I hopped the subway last week, late in the afternoon. It wasn’t rush hour, but was just crowded enough that I didn’t get a seat. I stood against the door and within a second I noticed the woman sitting across from me. She was older, significantly overweight, and had a haircut that reminded me of Tennile (of Captain and Tennile fame… yes I date myself with my old lady Pop culture references). I’ve lived in NYC a long time. I have encountered my fair share of crazy. Heck, I’m pretty sure there are people who readily describe me as crazy. I’m not gonna lie, she gave off a crazy vibe.
My eyes immediately spotted something on her lap (you know, after I’d finished thinking myself quite the smartie recalling Tennile’s name and hair style). The woman on the subway held onto a box with both hands. The box was bright yellow and I immediately recognized the device photographed on the front. That mini Freestyle blood glucose meter. The top of the box was ripped off and paperwork was sticking out. My heart lept. One of MY PEOPLE. I kept staring in a you-are -half-staring-at-people-on-the-subway sort of way. I wondered what her story was. I thought I should tell her I’m diabetic too. My internal dialog then laughed at me. If I saw another woman on the subway would I say to her, “hey I’m a woman too” and high-five her? If I saw someone with the same brand of sneakers on would I say, “Oh I love Brooks too.. we should be running friends”? I kept my non-staring, staring. At the next stop, the person next to Tennile With The Freestyle Meter, got off the train so I grabbed the seat. I sat there thinking, “Should I say something? Am I crazier than this lady since I’m having this whole conversation in my head? Why is there so much stuff sticking out of that box?”
I made a deal with myself. If she didn’t get off at the next stop, I would say something. We diabetics need to stick together right? Being kind is a personal goal of mine and chatting is kindness right? Sort of? Or am I just a busy body who should be reading my book and minding my own business?
The next stop. Tenille FreeStyle didn’t budge. Neither did I.
“Hi. I noticed your glucose meter box (me, pointing at box). Do you have diabetes?”
She barely turned her head (another sign of crazy maybe) and answered, “Yes”.
“Me too!” (I tried to sound like “yeah, whatever, cool” but am pretty sure I probably sounded way too excited, like a cartoon character).
She turned slightly but was still looking at me out of the corner of her eyes. I also now had the attention of some fellow commuters who were practicing their non-staring-totally-staring look. She said, “Doctor says I got it again real bad. Blood over 300. They gave me this” (I’m going to assume this was the box with the BG meter).
Hmmmm. “Again” threw me a bit. “Got it real bad” made me wince slightly in that my-pancreas-quit-when-I-was-6-years-old-and-I’m-pretty-sure-I-don’t-have-it-“real good” kind of way. Oh and did your doctor actually say that, because if so I’d like to rattle them.
“Well I’ve been diabetic for almost 35 years. It isn’t easy, but if I can do it, you can do it too.”
Tenille FreeStyle turned to look at me. She quickly looked me up and down and turned back to facing forward.
Nothing. Awkward silence. Ummmmm.
Next stop a woman got onto the subway with a very small child. There were many more people now. Unlike my fellow seated commuters who apparently were raised by wolves, I offered my seat to the woman with a kid who looked exactly like Dora The Explorer. She nodded, took my seat, and pulled Dora onto her lap.
I stood to an angle overlooking Tenille FreeStyle. Her eyes darted around but she definitely was NOT making eye contact with me. Next stop, more people. Now I had to move further from Tenille FreeStyle. Well that was a bust. At least Dora the Explorer was smiling at me.
My stop. Dora and her Mom were getting off ahead of me. I saw Tenille Freestyle give me a darting look as she slid into the corner spot where Dora and her Mom were sitting. I thought I should say something. What? “Good luck”? That sounded so lame but I needed to get off the train and way too many people were exiting all at once. I looked down. Tenille FreeStyle beat me too it.
“Thanks for talking.”
I’m not sure if she meant diabetes stuff or just that I spoke to her.
“I meant what I said, even when it doesn’t feel like it, you REALLY can do this.”
She thanked me again and said OK and I gave her a big smile.
I got off the train. The whole thing was odd. I blocked people getting on the train and they were clearly angry pushing into me as they tried getting where they were going. I was the lone salmon swimming against the 6 train.
I walked down the platform thinking about Tenille Freestyle. She’d smiled back at me as I left the train. Her teeth were very mangled. I thought how I really need to make a dentist appointment. I thought how this little experience wasn’t a diabetes thing at all (I mean it is but it’s more than that). It’s about being compassionate. It’s about being kind. But was I just kind because of diabetes? I never would have spoken to her otherwise. My immediate reaction was something was off with her. I spoke to her because I thought she probably has diabetes and therefore I felt compelled to say something. Hmmm.
I thought about how there are plenty of times that I feel burdened by diabetes. That I am scared, sometimes really scared and that there are times I don’t feel I can necessarily just do it. I usually keep these thoughts to myself. Saying it out loud could make it true (and send up a major red flag to people who know me and give me a few more points in the crazy column).
Did I just lie to Tenille FreeStyle? No. I told her the truth. I do think she can do it, and it is not easy. If I’m willing to believe in a stranger, I need to believe a bit more in myself too.
Thanks Tenille FreeStyle.
*Please note: in an earlier paragraph I referenced people raised by wolves perhaps lacking the manners to give up their seat on the subway to someone in need. I do not personally know any wolves. I’m sorry if any wolves were offended by my comment.