So I have traveled a decent amount in my time and have found myself in many cities, airports and train stations alone. I have traversed the winding roads of Bali, the organized chaos of major cities in Asia, and have even given directions to Italians on the metro in Rome. I generally consider myself fairly savvy and capable of blending into my surroundings, no matter how much I feel like a fish out of water.
Yea, about that…
A few weeks ago I was waiting for the metro at Union Station in Washington, DC. I was on my first trip back to the states since moving to Guam, a tiny island in the pacific. Normally when I am commuting or taking public transportation I usually have headphones in, tuning out the world around me. But this time was different. I left the headphones in my bag and soaked up my surroundings, which, apparently, makes one stick out these days.
The platform was rather quiet for a Saturday afternoon in June. As people started to make their way down the stairs I encountered a man who was (seemingly) talking to himself. He looked directly at me and said “I tell myself jokes to keep my spirit up.” He then told me that he had lost his job, his home and had his cell phone stolen that week. I looked back at him and told him that next week would have to be better, right?
He proceeded to look at the empty space where the train would soon come barreling through and told me he was going to jump in front of the train when it arrived, and that he had been planning it all week. I told him to think about it for one more day. He was holding two shopping bags and an apple, and set everything on the ground. Give it one more day.
He continued to walk over to the edge and look down the tunnel, look at me, and tell me of his plan to jump. He continued to tell me that he had been planning the jump and that he was going to do it. He would stare down the tunnel, his eyes would get wide, and then he would pace back towards me.
Around the third or fourth time he did this, I told him that I now had no choice but to try to stop him. He came to a halt and told me that I shouldn’t hurt myself trying to save him. I told him that he gave me no choice, and that I would not be able to live with myself if I let him do that without trying to help him.
As the encounter continued, many thoughts ran through my mind. Is this guy messing with me? What does he want from me? Why is no one else on this platform noticing this? In the back of my mind I thought, and hoped, that he was just messing with me – but I also could not be sure. And what if he wasn’t, and I didn’t do anything? The effort that it would take me to try to talk him out of it or seek help was nothing compared to the possibility (however slight) of him killing himself.
As he continued with his behavior I started to look around. There were kids around. Crap. Kids don’t need to see something like that. Then I kept looking and hoping that someone else was going to hear our conversation (and actually care) or that I would see a police officer or someone who could help. He quickly caught on and called me out. He knew I was looking for someone to tell, for someone to help.
He told me to stop. Then he got really close, extended his hands to me, while telling me the name of his daughter. He then asked me to tell her that he loved her. I told him that I would not do that for him, and that he would have to tell her himself.
As the train was approaching he left his belongings by my feet and stood near the edge of the platform. He bent his knees as if he was going to jump, his eyes got wide and his body started to tremble.
The train came to its normal screeching stop and he backed up to me and started laughing hysterically. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I had broken a sweat. I grabbed his arm and said “Sir, that was not funny.” He looked at me and told me that I had a good heart and that I was a good person, because I didn’t even know him, but wanted to help him anyways. I bowed my head down and handed him his bags.
We boarded the train and he began eating his apple. I sat there trying to calm my heart rate and organize my thoughts. As we approached his stop, he gathered his bags, looked at me, and said “I am now a character in your life story.”
Yes, Sir, yes you are.