We thought we were invincible…
On a warm day in October of 1996- my 16th birthday, coincidentally- two of my friends and I decided to take the train to Flushing after school, hang out for a little, and then head home. This was not an unusual occurrence.
On our way back, we hopped onto the 7 train like always- there’s only one train that goes into Flushing, you know- and discovered that not the very last car, but the 2nd to last car, had no one in it. The last car held a scattered group of people, among them a cop who stood by the door.
We entered the empty car, talking loudly and deciding it was so cool that we had an entire car to ourselves.
I was wearing a long black skirt, a Nautica fleece that had been an early birthday present, and I don’t know what else. I carried my new North Face bookbag (also an early birthday present)- they were just starting to become popular- and a few shopping bags of gifts that had been given to me through the course of the day. The three of us sat down, still chattering loudly, and I dropped the bags at our feet. I held my bookbag in my lap, but I recall distinctly that I had not looped an arm through a strap, as I usually did, as my parents told me to do, in order to prevent someone from “running off with your bag.” I guess they thought someone would snatch it and run away.
A few stops later, the doors between the cars opened, and 6 tall, young black men entered the car. I didn’t pay them any attention until one swooped down and took my bookbag.
I mentally retreated. I became a third party observer; this wasn’t really happening to me.
“Can I please have that back?” the girl said. The man ignored her and dug through her bookbag. “What is he doing,” she wondered. She was dimly aware that she felt as though this was a prank, he would soon stop his actions.
In her pocket, she felt for her beeper. A new purchase, she considered it a prized possession, her first “large” buy with the money from her first job. She watched as he took out her loose papers, her crappy binder. Her stuff spread across the bench of the car. He withdrew a few crumpled dollar bills, and dismissed them easily, while another member of his party came in laughing, and grabbed the bills. $2. He continued to empty the pockets, while she pleaded with him to give her stuff back. He removed her friend’s Joe Boxer pocket watch, and she broke into a cold sweat. Would either of them recognize that the watch was easily $60, money she didn’t have, for a watch that wasn’t hers?
But they passed on over it. She breathed a little sigh of relief, and gripped the pager in her pocket a little tighter. Her wallet was in her other pocket; would they ask her for it? They seemed wary of touching her.
Meanwhile, the guy who had taken the $2 from the pile of junk amassing on the seat was digging through her shopping bags, laughing with glee. “Please,” she said. “It’s my birthday.” He stopped going through one of the smaller bags; a gift from her friend, Shirley. “Aww, have a lollipop,” he offered. She mutely put out her hand and took the lollipop, noting dully that it was a lollipop from the same bag he was going through. He took the other candy from the bag.
In the very perimeter of her vision, she noted- again from a very cold distance, remotely, without feeling anything good or bad about this- her two friends were dealing with the other guys. 2 men surrounded each; she was very dimly aware that her shorter friend was pleading to have his wallet back. “It’s my girlfriend’s. Take the cash, but it’s not my wallet,” he said. His words seemed to work; one man said to the other, “Aw, come on man, what do you want with a pink plastic wallet?” Her friend received his wallet back.
At the other end of the car, her other friend had opened his bag- a bag they did not seem to be interested in- and was handing over anything they asked for. “Oh,” he said, surprised they knew the value of the 2 scientific calculators in his possession. Calculators that cost upwards of $50 each.
Finally, it was over, almost as soon as it had begun, though it felt like eternity to the 3 victims.
The 6 men got off the train, laughing still, and the 3 sat in shock. They called the police at the next stop, but they never recovered their stolen items, nor their sense of invicibility. The innocence, the security they felt in travelling paths known to them, was gone forever.
originally written & posted September 30, 2005
This is actually a true story. The above story took place around 7 pm, while it was still light out. Ironically or coincidentally, I currently travel the same path on my way home from school around 10:30 at night.
I no longer sit in empty cars.