While on my way to the Saladerie (a.k.a. the salad bar at Foodie's) for lunch today, I walked past a woman who was bawling uncontrollably. Right there on the street, at the corner of Washington and Monsignor Reynolds.
I hear the woman whimpering from at least 20 feet away, and gave her a nonchalant once-over as I approached--our South End offices may be in one of the most rapidly yuppifying zip codes in the South End, but that doesn't mean I don't see my share of wackos on these streets. She wore a black leather motorcycle jacket, black leggings, and fawn-colored Uggs -- the short kind. She had slightly frizzy, long, brown hair--but then again, whose hair wasn't frizzy today, it was so humid. She looked to be anywhere from 35- to 42-years old. She did not look crazy, or cracked-out, or unkempt. On the contrary, I imagined her as an artsy type, the kind of woman who might have owned a South End loft on Washington Street before it was SoWa, when you were more likely to run into a prostitutes at the intersection of Washington & Mass Ave. than a herd of yuppies headed to Toro for vodka-based cocktails and tapas.
As I approached her, the woman just sobbed and sobbed. Sometimes she'd let out a little wail. Nothing loud, or angry. Just subtle, totally sad crying. I noticed a small, black duffel bag at her feet. I wonder what's inside? I thought.
I thought hard about how I should react to this woman as I approached her and prepared to pass by her on the street. Since I left home to go to college I've only ever lived in New York and Boston, two of the emotionally coldest urban centers in the world. In the past ten years, I have developed a hard candy shell. I do not (usually) give money to homeless people, I do not make eye-contact with strange men, and I try my damnedest not to let catcalls get under my skin. That said, this impersonal, guarded existence goes against my nature. I'd love to live in a place where I felt safe enough to say hello to strangers or strike up conversation with people on the bus. How does a soft-hearted blonde from the sticks handle a situation like this? I thought.
Put yourself in her shoes, I decided, like your mother always taught you. It wasn't much of a stretch. I remembered how horrible I felt when my life was falling apart a few years ago, when my fiance and I were breaking up, when my mother had cancer, when my dad was losing his job, when I hated my job and felt I had no way out. I drove to and from work with tears streaming down my cheeks several times in that period, feeling so, so depressed, despite the anti-depressants I was taking. I sat there in traffic, bawling, mascara all over my face, sniffling and gasping for air. I didn't care whether the people in the cars all around me saw me crying, my face bright red and my eye cavities puffed up like peaches. No even one iota.
As I approached the crying lady on foot, I cast my gaze as respectfully as I could down at the sidewalk. I didn't want to intrude on her moment, but I certainly didn't want to make it worse.
I tried to look peaceful and without judgment as I passed, like a kind, sensitive city: someone who would might offer you a tissue if she had one; not a mean, heartless city stranger, to whom your tears would be a wild inconvenience.
The stop-light at Washington and Monsignor Reynolds was green when I got to the crosswalk, but no cars were coming, so I stepped into the street. I could still hear the woman in black sobbing as the automatic doors to the grocery store parted.
What could have happened to make her sob like that? I wondered as I made my way through the fruit, over to the salad bar. Lost love? A broken heart? Maybe it was a death in the family. Or maybe she just got evicted, and has no place to live and nowhere to go. Maybe the black duffel bag at her feet contained all of her worldly possessions and she is all alone, with no home in the middle of January in Boston...
But before long, the salad bar had my full attention: negotiating the line for the mixed greens, picking out the best cherry tomatoes, deciding between beets & feta or tuna & carrots, trying to drizzle the perfect proportion of Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressing on my vegetables. This minutiae got the best of my thoughts.
The woman in black was still there, still crying, as I passed her on my way back to the office. She was no longer there when I headed home at 5:45-ish tonight. I'm still full of questions:
How long was she standing there before I passed her en route to lunch?
How much longer did she stay after I left?
Where did the woman in black go?
Did anyone else see her?
Why was she crying like that?
I wonder if she ever stopped.