An Essay by Eileen Favorite
When he sits down beside me, I start to feel cramped, crowded. Our shoulders touch. My backpack is too heavy for my lap. I’ve overstuffed it: books, pencil case, computer, lunch, and there’s no space between my stomach, not an inch, and the seat in front of me. The el is moving, I’m reading about how Facebook knew that their platform could be used to coordinate fake hate rallies, or even terrorist attacks, but those possibilities were a necessary evil, you might say, a secondary concern to their vital mission to Connect. And so the Russians infected the 2016 election, and this man beside me, whom I watch from the corner of my eye, he looks like those men who 30 years ago made me sit through a striptease at an office going-away party. He has glasses, slick black hair, and he has absolutely nothing to do with making me sit through a woman undressing at a work affair, a woman with a boombox, a skinny woman in a boa, a blonde who cuffs my co-worker’s hands and sits down in them, and I’m acting cool, I’m twenty-two and I have nothing to do but fake like I’m OK with this, because what are you supposed to do at a work affair when the stripper struts in and it’s you and the 45-year-old mother of two, and six other gentlemen enjoying a Chinese dinner, and you’re supposed to look like you don’t care that she’s twitching and dancing, you’re not supposed to notice how the men are saving face, how they’re trying not to look aroused by anything but what feels like their curiosity about how you’re going to deal with this naked woman six inches from you, doing her boa dance, doing her thing. But now you’re on the el, 30 years later, and you suddenly feel, sitting next to this man who looks like the men who made you sit through the striptease, that you absolutely have to get out from under the backpack, because the man is too close and you’re too close to the window, Mark Zuckerberg blew it, and you try to breathe in deeply, convince yourself that you’re not trapped at all, no, this trapped feeling is an illusion, yogic breathing will keep you from throwing your arms in the air, shoving your backpack at the man, all you can do is lift the heavy bag off your lap a bit, which makes the man give you a look, you’re getting on his nerves with your fidgeting, you want to say, this is claustrophobia, sir, and Mark Zuckerberg isn’t helping, this is panic, this is a test, can you keep from screaming and pushing the lookalike out of your way, and keep inhaling and exhaling, the same breath that carried you through childbirth, no painkillers, that’s how tough you are, but wouldn’t it feel good to flail and scream, just shout, get me out of here! Just let your tongue loll and your eyes bug out like a full-on Medusa, but instead, the next stop arrives, and you say, ever so politely, Excuse me, I need to get out, and the man’s only too happy to let Nervous Nelly out, to stand and let you the fuck out. You squeeze past (can’t don’t touch him!) and dash out the door and into the February air, cold, hard, and dizzying, hard as a bottle of bubbly cracked against your skull.