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When I first saw you, you were shuffling down the aisle of a crowded train, pausing every few seats to check in—

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I…”

I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance (not another one), but it passed on realizing your compromised condition—a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age. You were lost, and without assistance. When you got to where I was, it was time to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle… Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you; I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me. As we stood together on the platform, I asked you for more, for anything. But all you could give was “Myrtle,” plus a few extras like “want” and “need,” conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place but as woman pined for. I consulted a subway map anyway, a matrix of colored strings to confuse the spriest of us. Pointing out various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses, I looked for signs—an affirming nod, flicker of recognition: home. None came. Instead, a new word, faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.” Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east, and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere three complicated train transfers away. Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain the complexity of what awaited should you attempt again the train, next asking softly if you had money for a cab home. You were keeping up well enough, because you pulled out a billfold, which you opened and held open for me, revealing a brave sad emptiness. I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride, and you followed me silently, slowly up the stairs and out into the circus that is downtown Brooklyn during rush hour. As you waited somewhere at my back, I watched cab after cab clear the intersection, every last one taken. An irrational desperation crept steadily in, erasing relationship woes, that problem at work, until the only thing left to care about was getting you out of all this. I chanced a quick look behind—your face, that impossible read—and a second later a yellow car was slowing at the curb. I filled in the driver, paying in advance, in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile, understanding. “We’ll getcha there.” You took some time getting situated, organizing your tired bones in that backseat, and I stood there wondering about so much… Your solemn “thank you” caught me unawares, struck deep, though I don’t believe it changed anything important.

Years out, certain evenings when I’m feeling lost, lived up, I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets and think of you and our exchange. I hope you made it home alright,

home to your Myrtle.

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Kristen Elde KRISTEN ELDE, an editor by trade, lives and writes in Brooklyn. Her words have appeared in the Web publications McSweeneys, The Northville Review, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot, in addition to such magazines as BUST, Health, Runner's World, Running Times, Shape, The Writer, and Writer's Digest. She's also one half of the team behind a wildly unpopular parody food blog, to which she loves contributing.

21 Responses to “Finding Myrtle”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Kristen,
    this is both profoundly sad and wonderful.
    Thank you so much for your kindness!
    You are a sweet, sweet thing.

    • kristen says:

      Sad and wonderful–yes. Right after it happened, it was just so strange–like, that I had to, you know, walk home and make dinner and xyz/normal routine. It was such a full experience and I think I called someone to share, but ultimately most of it stayed w/in, as the right words wouldn’t really come.

      This was an attempt, anyway.

  2. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    I checked three times. “Nonfiction” each time. Amazing.

    Kristen, you just gave me hope for the world. Whatever may have happened to that old man at the end of his ride, you did a wonderful and amazing thing. Seriously.

    • Kristen Elde says:

      Glad to give hope!

      I remember, that evening and in the days that followed, the clear understanding, on repeat, that helping other people is the single most important thing. Infinitely many ways to do it, thankfully.

      And the man, on thanking me (really did seem to come out of nowhere–amazing), looked at me in a way I’ll never forget. Such meaning in that look–glazed eyes and all. A crazy-lot of beauty to take in. So much bigger than a straightforward two-person exchange…

  3. Ray S says:

    You’re a lovely soul, K. And good/sharp thinkin’ on your feet there ;)

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Nice work. Thank Goodness for good people like you.
    Myrtle symbolises love and love for humanity shines through this piece.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    Kristen, this pairs nicely with Andrew’s — his “who you are” part. It’s pretty clear who you are, especially since you didn’t have to think about what to do. You only had to think about how to get it done.

  6. kristen says:

    Ah, neat–reading Andrew’s number next here. I do love synchronicity in TNB posts.

  7. Matt says:

    Holy crap.

    I am, at this very moment, taking a quick break from chronicling an encounter on a train to come over here and see what’s been posted for the day. Damned SSE.

    This was so sweet. You’re an absolute darling for helping that poor fellow out. I can only hope, decades from now when I’m in my dotage, there is someone like you around to help me find my Myrtle.

    Well done.

    Now then…back to composing my vastly inferior piece!

  8. Simon Smithson says:

    Wow. That’s so… decent… of you!

    Seriously, Kristen, you’re so nice! I hope he made it home too.

  9. Beauty, sadness, and compassion all rolled into one.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    Loved this. Small, but packs a powerful punch, right?

    (Also: Is there anything more rewarding than giving directions in New York?)

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    Loved this. Small, but packs a powerful punch.

    (Also: Is there anything more rewarding than giving directions in New York?)

  12. kristen says:

    Thanks!

    And, nope, I’m pretty sure there’s not.

    See you tonight, Pianos?

  13. Lorna says:

    It’s so nice to know there are people like you in this world. A thousand thank yous are not enough. This is such a moving and rewarding read.

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