Life Lessons on the 1 Train Reply

Jake sat in a dingy 1 train contemplating how he had let two high school years wilt away, never once bothering to be himself. The steady beat of the wheels rolling over the tracks roared in his ears. As the car swayed back and forth, his thoughts drifted to the first day back from spring break, earlier that week. He had entered the school and seen packs of girls moving through the halls, showing off their new tans. Guys leaned on lockers, making jokes and spinning basketballs on their fingers. Everyone’s heads turned towards him, the girls abandoned their quest for attention, and the boys stared at him with open mouths. He had dyed his hair green. He thought that by doing this he would make a statement and “be himself.” He hated the way he looked after he had morphed his once sandy brown hair into a mop of green grass. Although he had spent much of his time that week trying to change his hair back to normal, it still hadn’t worn off. People on the train were stealing glances at him too. But after that week at school, nothing could touch him. He was incapable of using his brain for anything other than replaying people’s reactions.
The sounds of the train wrapped their way around his mind as he tapped his feet. He was brought back to reality when the train stopped, the doors opened and the conductor obnoxiously announced that they had reached 116th street. He craned his neck to look out the door when a crazed middle aged woman came running towards the train, screaming for the doors to be held open. She was dragging along a young girl who had tight curly locks of blonde hair that cascaded over her shoulders. She didn’t seem phased by the woman’s loud behavior, showing no notice of the passengers staring at her through the window. She had obviously been through this before.
Just as the doors began to close, the woman reached the train and shoved the girl through, at the last possible moment. Jake glanced over at her, and she stared back. Through the window, he saw that the woman had already turned her back on the train. Chancing another look at the girl, he found she still hadn’t taken her eyes off him. He pretended he didn’t see her, and when that didn’t work, he said, “Can I help you?” in a way that he realized sounded offensive. He hadn’t meant to sound like that, the picture of the classic obnoxious teenager was painted in those four words. He wanted to take it back somehow, to say something that would make him sound like “Jake”, but he realized that the girl hadn’t noticed the tone in his voice. She sat down next to him and when she looked at Jake again, he smiled. Seeing his smile, her face lit up, and she grinned back.
“What’s you’re name?” she asked apprehensively.
“Jake, yours?”
“Jake,” she murmured, lost in thought. “My brother’s name was Jake. But he’s gone now.”
“Where did he go?”
She looked up. “Heaven, I think.”
Jake opened his mouth, searching for the right words to say. Her life seemed like a disaster. He shouldn’t have to deal with this. But then again, she shouldn’t either.
“You don’t have to say anything,” she said. “Most people don’t, except to ask how old he was when it happened. 18.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jake said. He meant it, and he felt like she knew that.
“Me too. So, what’s up with your hair? Is that its natural color?” She asked.
Jake laughed. “No, it’s naturally brown, but I dyed it.”
She gasped saying, “You must have looked so good with brown hair!”
“Yeah, well I definitely looked better than this. I don’t really know why I did it; the reasons seemed to make so much more sense before the dye kicked in.”
“What were your reasons then?” she said.
“I thought that by dying it green I would be making a statement, setting myself apart from everyone else in my school,” he said. “I wanted to be different, I guess.”
He hated having to explain this to a girl whose life seemed so much deeper than his.
“But it’s only your hair that’s different now, right? Nothing else is different.”
“Well, yeah. That’s why this didn’t make sense after all.”
She sighed, standing up. “Let me give you some advice,” she said. “If you wanna be different, just act like you. That usually ends up being really different from everyone else. Anyway, this is my stop. I’ll see ya around. It’ll probably be easy to spot you if you’re hair is still green.” She stepped off the train as soon as the doors opened.
He hated to admit it to himself, but it hurt to see her go. She was right — he should have just decided to be himself from the start. He had already wasted half of his high school career following the crowd. Finally, he would start being himself.

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