By: Gabriela Yareliz
I was late. If you know me, you know I hate being late. I am never late, so I was also mad. I pulled up my tights a little too hard while exhaling loudly toward no one in particular and slipped on my ribbed black dress. Boots or loafers? I didn’t know or care. I chose the loafers. I couldn’t understand how I was late, but I was going to miss my train. It’s the last train I can take to still be on time. The 8:13 train. I had eaten breakfast and read my Bible and prayed for a bit. I stretched a little to avoid cramps. I made sure to pack my lunch. I threw my umbrella in the paper bag because it was cloudy (and I was sure Alexa was right this time– it was going to rain). I slung my keys into my left hand, locked the door and ran down the stairwell like that rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. I’m late!
The sky got darker, and I walked past a fast-food place where there was a fat pigeon sitting like a little king in one of the letters of the sign. How cute! I thought. I was going to stop and take a photo, but screw it, I was already late, so I ran past it toward the train stairs that take you underground.
At the stairs, I pulled out my phone to have my wallet ready to be scanned at the turnstile. I use my hips to push through the turnstile, lifting my paper lunch bag. As I go down another set of stairs taking me deeper into the underground belly of the subway system, I see the crowd of people. Yep. I am on the 8:30 train. Damn, I think to myself. My mind is racing, thinking of how I can get on an express train up ahead. I try to breathe to calm myself. I pull out my Kindle and start reading from it to distract myself.
It was April 12, Tuesday. I was on my way to the office that morning. I lucked out because I had been in court all day Monday. Another colleague was covering in-court appearances. You will get there when you get there, I told myself trying to convince myself that I was cool. Oh so cool.
The train pulled up, and I got lucky. I scooched into a small spot by the rail. At least I got a seat, I thought. Always a plus when you have period heaviness and pain. Thank you, Lord, I thought.
When you commute, you sort of see the same people around you on your usual train. I looked around and didn’t recognize anyone really. I continued reading. A few stops down, and we were stuck in a dark tunnel. The conductor apologized for “any inconvenience.” Ha, I thought. These people are going to make me even more late. I am visibly annoyed. I text my dad and wish him a good morning and tell him I am currently stuck underground. My dad is very punctual, so he gets my agitation. In a few moments, we start moving again. I start to ease back into my seat.
We stopped again, and this time, we are there for a while. The doors are closed. I get nervous when I feel trapped. The conductor tells us that there is now an investigation up ahead, and we have to stay put. Great, I thought. Someone tried to jump onto the tracks or something. God only knows.
I am reading my Lisa Whittle book. The last thing I read is at the top of the page. It reads, “I am safe with Jesus.” I stop reading and look up when I see police officers running down the train platform (the train doors are still closed). I slap my Kindle shut. This is not the typical run-of-the-mill investigation I feel. I put away my Kindle and pull out my work phone. I tell folks I am running late due to train delays.
There is smoke. “There is a fire up ahead,” the conductor says. A fire? I think. Oh no, probably some piece of trash or debris, I think to myself, rolling my eyes at whatever idiot is causing this delay.
I am nervous after seeing the police run toward the tunnel. I text my fiancé:
“Stuck at 45th Street. There is a fire in Sunset Park and an investigation at 36th Street. No power. We are stuck here. If more time passes and they open the doors, I may turn around and go back home. Waiting to see how this plays out.”
“At least I have signal,” I text minutes later.
“WE ARE NOT MOVING. PLEASE FIND ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION,” I hear over the loudspeaker. “THERE ARE MULTIPLE INJURIES AT 36th STREET” (the next station up). “WE HAVE NO POWER,” the conductor states. I can hear the alarm in his voice. I clutch my bags closer to my chest and almost start to stand up. The train doors open, and I run out with the floods of people who start flocking toward the stairs. There is a weird haze in the air that adds to the confusion. Old ladies are complaining in Spanish that they can’t get to 36th Street. No one knows what is happening.
As I am going up the stairs, I am texting my fiancé and emailing my mom at her work email to tell her what is happening. What happened at the next station is still unclear. The masses of people walk out and of course there is no other transport. Some folks gather and call family members, others look at their Uber app and realize that won’t be helpful. People just line the avenue. Firetrucks are rushing past us, police, ambulances, a tank looking vehicle that has NYPD Emergency Unit splayed across the side of it drives like wild past me. It’s pouring rain. I struggle to open my umbrella and stand there for a minute. I walk a bit. A school guard looks at me sympathetically. “You just got out of the train, sweetie?” she asks me. I nod, still looking around at all the people emerging from underground. “There was a shooting.”
“A what?!” I ask. She nods. I stand under the covering and pull up Citizen app on my phone. It reads, “Five People Shot at Train Station Undetonated Devices Located.” I shiver. I email this to my mom, and she calls me. I start spilling what I know, which is nothing, to her in an erratic and emotional fashion. I can’t remember what I said. I just know I was shaking and wet.
On a typical morning, I am at the station where the shooting happened, at the exact time the shooting happened. I am usually crossing the platform from my slow-as-hell train to the express train to another station where I make another switch. Had I been on time, I would have been there.
We later found out more. More people had been shot. Smoke bombs had been released. A manhunt began. I walked from 45th Street more than 50 blocks, home. I walked in the rain with my broken umbrella, shaken up. Some blocks, I felt disoriented. I tried to get away from the constant traffic and sirens. Some blocks, I just sobbed. I cried for my fellow commuters who had been hurt. I cried with anger at myself for my stupidity. I was so angry that morning because I was late, yet little did I know that had I been on time, I would have been in the middle of the insanity and crisis. Somehow, I was spared from that madness.
That morning, I was so sure of where I would be, when, and all I would do. Silly, right? The day and week, to be honest, ended up being so different from what I had envisioned on Monday. As I wandered through Sunset Park with a scab starting to form where my ankle met my loafer, I saw a man leaving his apartment. He reached the gate and stopped. He then crossed himself, as Catholics do. He bowed his head for a moment, and then opened the gate, ready to face his day. He has no idea what he is about to see out there, I think to myself. But he is ready.
I got home soaked by the slanted rain and my own menstrual cycle that had managed to escape its confines. Maybe it was the stress from the morning. Weirdly, I didn’t care. I stripped off my dress and tights and showered quickly. This would have upset me on another day, but that day, I was just grateful I wasn’t shot. Perspective does that to us.
Tuesday reminded me of God’s infinite wisdom and protection in spite of the evil that surrounds us, continually. God is behind the scenes when all is chaos, trying to guide our paths. He is also in the midst of the scene. He is everywhere. He is accessible. He is found when we seek Him. He listens. I was humbled. On most days, I do the impossible to get somewhere. I am pushy and stubborn. That day, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. And I just wandered back home like a zombie.
Later that day, I reopened my Kindle and saw the last line I had read. “I am safe with Jesus.” I got a chill up my spine. No matter what happens, I know this to be true. I am His and He is mine.