This story is called “Die Another Day,” and justifiably so:
A woman, crouched down, is at the very edge of the platform. Her toes are over the edge and she has her head buried in her hands. I’m afraid that calling out to her will startle her and she might fall, so I stand just beyond armslength away and desperately hope that she’ll look up at some point before I hear the sound of a train. She glances to the side just long enough that I’m able to make eye contact with her. I ask if she’s okay. She doesn’t respond, just shakes her head. “If you’re not feeling well, it’s dangerous to be that close to the edge,” I say. She shakes her head again. Her face is red — so red — like she’s burning up. I ask if she’s sick; she says she has a fever. When I offer her an Advil, she looks right at me and says “It’s not that kind of fever.”
I just know in my heart, immediately, that she has AIDS. I glance up at the clock. Due to the flood the trains are running less frequently and there isn’t one due for 4 minutes. I ask her “Is it okay if I touch you? Can I help you move back?” “No,” she says. I crouch down beside her, although not as close to the edge and still just beyond armslength away as I can’t gauge her mental state. “Why are you here?” I ask. She says it doesn’t matter. She has a fever all the time and it doesn’t matter. Over and over again, it doesn’t matter it doesn’t matter. I tell her that’s not true. That’s not true at all. “It matters to me. You matter to me.” She looks a bit spaced out and I’m scared she’s going to fall forward. I want to take her hand but I know that if that spaced-out look is her experiencing psychosis, I could be putting myself in danger of being pulled onto the tracks if she jumps. I look at the clock — 3 minutes.
In the late 1980s, when I was wrestling with the question of whether it wouldn’t be easier just to Get It Over With rather than continue to drag on in a state of severe emotional damage, I said that over and over again: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” Seeing it again here serves as a double shock to the system, reminding me of where I once was, and of the fact that others are finding it just as tough going through those same suburbs of Hell.
Disclosure: The author and I go back about fifteen years, to when she was a budding musician and I was a babbling idiot on Usenet.