Paul Steven Stone: Sobbing on the subway

What’s with all the sobbing? He sits there alone on the subway seat, his body shaking from huge inconsolable sobs. A moment ago he was just sitting quietly, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Then the crying erupted from his body in an instant, like lava spewed from a testy volcano. We are mostly alone on this Red Line subway car, in Cambridge, he and I, it being 7:45 on a Wednesday morning. I stare at his reflection in the darkened window while he continues to sob so hard I can almost feel his body shaking.

As we glide into Harvard Square, the questions run through my mind like a fevered catechism.

Why, why why? Why did he have to die? He was so young; why him, why now? And what lies ahead for his wife and young son?

Why indeed! I know this was my son-in-law, Kenyatta’s, journey, this early death of his, but still I have to ask “Why?” as if someone could ever explain such a cruel and unfair act of Fate. So cruel it’s almost malicious!

Keny was just 44, maybe 45, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how young Keny was when he left us, how much greatness he had yet to discover; how much of his warmth and loving presence (“Give me some sugar, baby!”) and hugs we’ll no longer enjoy. You can’t quantify the damage done; our family has been greatly diminished by my son-in-law’s  death and none of us can figure out what hit us or why?

I have seen this man sobbing elsewhere in the last 24 hours. On an elevator, in my local supermarket, sitting in the dark of his office, bathed in the glow of his computer screen. I have seen him break into tears and great, galloping sobs at a moment’s notice. It happened in the shower this morning. His sobs broke through my reverie. Whisking me from one second’s stillness into the next second’s frenzy of cries and wailing.

Was it the suddenness of Keny’s crisis, the tidal wave of ever-rising disaster that resulted from the simplest of surgical operations going wrong; all of it mushrooming within a day into Keny fighting for his life? Was it the unexpectedness of finding someone we love fighting for his life when a moment before, we thought he was safe and getting care? Was there anything we could have done to help prevent Keny’s death?

Sadly, in the end we are all left to sob. Whenever the sorrow, pain and the damn injustice of the thing become too much to bear, I need to release an eruption of uncontainable sobs. I can’t help myself. That’s just how it works. Like this fellow here on the subway train at 7:55 A.M.  on Wednesday morning.

Wonder if he’s getting off at Porter?

Neither of us moves as the car further empties. Looking straight into the window’s reflection, I stare directly at myself, no longer pretending to stare at a stranger. No longer pretending to be a curiosity observed on a train. Looking across at the reflection in the glass, I see myself taking deep breaths while wiping away the tracks of tears that ran beneath my eyes.

So hard to believe. No more Keny. It seems as if he’s been stolen from us. Death is not usually this perverse or insistent; so that only someone in his mid-40’s, someone who was both brilliant of mind and vibrant of life force, would prove acceptable. Either way, Keny fought the good fight; tried to stay alive for his wife and son, but the poison in his body had already done its worst. And so I find myself sobbing on subway trains. On elevators. In the supermarket…

It was so unfair, so heart-rending. So sad…! There is no more Keny. No more blustery personality or charming smile. No more high-energy activity or comfortable presence. No more Kenyatta Braithwaite. So proud to have him as a respectful and loving son. So sad to lose him so young.

“It’s so sad!” I repeat as I wipe away tears from this latest wave of sobbing.

How else can one react? Fate came in and snatched away Kenyatta Braithwaite from the embrace of his friends and family. There was no warning. There was no way to fight this decision. No one to complain to! What choices were we given?

And now, what else can we do?

Except say goodbye…and sob.

Paul Steven Stone is a Cambridge-based writer. Here is his blog.