Desperation Station

By Teresa Ryan, student, Center for Distance Learning

April 5, 2011

It was a warm, sunny morning in June. I was waiting for the train – a habit I had grown accustomed to. At twenty-two, I was still afraid to drive for fear of crashing, so I stuck with mass transit. It was never much fun, especially when the clouds decided to empty their watery contents. Luckily, today, Mother Nature was on my side. It was about 7 o’clock in the morning and the schedule had my train due in at 7:10. As I waited, there was a crackling sound over the station loudspeaker. To my disappointment, a mechanical-sounding man announced that the 7:10 would be delayed about a half an hour due to some signal problem.

Oh, thank God, I get to hang around here longer, I sarcastically thought to myself. I decided to make my way over to an empty bench toward the end of the platform before it got filled up with other inconvenienced travelers.

Since I was on my way to work, an average law firm right outside of Queens; I thought it would be a good idea to let someone know I would be delayed. I fumbled for the cell phone in my new, extremely expensive, extremely unnecessary tote bag. I was only the receptionist at this firm, not a partner. As I smiled at my newest possession, I wondered where I got my nerve for a minute, and went on about my business.

I dialed Smith, Renetti and Schwartz and let them know I was running late. Luckily, I was the model employee, so my lateness was not a big deal. With that out of the way, I pulled out the newspaper. The headlines were the same, just a different day. Murder here, tragedy there, crisis everywhere. I did my usual flip-through scan and headed for the puzzle page. The jumbles were my favorite. The crossword was not bad either, but I was better at rearranging scrambled letters to make words that went into little circles and squares – an exceptional skill, really. I had just figured out the word /unload/ when I heard a man’s voice ask, “Do you mind if I sit here?”

With barely a look away from my very important task, I replied, “Sure, no problem.”

It was not until he planted himself next to me that I got a good look at the man behind the voice. He looked to be 30ish and had a handsome, tousled look to him. His sandy blonde hair was thick and unruly. His eyes were as chocolaty brown as a Hershey’s kiss and equally as enticing. He had slate blue scrubs on, which actually fit in with the rest of his appearance. I wondered if he worked in a hospital. Maybe he was an anesthesiologist or a plastic surgeon. Perhaps I would find out.

Being single was a kind of a drag, and I welcomed the opportunity to meet new people. I began the dance with a smile. I put my biggest, toothiest grin to work and went back to my puzzle, wondering if he would reciprocate.

“Pressure,” he blurted out. His voice was deep and warm.

“Excuse me?” I replied, batting my long eyelashes.

“The next one is /pressure/,” he answered, pointing to the paper in my lap. With a mischievous grin, he continued, “The jumbles. Now those are my favorite.”

“Oh…yeah. Mine too,” I giggled. Not too much though, I didn’t want to seem overly enthusiastic. After our brief dialogue, there was an awkward quiet hanging in the air. Am I supposed to ask if he wants to do the next one or something? Thankfully he broke the silence right after my anxious thought.

“I bet I can get the next one before you,” he dared. As he did, his smile claimed my attention. We locked eyes for a few seconds, and I felt an electricity pass between us.

“Oh, you think so? I guess it’s on then,” I counter-dared. I slid the paper over just a bit, just so there could be no accusations of unfair advantages.

My mind was working furiously trying to decipher the letters before my opponent did, when after just one minute he said, “Robert.”

“Um, there’s only one /R/,” I responded.

He chuckled and said, “No, that’s my name. My name is Robert.”

“Oh,” was the only thing I could come up with. I could feel my cheeks begin to blaze with embarrassment.

“My name is Janie. It’s nice to meet you.”

Our conversation tango went on for a good fifteen minutes or so with the bare necessities you discuss before getting into more personal waters. It started with our common bond as brainteaser nerds. We even shared a few casual memories of how we got hooked on the pastime. We talked about the day’s weather and that led to our appreciation of the pleasant, warm air we had enjoyed the last couple of weeks. Next we talked about our current surroundings: how the layout of the station was inconveniently spread out and the annoying fact that there was no coffee truck.

He had an easy way about him. The tone of his voice was almost soothing to me, and I found myself wishing the travel delay was longer.

After a brief pause, he asked, “So, are you on your way to work or school, Janie?”

