What Was I Doing

by | Jul 4, 2011 | 2 comments

In December of 2002, while we were still dating, you were attacked and stabbed in the subway of Washington Heights after dropping me off on 181st Street.

I wrote an essay about the stabbing and the time we shared together in the ER that night in graduate school.  In it, I imagine what I was doing while you were being so maliciously attacked.

Dan left to catch the subway back down to his apartment on 125th Street and I got ready for bed.  

            I must have been flossing between each tooth while he was walking back up the hill to the subway stop.  Rinsing with mouthwash while he descended the long escalators to the empty platform.  Washing my face while the first guy spit on him?  Pulling down my blinds to block out the bright lights of the George Washington Bridge, climbing into bed with my cell phone next to my pillow on vibrate, setting my alarm while the five other guys appeared and surrounded him on the empty subway platform.  Under the comforter now, soft down around me, lights off, as they pinned him against the wall and punched him with their fists.  Silence in my bedroom, hazy thoughts fading into drowsiness.  Closing my eyes, praying for his safe trip home, for the trains to come fast as I always did, while the knife was going in him. 
            The phone rang.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the hospital, but don’t worry.” 
“What?  What happened?”
“Bunch of guys attacked me while I was waiting for the train.  I got stabbed in the chest.  But don’t worry, go back to sleep ok?”

And now I have similar thoughts though I’ve never really follow them because they are too difficult.  The outcome this time was already sealed by the time I got that phone call.  This time I heard someone else’s voice- not yours.  Because of the time difference in Europe and because I don’t even know when you suffered- only when you were “found”, it’s hard to tell what I was doing.   I do know that the night before, while you were sleeping – I was feeling a strange ache for you- more than usual- that caused me to write a short email, “Love you.  Missing you tonight.”  And then, while I was sleeping, you were reading that email the next morning at your hotel.  You didn’t get a chance to write back.  
Most likely, I was sleeping while this befell you.  Maybe I was feeding Audrey breakfast, or reading her a book.  Maybe we were getting into our bathing suits so we could go to the pool at our building.  While you struggled.  What was I doing?  Was I smiling or singing or eating or swaying with your little girl?  Was I silent or speaking or pensive or busy?  Was I laying in our bed holding our girl after she woke up calling for me or was I still asleep with my eyes closed, breathing deeply under my blanket, while your life left your body.


July 4, 2011


  1. Brooke Simmons

    Thinking of you as a year draws near. I am so very sorry for your pain, and our connection.

  2. Anne D

    Isn't it strange how these horrible, momentous losses can occur while we are going about our homely chores, oblivious? It makes me think of Auden's incredible poem:

    Musée des Beaux Arts

    About suffering they were never wrong,
    The Old Masters: how well they understood
    Its human position; how it takes place
    While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
    How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
    For the miraculous birth, there always must be
    Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
    On a pond at the edge of the wood:
    They never forgot
    That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
    Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
    Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
    Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

    In Brueghel's Icarus for instance: how everything turns away
    Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
    Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
    But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
    As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
    Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
    Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
    Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


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