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On Seeing A Bruised Woman On The Train

Riding on the train home from work last week, the woman sitting next to me caught my eye. It wasn’t just her bright red lipstick or her retro dress that I noticed — it was a large, ugly, blue-brown-yellow bruise on her upper arm. As covertly as I could, I looked at the bruise, then at her face. She seemed smiley and happy, an otherwise normal woman coming home from work just like me. I turned back to my magazine. But a few minutes later, something on her leg distracted me: yes, it was another ugly-looking blue-brown-yellow bruise. Now I couldn’t read. I looked at her face again and thought about how “normal” she seemed. For half a second, I considered saying something to her about her bruises, but didn’t know what to say. So I sat there next to her for the rest of the train ride, awkwardly looking at the bruises on her leg and arm with my side-eye. We got off at the same stop, but walked off in different directions. I’m still wondering what her story was.Of course, this anonymous woman’s bruises could have been totally innocuous. She could be a klutz like me who walks into doorframes and tables and chairs with oblivion. She could be an actress and the bruises are just makeup. She could be into BDSM. She could have leukemia. Or she could have at least two, ugly-looking visible bruises for some other good reason entirely.

But that’s not where the mind goes: my concern all throughout was that someone had hurt her. (Hurt her in a non-consensual way, I mean.) I don’t know enough about psychology, let alone the psychology of domestic violence victims, to know if walking around with two obvious bruises on one’s body is something people even do. But for the minutes we sat there next to each other, I wondered if I should say something. Should I remark, “Wow, those are some nasty-looking bruises!” and see how she responds? Should I ask her straight-up, “Ma’am, I couldn’t help but notice your bruises. Are you OK?” Would that be nosy? Rude?

If I were out in public looking injured, I would want someone to say something to me. Some of this has to do with my very basic values from Christianity and taking care of one another; some of it also has to do with actual direct experience I had with vomiting inside a subway car and having a stranger help me out. But not everyone feels that way, I know. Most people are more private. Most people would be uncomfortable being approached by a stranger, especially about something potentially touchy. I have a hard time remembering sometimes other people perceive offers of help as busybody-behavior.

From the standpoint of me not potentially embarrassing myself — whatever this woman’s reaction may have been had I said something — it’s better that I said nothing at all. I don’t know what was best for her, though. I haven’t stopped thinking about her and our weird little ride together on the train. I hope no one is hurting her. I hope those two bad bruises had some good explanation.

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