Sometimes you just don't see it coming.
I was on the downtown 6 train, coming back from the Bronx, thinking of the most recent girl I'd successfully driven out of my life, Angela, and doing some creative mental math to figure out how substitute teaching could allow me to pay my Greenpoint rent without her, when it suddenly hit me. A sucker punch square in the mouth.
The guy came out of nowhere. By the time I knew what happened he already yanked my iPod away from me.
I stood there, stunned for a moment, my mouth filling with blood as I looked at him. A tooth came loose and I held it there in my mouth, in all the salty blood.
"What're you gonna do?" he said, raising a fist.
I could see he hadn't expected me to stay standing after a punch like that. This guy had no clue how many times I'd been hit before or that I'd never, ever been knocked down.
The other people on the train looked at their feet.
My heart hammered as adrenaline dumped into my veins.
"What?" he said. "Do something!" But his voice trembled. He hadn't planned on a fight.
I stepped forward and spit my mouthful of blood into his face. He cringed, wiping wildly to clear his eyes as he stepped back, cornering himself against the subway door. I hit him as hard as I could, knocking his head back hard against the subway doors. I yanked my iPod out of his hand and stepped back. He cursed at me, loud enough for the whole train to hear, but he was doubled over and grappling frantically with his injured nose. When the train screeched to a stop he jumped off in a hurry.
My loose tooth hung by a thread. I pried it free with my tongue and spit it out onto the subway floor with a fresh mouthful of blood.
The tooth fell with a clack, the root shockingly white in the dark red puddle. For a second I wanted to pick it up and take it with me, but I was embarrassed so I sat down and watched people grimace as they stepped over it to board the train.
A little girl with blue eyes stepped in the blood, her tiny pink sneakers leaving red tracks as she walked down to the far end of the train, her mom holding her hand.
My hands shook violently so I crossed my arms and held them tight to my sides. My tongue went into the empty spot where my tooth had been and I thought of Angela. Angela had blue eyes like that little girl with the bloody footprints. For a second I let myself wonder what life might have been like if I married Angela instead of driving her away, and if our baby would have had blue eyes like hers or brown eyes like mine. I didn't like wondering. It made me sick, or maybe it was just my injured mouth and all the adrenaline.
I dropped my head down between my knees and closed my eyes, swallowing mouthfuls of blood as the train rocked me back and forth.