“You’re pushing up against me,” said a voice two passengers in front of me during my commute home on the Red Line yesterday. I looked up to see a woman wearing headphones whose head was turned toward the rider in front of me but who was not looking at him as she added, “And it’s pissing me off.”

The train car was packed so that everybody was pushing (and pushed) against everyone else. The winter Red Line rush hour commute is an uncomfortable pressure cooker of humanity in bulky coats and backpacks, and it’s amazing to me that there aren’t fights on it every day. Mostly people handle themselves quietly and with the occasional apology for the stepped-on foot or the brushed-against arm.

But one shudders to imagine the ways ill-intentioned people abuse such forced proximity to other humans. Surely women bear the worst of that.

I studied the man who had been addressed. He didn’t react to the accusation. He wasn’t wearing headphones, so he surely heard her, but he stared straight ahead. I hadn’t seen him do anything in appropriate, but how could I? He looked really young, and I was grateful for whatever it was (maturity? Shame?) that prevented him from answering his accuser in the moment.

But I noticed how tightly he was gripping the hand strap–too tightly, like way more tightly than a person would need to for stability. His fingers were turning bright pink. It looked like a body’s worth of rage all concentrated in five fingers. I held my breath to the next stop and fled the car before the doors were fully opened.

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