I changed the keyboard on my iPhone to Korean. I wanted to understand her, understand what had happened. She was a quiet woman and her english was enough for most occasions, but not for this one. My coat had been damaged at the dry cleaners and she was trying so hard to tell me what went wrong. Her husband appeared, spitting words out, saying (I think) that the buckles were already damaged when I brought the coat in. I couldn't really understand him either, but with her angry husband there, she too began to bolster herself for a fight.

I told her I wasn't angry. I said I just wanted to understand what she was trying to say. 

"YOU PAY." he shouted. 
I ignored him. I no longer pay attention to people who yell at me. Ever. 
"I really just want to talk to you." I tell her. She nods. She looks at the counter. She begins to shake. 
"YOU PAY NOW." He grabs the coat off the counter hanger and slams it back on the cleaning line. 
"Please give me my coat and I am going to pay." I say this all to her. 

She nods. She shoos him away. For awhile we are alone and she gives me a markdown for the damage. Above the register there are two family photos. In one, she is wearing a fantastic fuchsia ball gown that is wide with taffeta. Her children are stylishly dressed in black behind her while the father stands off to the side while they all show their smiles. I handed her my iPhone, she began to type. The husband returns and found her with my iPhone and hits her shoulder hard. She doesn't react. He screams and hits her again, this time on the back. She is shaking harder...for the years of marriage and work and who knows what else...

She tells me she will replace the buckles by friday and she is breathing so lightly. I give her money and finally we look at each other. She looks so scared and so apologetic. When she hands me the change, I sneak $10 under the change and say "For you" and she nods a thank you. I wish I could give her more; something that would save her from him. 

He finally leaves the corner behind the line where he has been watching and listening. She takes my hand and looks at me and says she sorry. She is so sorry. So, so sorry. I kiss her hand. She has nothing to be sorry about. We step over to the rack and she promises me my coat by friday and takes my hand again..."No," I tell her, "it's okay. I understand. I understand you." And she squeezes my hand. 

"It feels like..." and she motions with her body in a small way to her chest. I know that feeling of intimidation. Of humility. Of being trapped. My situation was so much easier to leave than hers, but the mind control is the same. The adrenaline that courses through you makes you sick, and you learn to maintain yourself. I hug her. I hug her so tightly. I tell her she is okay, but then I think that her husband is actually right about me being a liar. I lie to her and she smiles the same pink taffeta picture smile. "I know. I know. I know." Is all I can say before she hugs me again, before I leave her there with him. 

Who knows why you see people crying on the subway. They're scared, they're angry, their heart broke for someone they felt close to for only 10 minutes. 

When you have experienced abuse and then you meet someone who is presently trapped inside it, what can you do? How can you help? 

I don't know. I still hear him, "You pay. You pay now!" 

She is the one who pays. I used to pay, but then I stopped. 
All I can do is understand it. Intimidation. Silence. Secrets. Suffering. 

She pays for everything. 



5/14/2013 07:18:24

This is a sad but all too familiar story. I empathize with the narrator as well as the woman. I think it is a heightened place of empowerment, when you are finally able to not answer or engage those who yell at you.

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