It took place early this morning on the way to my real job. I was getting off of the train with the rest of the zombies, sheepishly plodding along the crowded platform in the thick sea of bulky winter coats and funny hats. As miserable as the cattle line appears, there is something slightly therapeutic about the monotony of it all. Walking along that train platform, making my way up toward the street is very familiar. The path is predictable. It’s all muscle memory for me at this point, like a good golf swing. Most of the time I have my ipod on, dictating a mood inspiration to my tired brain. At that hour, I need all the help I can get. One of the things I try to avoid at all costs is eye contact with another human being. You don’t want to look at anybody the wrong way, let alone start a conversation. Keep to yourself, stare straight ahead and keep walking. But sometimes shit happens. There are forces in this universe that you can’t control, unpredictable occurrences that one does not have the ability to foresee. I don’t remember much of the happening but I do remember feeling as if I were outside of my body, hovering above the scene, watching it all unfold in slow motion.
It must have happened when I reached into my pockets to retrieve my gloves. I always put my gloves on before I get to the street. It’s like clockwork. I do this for two reasons. 1) So I don’t have to touch anything skeevy on the subway with my bare hands. 2) Because it’s freezing outside and I want to give my hands a few minutes to warm up before they hit the cold air. The only difference today was that I hadn’t worn this particular jacket since I was alone for the weekend with my kids.
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I must have forgotten to clean out my pockets. Whatever the circumstances, it was out of my hands so to speak. As I reached into my pockets, I felt something tangled in my left glove. I immediately recognized the shape, texture and weight of the item. I didn’t even need to look at it. Damn it! How could I have been so careless? There are no second chances on the platform! There are no small mistakes out on the front lines! Before I could grasp at the falling object, it fell away from me and disappeared back into the crowd. Shit! Keep moving! Don’t look back. You know the rules. No eye contact. Face forward. Let it go. It’s gone. There’s nothing you can do now… But my kid will be crushed. She’s young. She doesn’t know heartache like this. She’s tough. She’ll get through this. You’ll think of something. Then all of a sudden, I heard the Seven Dreaded Words that no man ever expects to hear in his lifetime. The words that some have said turn even the strongest of men into weeping shadows of their former selves. The words pierced through me like one thousand needles in my belly.
“HEY BUDDY! YOU DROPPED YOUR PRINCESS DOLL!”
I started to push my way through the crowd. Weaving in and out of bodies. More voices calling after me.
“HEY GRAB THAT GUY. HE DROPPED HIS PRINCESS DOLL!”
Faster and faster I raced. Making my way towards the stairs. Eyes focused directly in front of me. Looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. I felt them gaining on me. Zombies shuffling and wailing right behind me.
“SOMEONE TELL THAT GUY HE DROPPED HIS PRINCESS DOLL!!!”
Running as fast as I can. Cutting and dodging. I can see my opening. Daylight! I must take a different path. They’ll never catch me now. I mustn’t slow down.
“HEY BUDDY… YOU DROPPED… YOUR… PRINCESS… DOLL…”
I’m safe for now. I’ll just blend in. No one will remember the faceless man with the black gloves. I never looked back. I kept moving. I followed the rules. They will only remember the princess doll, lost forever, unclaimed, abandoned.
I will find another princess doll. For it was not one of a kind. I will bury this encounter deep within the darkest corners of my mind. My daughter will never know the tale of the faceless man with the black gloves. She would never understand the truth. She is too young to comprehend the rules. She will only know of a Daddy who found her lost princess doll in his pocket and insured it’s safe return home to her tiny innocent hands.
In this tired city filled with throngs of shouting zombies, one faceless man with black gloves will never look back and will always remain Out-Numbered…