“I am 38, and my oldest, she is 28.”
From the pages of my book, I had to look up. The math sounded wrong. Possible, yes, but one does not simply begin their life story to a stranger on public transportation with this kind of fact. A woman with brown, manicured curls, and a large frame sat in front of me, conversing with a Hispanic man in his early 50s across the aisle; this conversation must have been a continuation of words exchanged before boarding the train.
“I already have 12 kids and I want 10 more. The oldest, she is 28; the youngest is 2. They are all close together: 13, 14, 15. One every year.”
I had already been grasping for focus with my book of one-sided love letters in an intimate affair of words of the soul between two strangers who would never touch, but now all chance of reading was lost. The woman’s dialogue had me captivated. What happens to a young girl to transform her into a woman who desires perpetual pregnancy? How can someone provide sustenance, love and care to so many children, and why would a woman wish this upon herself? This reality is incompressible, yet was sitting directly in front of me, traveling concurrently in the same direction.
“I have been married five times. My husband, right now, he likes guys. My husband before wanted an open marriage. He was dating a married woman.”
“The guy I wanna marry has a girlfriend. I’m hoping when I get a divorce, we can marry.”
The man was listening, commenting occasionally about one past girlfriend and a wife he has been married to for years.
When we arrived at Hayward, the woman picked herself off her seat, and walked through the open doors. All I ever saw was her back, and a small, child’s backpack with a Spiderman design.
Photographed by Edward Badham
“Delusional.” The one-word answer came from my brother matter-of-factly. This was all overheard in BART, and the Bay Area is home to an overwhelming number of homeless and psychologically unstable individuals. Her story flowed so easily, and with such simple structure that I was moved to trust in disbelief. These past years have served to add a protective shell to my naivety; my inclination to believe what is presented, and question the how and why when my understanding did not align with what I heard. Would you be more saddened to hear this woman lived in such a warped reality that she invented and shared this story with complete conviction, or to know this story was true?