It had been a while since I’d seen the look.
He sat next to me on the Metro. I noticed that he reeked of alcohol. Other than that I didn’t pay him any attention, I was lost in my own world of thought. He was looking at my hands.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, calmly turning to look straight into his eyes. I assumed that he was going to hit on me and I knew that the best way to deflect the coming onslaught was by facing him straight-on.
“Do you have kids?”
“Yes,” I continued. I noticed that he was missing several of his back teeth as he talked. He was large, soft and pale, his head was shaven. He was not an attractive man, his blue eyes glassy, his face puffy.
“Do you?” I asked, suddenly curious about where this was going.
“I have two kids,” he told me. “5 and 4. And I’ve been married for six years. My wife has wanted a divorce since a month and a half after we were married. I’m texting with her right now.” I looked down at his hands and noticed that his nails were stubbed from persistent chewing.
I looked back at his face. That’s when I saw the look. As soon as he started talking about his wife, his face shifted. It was the – I’ll do anything to control her, why won’t she do what I want, I can’t deal with this anger – kind of look. It happens when the mind decides that object of its derision is no longer human but becomes prey. It’s hard to describe exactly what it looks like. The face turns hard, the mouth set and the jaw determined. It made my blood run cold.
“I’m very angry,” he continued. “I’ve been drinking, if you can’t tell. I need to talk to a female. I need the advice of a female. You can tell me to go to hell,” he paused, looking away. “I’m asking a strange female for advice,” he said softly to himself.
“I’ve got to get off at the next stop,” I told him. I really did.
“Oh,” he said, deflated and disappointed, as if I was the only thing in the world that could save him – and her. As if I had sage, magical words that could save them both from his anger.
“Sorry,” I added. “Good luck,” I said on my way out of the train.
“I’m going to need it,” he said, the look still there, taunting me, reminding me of days long ago when that same look bore down at me from a different set of eyes.
I knew that he was going to go home and let his fists do the talking. I wondered if she would survive this bout. I pictured two young children, hiding in the other room, holding each other for comfort, wondering if they would be next, steeling themselves – not knowing enough to wonder what it feels like to be safe.
I tried to shake him and his look. But I left wondering if there really was something I could have said or done – knowing full-well that there was not. I tried not to picture the scene that I knew was unfolding as he got home. Maybe she’d make it out alive. And maybe, she and the children would find a way to escape his anger. That was the best I could hope for – the three of them nameless and faceless in my mind.
As for him, I wondered what I would have said if I hadn’t gotten off the train when I did. What would my female words of advice have been? Chances are he was looking for empathy, sympathy or affirmation that he was in the right and she was in the wrong. He wanted me to assure him that he was the victim. Because once the anger took over, his belief in his own suffering was the fuel he needed to do what the anger wanted him to do.