The first words I heard all day were the erratic bursts of a subway loon. She was detonating her delusions from deep within the crowded car and they alighted on our heads like ash.
“I’ll chop your body parts into little pieces and leave ’em in a bag on the corner,” is where I entered the story.
“Make your way back to the suburbs, bitch! This is my turf. I live here! Keep readin’ your paper and call the terrorism task force. I believe in God, so fuck you! I don’t care what you believe in as long as you believe. Just keep it in your under-body. You feel me? I could have my gun at the next stop and blow yourself away! This is not the Middle-East, bitch! 9-11 was nothing compared to what’s gonna happen! Jesus is on the detail, bitch.”
By this point, I really was looking for the terrorism task force, but it was time for me to change trains anyway and I was running late again. I was pretty sure this lady was not a terrorist – just disturbed – and I could hear my next train approaching, so I bolted past a cop without saying anything, ran up the stairs and over to the next platform. But as I descended the stairs on the other side the train was already pulling away. The subway gods were not smiling on me today.
I was out sick yesterday, and today here I am walking in late. I really don’t like coming in late because shirking my duties is not what I’m about, so it embarrasses me when I send that impression. Yet I’m late time and again anyway. I don’t know what to say, I just get caught in time’s sticky web.
“Docta!” My boss yelled as I tried to sneak past. “You forget ya watch?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “It was the trains..”
“Trains? What, you don’t drive?”
“Noooo! He takes the train!” said Vicki, in my defense.
“What, ya girlfriend took ya car in tha divorce?” Blared my boss in reference to my recent break-up.
Vicki slapped his arm.
“Whaaaat?” Yelled my boss. “He don’t caya!”
Lucky for me, he would rather joke around than actually hassle me about being a few minutes late. My boss and I may not see eye to eye on everything, but he knows I work hard and he treats me right in return.
Once the boss left, Vicki asked me in a hushed tone, “Did you take a mental health day yesterday? Be honest.”
“No, I really was sick. I had-”
“Becowaz we are awll in need of a mental health day. I’m telling ya.”
“Well, yeah, we always need a mental health day so when you’re sick it’s just a good coincidence-”
“Yep,” she said as she shuffled some papers in front of her. “It’s a good coincidence.”
The bell rang, so I grabbed my pen and pad and went out into the halls. After fifteen minutes, I came back in. My hair was tousled and my mouth was slightly agape.
“Have a nice walk in tha halls?” Asked Vicki.
“It’s like herding fucking cats,” I moaned.
“Yeah, we had to close the door it was so loud out there,” said Vicki.
“What makes it so hard is we don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” I ranted. “They just toss you out there and say ‘figure it out’. I mean, I could write up a thousand kids if I wanted, but that’s impossible. Look, there’s three right there,” I said poking my head out of the door. “I could write them up. But I’m not gonna, because I can’t. I got too much already. But when you only get written up once every hundred times, you don’t change. You just get angry because you’re being sent the wrong message. It’s like a cop giving you a ticket for jay-walking. You’d be like, ‘What the f—?'”
Vicki interrupted me in an attempt to bring my heart rate back to normal, “Pistol, once you’re back in the office, you’re in the office. Forget it.” Then she asked in a concerned voice, “You burned out yet?”
“Shit, I get burned out every week. It a cycle. I bust my ass, get burned out, because it’s impossible, take a step back, regroup, bust my ass and burn out again…”
“Well at least you get to work with all these good people,” she said in a last ditch effort to find a silver lining. And it’s true. While I am definitely a fish out of water in the office, and I don’t always agree with how things are run in the building, the truth is that my boss and my coworkers treat me like family. Every one of them. We share a soldier’s kinship. Our shared traumas light up that ancient warrior region of the brain, which tells us to lock arms and never let go.