“I’m headed to work. I work for a law firm in Garden City. How about you? On your way to work?” I responded, glancing at his scrub pants.

“No. I’m actually heading home. From St. Margaret’s Hospital,” he answered.

“Oh, long night, huh?” I asked, secretly excited that I was right about him working in a hospital. Maybe he was in pediatrics and loved kids.

“Yes, yes it was. Long and challenging,” was the response I got as he shifted his position on our wooden loveseat and crossed his legs. I thought I noticed a hint of sadness in his eyes, but figured I was reading too much into it. From his body language, though, he didn’t look like he really wanted to get into it.

“You must be eager to get home and relax,” I offered, trying to lighten the mood that had somehow instantly taken a wrong turn.

“I am,” was all I got from him.

Dead air.

I guessed I had ventured into waters he didn’t feel like exploring.

Finally, he came back to me. “You like your job, Janie?”

“I do, yeah. I’m very happy there,” I answered hesitantly, wondering why he would bring up the subject of work again when it obviously upset him once already.

“That’s good, that’s good,” he smiled. “It’s important to like where you’re at, to be happy.”

We were headed back in the right direction. I obviously misread his vibe. I accepted his invitation to talk about liking where you were at and said, “That is so true. Do you like it at Saint Margaret’s?”

“Well, not really. After last night, I won’t be going back,” he answered. This time he did not shift. He simply stared at his hands.

That was an unexpected answer, I thought to myself.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Do you have another job lined up or are you going to take some time off?”

He slowly lifted his gaze from his hands to my eyes. A strange kind of look had taken over his face. His smile was paired with a hint of defiance.

“I haven’t worked in years,” he chuckled at me.

I immediately wondered what the hell that meant. Wasn’t he on his way home from some sort of rounds at the hospital? “I’m sorry, what?” Fell out of my mouth.

He must have read the look of confusion on my face because he made an exaggerated surprise face and went on, “Oh, you thought I worked at St. Margaret’s, didn’t you?”

I had no response.

He continued without me, “I’m sorry, I didn’t make myself clearer, Janie. You see, I am – oops, I mean I was a six-year veteran in their psych ward.”

I still had no response.

Again, he continued, “I wasn’t happy there anymore. I was tired of the silly rules and restrictions. It was time for me to move on, ya know?” He nodded his head with that last sentence, wanting me to agree with his decision.

I remained an unchained captive who had lost the ability to speak.

He had begun wringing his hands together at this point and just kept on, “Two of the orderlies thought I should stay though. They tried to keep me from leaving. Unfortunately, they might not wake up.”

Where had my Doctor McDreamy gone?

After he finished his last admission, his body language changed again. That sadness in his eyes, that I thought I had imagined moments before, was back. He shifted back and forth and started biting his nails.

“You think I did the right thing, don’t you?” Robert asked in a frantic tone. It was as if he was a child now, ashamed of his behavior. “You said you agreed with me, that it’s important to be happy where you are.”

I nodded in agreement this time because I did not know what else to do. It was kind of an automatic reaction.

Another shift in his seat.

“Do you think I should go back, Janie? He began to rock slightly, back and forth. “Janie, should I go back and say I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.”

I looked around to see if anyone had been listening to our discussion. Unfortunately, the bench that I had picked was at the farthest end of the sizeable platform. I cursed myself for not wanting to be around the rest of the commuters. My racing mind thought, Do I tell him to go back? Do I get up and run? Start screaming? What if he catches me and tosses me on the tracks?

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get my body and mind communicating again. I thought I would have a better chance against this Robert, the frightened, doubtful one, than I would with the insolent one.

“Robert, I think that it would be a good idea to go back and apologize. I’m sure they would understand that you didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” I said, trying my best to sound supportive.

“You’re right. You’re right, Janie,” he whispered. He looked to the right and then to the left and then back at me. Our electricity was still there, only now it was replaced by fear. “I better go,” were the last words he said to me.

He got up and headed for the stairs. I was afraid that he would turn around, so I wanted to wait until I could not see him anymore before I ripped open my bag to find my phone.

Police…Saint Margaret’s…Police…Saint Margaret’s was the mantra I had lapping through my head.

He never looked back.

Teresa Ryan

Teresa Ryan

Other work by Ryan:
Second Chances