Only a Man’s Life: True Story of a Hero

There is a man lying on the train tracks, unconscious and bloody. Everyone is looking on with panic. They do not know what to do. They know that no one will jump in.

Every moment feels like an eternity, and by now the train must be seconds away. On some level, they feel as though the man is already dead. Jumping in is a decision that can easily cost them their lives.

A decision this big cannot possibly be made in a second.

If only they had more time, maybe then they will jump.

They have always had fantasies and dreams in which they are heroes. But, this is death.

There will be no “thank you.”

No key to the city.

No parade.

Jumping in is suicide.

The potential of death is a paralytic. They stand there and watch.

They scream.

They cry.

Perhaps the cries will wake him.

New York is the safest big city in the world. The NYPD patrols every corner of Manhattan and you won’t walk two blocks without seeing a police officer looking out for you. But not every hero has a uniform.

We were in Upper West Side and wanted to get back downtown. After a stop for a couple of “Mister Softee” ice cream cones, my friend Jay and I walked through the turnstiles at 86th Street and headed to our platform.

We were having a few laughs when we heard a commotion. There was a crowd of people.

They were arguing, maybe.

They all stared down at the train tracks. I saw him before Jay. I saw the heavy-set man. I saw the blood on the cold steel rails. The rails – a reminder that there is a gigantic, merciless metal beast approaching. I hesitated. He’s probably dead.

Jay dropped his ice cream as he ran to the edge of the platform and jumped onto the rails.

He didn’t check if there was a train approaching. Check, God damn it, check.

He grasped the unconscious body by the arms and dragged him closer to the platform. It took precious seconds. The man was heavy. Jay tried to lift him up, but the man was much too big. The screams got louder as the crowd noticed that Jay couldn’t get him up alone.

What did our screams mean, I wonder. Was it the fear of seeing two men die? Or was it the disgust at our own cowardice?

I rushed to the edge of the platform and called for Jay to try to lift him just enough for me to reach. As he struggled to do this, I yelled for someone to help get him over the edge. As Jay used all the strength he had to get the man within my reach, a woman came to my side and stretched her hand to Jay, as if to let him know that he was close. Finally, I grabbed the man’s left shoulder, and the woman grabbed his right. He was too heavy to pull, so Jay pushed upward on the man’s legs. Blood dripped from the man’s head and onto our hands and Jay was covered in blood. With one final grunt, he pushed the man until most of his torso was on the platform. The woman and I pulled the man up until he was out of immediate danger. I fell on my back from the sudden relief of the weight.

As I caught my breath I saw my friend try to climb up, but he was so exhausted that he could barely make it halfway before coming back down. For a second, I was terrified that he was too late. I scrambled to my feet and gave him my arm. With much effort, he was on his back on the platform, breathless and bloody.

The whole affair couldn’t have taken more than a minute, but it felt like hours.

The man was still unconscious and someone had called an ambulance. The train finally arrived and we went home. I shouldn’t have been surprised that no one wanted to ask us questions on the train. I suppose I wouldn’t approach a man with blood on his clothes, either. And, this is New York. I’d be surprised if anyone even noticed.

There are heroes in this city. Jay is a hero. And no, there was no “thank you.” No key to the city. No parade.

Only a man’s life.


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