"I just wanna go home"

"I just wanna go home," she moans into her hands.

One hand on her cane, the other reaching to her side, she struggles to take off her once-lavender backpack while mumbling under her breath. She unzips the filthy thing and pulls out a liter of vodka in a black plastic bag. She takes two sips between muffled, tearless cries. Her neighbor keeps swiping on her phone, and thirty others avert their eyes.

"I just wanna go home," she moans again. She looks back at her hands, which are holding her cane, and continues to quietly mumble and moan to herself. She sways from side to side, sliding between two seats, and for a moment I worry she might vomit on herself, or me.

It’s as if she hears my thoughts, because she is suddenly glaring at me, two feet from my face. The book I’m not reading is the fencing in between, and I avert my eyes from hers to stare at the page.

"READING YOUR BOOK.
YOU FUCKING BITCH.
YOU. SLUT.
YOU STUPID. PIECE. OF SHIT."

No more slurring, no more muffled cries. She’s lucid, she’s angry, and she will not look away.

I realize that no one has ever said those things to me before. I realize that some people are spoken to like this all of the time. I feel unfairly privileged. I feel obligated to listen. I feel like I need to know how it feels to be treated this way. So instead of leaving I stay put, frozen in curiosity and horror.

If it were a man saying these things, I would stand up for myself. I might glare back and say, "LEAVE ME ALONE!" then stand and move to a different part of the train. But this is a sixty-year-old woman—how do I respond to harassment from an old lady who is drunk out of her mind? What is the point?

At the next stop, an elderly woman in business attire enters the train. She sees the woman with the cane straddling two seats and asks her, "Excuse me, may I sit there?"

Without missing a beat, and without taking her eyes off me, the woman with the cane yells at full volume:

"GET UP, YOU BITCH!"

I bolt. Clutching my book and bag, I weave my way out of sight and to the back of the teeming train. My neighbor keeps swiping on her phone, and thirty others avert their eyes.