I met someone this afternoon, waiting for the train. I don't normally converse much with strangers like that, but these were unusual circumstances what with the transit strike. We started talking to find out whether the train was a bronx shuttle, or one that went further north.
She was the outgoing one, I was slower to respond, just listening to her at first. But then she asked if I taught (I'd mentioned the university), and wanted to know what I taught. I started talking about advocacy around social issues affecting the low income, and she began sharing details about her life.
She had just moved from welfare to social security. No, not age, but physical problems that prevented ongoing work. She was 33, had an 11 year old. Six years ago, she left her abusive husband and found an apartment near Fordham Road. He found her, stalked her, broke in, raped her, beat her, knocked out 8 teeth, broke her jaw, and caused head trauma that still brings on migraines this many years later. After leaving the hospital, she took her son and went to a safe shelter.
But this woman was not bowed, was no longer a victim. She was, from what I could see, intelligent, emotionally strong, and in a healthy relationship with one she called her fiance. Although I hadn't been through what she'd been through, we connected in that kind of poverty level and intellectually higher functioning single mom kind of way. We talked about the decisions we'd made in life, and the parallels. Her dad died of an overdose when she was 11, my dad left when I was a toddler.
She'd gone into one violent relationship after another, I'd seen that in my mom and steered clear of any men actually in my home.
We both had struggled with how to raise sons who would move out of poverty without using that poverty as an excuse to engage in illegal activities to earn money.
We were concerned about raising sons who knew how to treat a woman appropriately after seeing other men abuse women--hers from the father, mine from a babysitter and a grandma.
We talked about the cycle of poverty, and how important decent schools are in turning that around. About the importance of health insurance.
We marveled that despite the fact that poverty and rough lives tend to make one look older, we both looked younger than our years.
It was pretty amazing, really. Especially for someone who is normally as reserved as I am with strangers.
But we talked away, about life. In a way, we knew each other. In some deeper way. Despite being strangers. We didn't even introduce ourselves, share our names, till the very end, as we arrived at my stop and we said goodbye and merry christmas. I even considered, for a moment, giving her my email address. But we left it at 'I'm sure we'll see each other, I'm always on Fordham Road.'
I hope she got to her family alright, and I hope she has a wonderful christmas. She certainly deserves it, after what life has dealt her.
It's funny how we connect with people in life. How we interact. And then we go on our way. Go on living.