I’ve been thinking about an incident lately. It must have been in 2006 or 2007. I still lived in the Washington, D.C. area. I was commuting home on the D.C. Metro at dusk.
At Takoma Station, I exited the train and entered the elevator with my folding bike, which was folded. About 10 other people loaded in, including two twin boys about 10 years old.
As the elevator descended, two men started arguing. One man — I’ll call him Mr. Chider — had gently chided the other about a breach of elevator etiquette: talking too loudly on his phone.
The other man — I’ll call him Mr. Myofb — told Mr. Chider to mind his own fucking business. Apparently they didn’t know each other.
It was a tense, claustrophobic, 15-second ride. Everyone else inside kept quiet.
The car stopped and the door opened. Those of us not involved in the escalating anger were relieved to get out of that box and exit into the long corridor leading to the parking lot.
Mr. Chider walked briskly down the corridor in the only direction available, not engaging. Mr. Myofb pursued him, followed by the twin boys. Apparently they were his sons.
“Come on!,” he taunted, like a cliche schoolyard bully. “What are you going to do about it, big mouth?” His words echoed in the tunnel.
At the opening of the corridor, everyone dispersed quickly. Mr. Myofb went running across the parking lot chasing after Mr. Chider. I stopped to unfold my bike and found myself alone with the twin boys.
They stood at the curb silently, not seeming particularly disoriented by the situation. Sort of how kids behave during a school fire drill. Stay put. Wait for instructions.
A dozen thoughts went through my mind. I imagined the kind of imprinting these boys were receiving on a regular basis.
I decided to say something. But what? Your father’s a jerk?
“Hey, boys?,” I said to get their attention. They looked at me in innocent silence.
“I just want you to know…” Deep breath. “That this is not normal. That is not how mature adults act. And you don’t have to be like that. Okay?”
“Okay,” they replied in unison.
I assessed that their dad would return soon, and I didn’t want to be around when he did.
Having planted that little seed, I pedaled away, and went back to minding my own fucking business.
They’d be in their early 20’s now, those boys. Maybe 23.
I still think about them; whether I did the right thing; whether I should have done more; whether that little seed I planted did anything at all.
They could even be fathers themselves now.