“I never hit a girl, but I’d shake the shit out of you.” – Bittersweet Poetry by Kanye West
The above line played on my ipod as I arrived to Grand Central. Each time I’ve heard this line and changed the “but I’d” to “nor.” This is strange practice I developed as an adolescent when I heard lyrics I didn’t want to repeat or feared repeating them in front of my parents. I’d change niggas to brothas, you know the drill. It sort of provides a psychological space for me to relate to the sentiment of the artist, but put my own spin on it. Well, when I was revising Kanye’s lyric in my head this time something rung about the danger of the line. Earlier in the day I was talking to one of my best friends about another close friend who has anger issues, particularly towards women. I concluded the topic by telling friend, “I’m gonna have to ask my boy who is a domestic violence expert, I just don’t know.” My conclusion was much less a solution than a throw away, since I’d reached that same conclusion before but never followed through. How do we truly begin to break cycles of domestic violence? I’m not sure, and listening to Kanye didn’t move me closer to figuring that painful issue out.
As I arrived to my train platform I turned the lyric over and over in my mind and then suddenly I witnessed a man leap and nearly tackle an accompanying female onto the train track which was occupied by a trash train. I, nor the 30 some odd people on the platform, could seem to believe our eyes. We all froze in confusion. The offender then fell to the ground with the woman to hug her, almost as if to make sure she was alright. As we stood on the platform, none of us spoke, none of us voiced concern, none of us queried the woman still down, we all sat there paralyzed. When she stood up to all our looking eyes it was almost as if we diverted our eyes in unison. Almost like we were ashamed to be looking. I remained locked on the couple, but said nothing. Most of the rest of the platform turned their attention to the arriving train. Old school Chicago sociologists used to write about the malaise that befell city residents. An indifference to stimuli small and large, an even keelness that may be a necessary adaptation to living in a city of millions in such close proximity. In my time in NYC, I’ve joked about the arrival of this malaise with friends, but I fully saw the veil fall before me when I boarded the train with the other witnesses.
As I rode to the next stop, a million rationalizations flashed through my head for what I saw and justifications for my silence. I thought of the million conversations I’ve had about compromising my safety and being told not to do so. I thought, “maybe he has PTSD and when he heard the clang of trash bags being thrown on the train he had a flashback.” All sorts of far out things ran through my mind, still none of these things quailed my stomach.
As we arrived at the next stop I couldn’t take my/our inaction, so I decided to return to see if they were still there. I steeled myself for my return. I had no idea if they would still be there and if they were there what I would do or say. I ran across the platform to a train to reverse my trip. I returned to the platform at Grand Central to find them boarding the train into another car than the one that I was exiting. I hopped out and as they got on, she saw me. We made eye contact and I mouthed “are you okay?” While his back was turned she nodded her head and mouthed “yeah.”
This is no tale of heroism. In fact, I don’t even know what would have happened if she said “no” or anything else. In a way, I feel like the answer she provided was for both of our comforts. I know domestic violence is often a long process fraught with personal, financial, and social issues. The disconnection that I felt fall between her and I when I watched her get tackled is still disturbing me. It only reminds me of the conversations I’ve had with close friends, women who I consider sisters, that have suffered in both emotionally and physically abusive relationships. Facing oppression in a moment often makes a person feel powerless, sadly I felt that way tonight. This post has no solutions, no conclusion, it’s just a painful reflection on the world we live in and the one we must confront if we want to make it a better place to be for all.