To the Woman I Couldn't Help,
You got on a standing room only train on Friday morning, but the crowd parted as you entered. A young girl like you is probably used to turning heads, but this time it was entirely different. You were coughing and stumbling, a real sight to see among the conservative black wool pea coats and the ubiquitous North Face jackets. You looked like you belonged anywhere but here.
On this 20 degree morning, you were dressed in short shorts and sandals. Your legs were covered in bruises, with giant bandages on your knees. Your strappy white sandals might have been hard to walk in on a warm summer's day, but today you were really struggling. You had a thin scarf that you used to cover your mouth, and wrapped around your hand as you grasped at the pole to hang on. A floppy hat was perched on your head; I don't think you had any hair. You were all skin and bones, thin beyond levels I encounter on a day to day basis. If you hadn't come to a stop right beside me, I might not have noticed the strangest detail of all: your very pretty pink pedicure.
I asked if you wanted my seat, but you said you were getting off at the next stop. I paused a moment, to carefully choose my words, and then asked, "Do you need any help?"
"Oh no," you quickly replied, "I just have a medical condition." You tried, unsuccessfully, to make your shorts longer. You got off at the next stop, lurching and acting like you had no idea where you were.
Maybe I've read too much on domestic violence. Maybe I spent too long watching the Amtrak safety video, warning of human trafficking, while we waited to come home from NYC a few weeks ago. Maybe you were on something. Or maybe it was the mother in me desperately wanting to give you my scarf, my coat, heck, even my pants. Because I knew that what I was witnessing wasn't right.
We were on that train together for less than 10 minutes, maybe only five. You've likely already forgotten me, but I haven't been able to forget you. I wish there was something I could have done, though I'm not sure what it would have been. With all of my means, I didn't know how to help you in that moment. I still don't.
Maybe you're okay. Maybe I'm just seeing things that aren't there. I really hope I was wrong.
But I don't think I was. And for that, I'm very sorry.