On Going Up the Down Staircase

I run for thirteen blocks to the northern train entrance I don't typically use. It cuts down five blocks underground so it is an endless tunnel of smooth stone or marble or cement. It feels like it goes on forever and I am trying to catch my train. I am running in shoes not meant for this movement, I have my heavy laptop in my bag, I am clunky and awkward but I have to catch this train.

Finally I find a screen for departures but I can't stop running as I dart between businessmen with their slow-moving briefcases. Excuse me. They stare. Got somewhere to go? I find my train on the screen in the red lines, leaving in minutes. I see the track number. I think I did. I cannot stop running or turn back but I know I'll find another screen.

I run down the corridor until I locate the stairwell to the platform; on the platform I run all the way to the end; I exit up the ramp into Grand Central's lower level so I can run up the stairs to the main hall's platforms; I get to the entry gate; I run down to the train; I stop running finally and catch my breath and look at the people crowding onto the train about to leave. I have no mercy for the nearest person I ask about which train this is. The answer is not what I wanted to hear. Fuck. I start running again back into the main hall and across to the ramp leading downstairs to the lower level. But I check the time. The train is now departing and I am not on it.

Across from the Oyster Bar I lean against the wall of the wide ramp full of rush-hour commuters going in either direction. I close my eyes and try to steady my breathing. I am hot and flushed and overheated and feel as if I am about to collapse. Maybe my heart will cease first. I remain defeated against the wall, posted in exhaustion, and when I open my eyes to meet the eyes of staring strangers on their ways to their own trains, I begin to cry.

If anger could expel itself through my breath I would be light as a feather and happy as a clam. How did Mercury Retrograde, with its travel- and communication-heavy faux pas, pass me so recently without any of these kinds of disappointments? Is it that I was not prepared this time around? If only I had left five minutes earlier, if only I hadn't stopped to joke and chat on my way out, if only I had taken an extra second to confirm I was heading to the right platform. Defeated and helpless there is nothing I can do or could do and no one to blame but myself. The next train leaves in an hour. I wonder if I will continue to cry until then but in the meantime I feel as though my lungs will explode in dry strips of burning tissue. I feel like I cannot breathe. Do I want to die? I feel close to passing out.

Slowly I come down to a lull. The baby tires after not being rewarded for its cries.

When I open my eyes again, a woman is standing in front of me having materialized out of nowhere.
This ramp in Grand Central is wide with the flow of commuters consistently coming up and down, diners in and out of the Oyster Bar. Across from where I am standing, on the other side of my periphery from this woman, the Oyster Bar has a take-out window. I briefly wonder who uses the take-out window. But then I realize that I have stopped crying.

"Are you okay?" the woman asks me.
I nod barely, my head still leaning against the wall. I do not move.

"I want you to know that everything is going to be okay," the woman says.
I nod my head against the wall again.

"Is it okay if I pray for you?" the woman asks me.
I nod.

"No matter what you believe in, there is a power that is guiding you. It may not be a god but there is something out there bigger than you and it is going to make sure everything is going to be alright. It may not seem that way right now, but everything is going to be okay."

I start crying silently again as I stare at this woman, who looks to be in her thirties, is around 5'4" in her sneakers and is maybe heading to the gym.
Hot tears start flowing down my face and I say nothing.

"What's your name?" the woman asks me.
I cannot answer her with any words or gestures at this point. I cannot open my mouth because I am swallowing back the cries in my throat. The hot shrapnel of my lungs have spread to a tightening inside my skin, slippery on the outside only because of saline pouring steadily from my eyes.

She is patient while I struggle. I keep my gaze on her and my head against the wall and commuters stare at us as they pass up and down the ramp.
Finally I manage to say my name and it comes out broken unnaturally between the two syllables.

She tells me her name.
She offers me a hug and I refuse her, meekly.
I want her to hug me. I am not afraid of her, I am not feeling like this is weird, but I am feeling vulnerable to collapsing into the embrace of someone who cares enough to ask me without knowing me, are you okay?

"Everything is going to be better. I know it doesn't look that way right now," she repeats to me.

I continue silently streaming hot saline.

I say, "Thank you."
I mean it more than anything I have said this year so far.

Crying continues, my mouth a stretched tight line trying not to open.

When the woman leaves, my view opens up to more of the other passing people staring at me as they walk off screen-left and screen-right and up and down the ramp to and from their trains. All these passing lives with no access into my own but here these people are admiring the view of me bleeding and crying with my back against the wall and my face is stretched out wet and ugly and I am meeting every gaze I can.