Ok, so it’s mid April during Spring break and you’re on the wretched 1 train. You get on at 28th street after a sleepover with your best friend who, in 11 months, will no longer be your friend. You find a seat next to a robust woman who we’re going to call Katelyn. She smells like cheap vanilla body spray from Victoria’s Secret and she has drawn on eyebrows. A man named Jesus is looking for a seat. You’ll ask his name later. He swings from the train’s poles like a predatory beast and makes the noises of one too, honest to God. You move the floral bag that was once your mom’s tote to accommodate the nice man. Jesus sandwiches you between his bony body and Katelyn’s thin eyebrows.
This story is true and happened to me. Jesus wore a baby blue shirt with a dirty white long sleeve underneath, much like my old middle school uniform. The subway was moderately crowded, and Katelyn took up a considerable amount of space, leaving Jesus and me in close quarters. Across from me sat a slim Asian woman with a mohawk, a teen mom, my preschool teacher Katie, an old man reading a newspaper, and a girl of 18 wearing thick black eye makeup and fishnet tights, her neon yellow hair in French braids. Jesus sat to my right and a nice young woman named Katelyn sat to my left. She smelled like cheap vanilla body spray from Victoria's Secret. She was probably envious of my naturally full eyebrows.
Jesus was close to me because the subway was crowded and the seats on the 1 train are smaller than those on the B/C. The man’s left side touched every inch of my right side. I tried to scooch closer to the lady with penciled eyebrows but the man’s body sucked me closer to him. His breathing was deep and silent. Yes, silent. I’ve never met anyone who could breathe so deeply as Jesus and still remain silent. I could feel his breath. And then, Jesus shapeshifted. The dancing beast became a leech latched onto my pubescent 14 year old body. I swear to God, he paralyzed me. Hours seemed to pass. I kept yelling at Katelyn to detach him from me, but alas, it was too noisy for her to hear my cry. I was Simba trying to find my roar. I searched intently for it, but with each passing hour, I lost a part of my voice. Naturally, I lost my nasal cavity first, then my nasopharynx, followed by my oropharynx, hypopharynx, oral cavity, tongue, epiglottis, larynx, trachea, and finally my esophagus. The 11th part that Jesus stripped from my body was the large brown birthmark that had lived safely on my left arm for 14 years and five months. It slowly began to fade.
This part is the whole truth, so listen. The man leaned on me, transferring his 145 pounds to my 110. I had to carry our combined 255 pounds on my right shoulder. My shoulder did not break. If it had, I might have been stuck on that train for eternity. I fell asleep, and in my slumber, I told myself what was happening. “Rachel, the beast is seeking out a vulnerable cub like you.” But awake, I lost all clarity. He was warm and only touched me with his shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, fingers, ribs, hip, thigh, knee, calf, ankle, foot, and with his breath. Each part of him infiltrated me as I sat unsure of his intentions. Oh God, I hate saying that, but it’s the truth so I have no other choice. I stayed asleep but alert. I smelled vanilla body spray and could still see the girl with neon hair through my eyelids. I told myself I needed to leave, so I did. I violently ripped the leech off my conservatively clothed body and ran off the moving train onto the windy platform.
I kept running toward the light at the top of the 59th street subway stairs until a man tapped my shoulder. I yelled. He asked me if the man on the train was bothering me and I said, “Um, I don’t know.” I said those exact words, I swear to God. He showed me his badge and said that he was watching over me. (Officer Gonzalez wasn’t in uniform.) Jesus was arrested and I got to see him in handcuffs. I told the officer I wanted to go home, but he said I couldn’t. He needed a statement. Because—wait for it— Jesus was a registered sex offender who rode trains all day praying on vulnerable girls. I couldn’t breathe and I lost control of my body. Maybe because I no longer smelled the vanilla body spray from Victoria’s Secret. The kind officer took me to the 59th street precinct that I pass every Goddamn day to get to school. A year later I would have a panic attack as I passed that same precinct. I wrote my story down, truthfully. I ran home and remained silent until 9:06 p.m. when a young lawyer called me. She told me I needed to go to city hall to the District Attorney’s office, to formally file a report. I did not sleep.
And so I went with my mother, Mary to City Hall on that perfect, crisp, life-altering Spring day. I was sent to the Special Victims Unit. It was something out of Law and Order, but I tell myself it wasn’t as bad as that. That is a lie, though, and I refuse to tell anything but the truth because it’s important. I wouldn’t sit on trains after that. I have a crippling fear of men. Of men who look like Jesus. Of harassment. Assault. Rape. It wasn’t that bad, I tell myself. It could have been a lot worse. Perhaps that is the truth, you know what I mean?
A blonde woman brought me into a conference room and made me relive that Sunday on the 1 train. Her scribe smelled of cheap vanilla body spray from Victoria’s Secret. Next, I entered a courtroom where 12 jurors awaited me. I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Mary Oliver sat in the back of the courtroom, legs crossed, and she smiled at me with her eyes. And then it was over. I left the courtroom having flashbacks of reading 12 Angry Men in 7th grade. We would later find out that our beloved English teacher was a registered sex offender, just like Jesus. Mary Oliver stopped me before I left the building and handed me her poem, Spring. A year later in a poetry seminar, I would write a research paper on Oliver and that same poem.
I am 16 now. It has been a year and seven months. I cry in my bed less. I talk to my friends. I will sit on a train. And I won’t avoid men at all costs. But last week I carried a pair of red scissors in my coat pocket to go five blocks.