The Incredibly Sad Thing I Saw on the Train

A lot of crazy stuff happens on New York City subways. I’ve seen plenty of bad behavior during my commutes, and these days I’m rarely shocked when someone does something gross or rude. But earlier this winter, I witnessed something that took even jaded old me by surprise.

The weather was nasty, and I’d had kind of a rough week. I was in that fragile emotional state that can make any outing seem like a full-on sensory assault, but I had a meeting in Manhattan that I couldn’t skip. So I forced myself out the door and onto the train. Of course there were no seats open, so I leaned sulkily against the doors.

After a few minutes, I noticed that the guy sitting to my left had started typing on his iPhone. I am nothing if not nosy so I perked up a little and tilted ever so slightly to get an over-the-shoulder view. What first fascinated me was the incredible speed with which he was tapping out text. By the time I got a look at his screen, he’d already laid down one long paragraph and was almost through a second. I was a little impressed, since it’s all I can do to write a few typo-ridden lines on my phone.

He was a typical-looking businessman in his early 40s, and I assumed he was writing some boring work email. That is until I was able to focus my bleary eyes enough to read the tiny words on his screen. As I scanned the first paragraph, it became clear that he was in fact writing to his wife. He was talking about how hard they’d worked on their marriage. Hard, but not hard enough, I guess, because in the second paragraph he got into how he thought they both deserved more. Oh yeah! I’d hit the eavesdropper’s jackpot!

My head flooded with questions. Why was he summing up all their problems in an email? Had they just had a fight and this was his apology? Or maybe this was some kind of therapeutic exercise? And why was it so urgent a message that it needed to be hurriedly written during his commute?

I pondered all this while he typed on. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but his general tone was slightly defensive without being totally dickish. After finishing a third paragraph about not being happy with how things were between them, he stopped for a second. I thought maybe he’d said his piece. But no, his thumbs clicked again as he poured out a final paragraph that wrapped up with, “I want a divorce.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up…you want whaaaaaaattttttttttt!?!?!? Even with the litany of complaints that he’d just laid out, I honestly had not seen this one coming!

Now, let me say here that this guy may very well have been right. Maybe his marriage was FUBAR. Somebody has to be the one to bring up the D word; so it’s not that I reflexively think that any guy who asks for a divorce is an asshole. But you know who is an asshole? A GUY WHO ASKS FOR A DIVORCE IN AN EMAIL THAT HE WRITES ON HIS PHONE WHILE RIDING THE SUBWAY! Come on, man. You have the thing right there in your hand: call her! Or better yet meet up and have an actual face-to-face conversation.

He finished typing the email just as we arrived at the edge of Brooklyn. Perfect timing. The train was heading out onto the bridge — the only time during the ride that cell service is available — and as soon as we hit daylight his finger went for the send button. I wanted so badly to reach out and stop him, but obviously I did nothing.

Here’s what happened next: the iPhone did that little filling bar thing it does when it’s sending, but then miraculously an error message popped up: “Cannot activate network. Unable to send.” Phew, I thought, he’s been spared! He’ll see that it’s nuts to send this email and do the right thing. But no. He hit send again. And again the phone could not complete his request. This hit-send-get-error-message sequence happened at least three more times. I shit you not. It was like the phone was actively trying to protect him, but he was too stupid to take its advice.

Finally, on like the sixth try, the phone gave in and the message went through. And with that done, I thought maybe he’d take a minute of contemplative silence or maybe he’d even break out sobbing with grief. Umm, no. Instead, he clicked out of his email and immediately started playing Angry Birds.

While he was busy playing his game, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling as self-indulgently horrible as I had been just 15 minutes earlier. As always, New York knew just how to cheer me up. This little glimpse into someone else’s crappy life had reminded me of an important fact: it could be worse. Whatever my problems, at least I’m not married to this douchebag.

That uplift didn’t last, however, because I got to thinking about the poor lady who actually was married to this douchebag. For some reason, I pictured her as an executive who sat in a corner office, illuminated by sunlight that flooded in through floor-to-ceiling windows. Part of me wanted to believe that she was the kind of tough, capable woman who would take this email in stride — even seeing it as a relief because, really, after a show like that who would want to stay married to this guy? But the rest of me knew that there was no kind of person whose day, or even life, would not be ruined by this message.

We eventually arrived at my station, and I walked off the train like nothing had happened. But all through my meeting, I couldn’t stop imagining the moment when his wife discovered the little bomb in her inbox. I pictured her clicking, unsuspecting, on the message. I saw her face slowly sink as she read through each paragraph. And then, after she got all the way down to the bottom and was totally undone, I felt the sting of her eyes settling on that final, ugly line:

“Sent from my iPhone”