1. Is this your deepest desire?
I wish my dreams were that simple. Everything feels so out of reach, like each day I’m striving towards a complex goal I barely understand and most certainly can’t achieve. My mind is constantly confused by what would make me happiest. The soup or salad, the city or the suburbs, a new job or grad school. For you, is the answer so obvious? After all, I’m right here. And so is my mouth.
2. Why me?
I’m a simple woman. A simple woman who both enjoys and detests the anonymity of the city. I’m on the metro for the same reason that you are, to get from one place to another. I am so usual that if you looked around the train quickly enough you might not even see me. Still, there must be a reason why you’re standing mere inches away from me, looking down at me like God looking down upon his creation. I may be the only woman on this train, and you may be the only man on this train wearing flip flops with socks, but have we been brought together for something special?
3. What will happen if I smile?
Decisions have always terrified me. The direction of your life can be turned around from a single word. If something so tiny has such a large effect, there is no way to be in control. The truth is that our future rests on the random; on how heavy we breathe, whether we take the bus or call a cab. This situation is no different. My smile could end with a train collision, my refusal could save hundreds of lives. I can’t read the future, but I can read the words on your shirt that say “Bearded for her pleasure.”
4. Do you actually want me to be happy?
Sometimes I don’t think I deserve happiness. I’ve been given so much: financial security, a loving family, good health. And maybe because of all this genuine happiness is just out of my reach. I will never be as good as I should be given my circumstances and thus will always be unsatisfied. But you, subway stranger spitting into a Dunkin’ Donuts cup, want more for me. You see that I’m a woman who is sabotaging her true potential, her potential for happiness.
5. Is there more for me out there?
The smile could just be the beginning. I would skip off the train at my station, do a cartwheel over the turnstile, and dance my way to the row house that I share with three people I met on Craigslist. Once home I would immediately be struck with the creative genius I’ve been waiting for. I would sit down on my bed that doubles as a kitchen table and write my magnum opus. Every fear I had would be gone, every bit of self-doubt a part of history. Without these obstacles there would be nothing to hold me back, just like there was nothing holding back the artist who tattooed the eagle wearing a Confederate flag cape on your right bicep.
6. Did my mom put you up to this?
Of all the people in the world, my mother believes in me the most. She doesn’t see my goals as aspirations but as certainties that will come with time. I only wish I was as confident about myself as she is about me. I’m not sure how she found your contact information, but she’s sneaky and well-informed about public transportation. Maybe she Googled “Nazis who take the Green line.” I’m going to text her about it once I have service.
7. Will you think about me the rest of your day as I’ll think about you?
When you walk off the train, I’m sure you’ll find another mousy woman whose teeth you’ll ask to see. For me, you’ll always be Metro Guy, the one who wanted me to strive for happiness, to let myself smile. Maybe after our interaction I will follow my dreams, choose both the soup and the salad. Perhaps I’ll list you in the acknowledgements of my first book, or name my son after you. This really feels like a brand new start for me. My future is begging me to dive in. And I will dive in, Metro Guy, once you take your hand off my shoulder and let me off this train.