders when we are the recipient of unjust action, fertilized by parents, friends, relatives and strangers who have wronged us. Who have handed us a water spout with a broken spigot that floods the dirt, reminding us that we are simply not good enough- that somebody better must be taken down. When it flowers, it becomes the most intolerable weed in the garden- hatred.

I sat there in the train car, my arms slowly un-tensing, feet sliding freely, skimming against the floor.

No matter who this person was, not matter if they personally hated me, they had experienced the kind of adversity that makes them violently push others away. They were in retaliation. They were afraid. Utterly terrified of the target of their message. Looking for the same escape I was yet cornered and isolated.

The herbicide must be love.

I suddenly understood that the message was not one of hatred, but fear and self-deprecation.

I understood.

I loved this person more than anything.

I arrived home and began typing what would become a glossy blue message bubble, a sticker to go below the grey bubble on the hydrant.

You are an amazingly strong, persistent person who is terribly misunderstood. You are loved.”

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