When a Man Grabs You on the Subway and Tries to Drag You Down a Flight of Stairs

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, developer and editor Nozlee Samadzadeh tells us more about being assaulted by some jerk while exiting the subway station.

Just now a man grabbed me from behind by the strap of my totebag because, apparently, I exited the subway car before him.

— Nozlee S-H (@nzle) August 27, 2014

Nozlee! So what happened here?

I have a lovely subway commute — I really do. I take the L just a few stops and then transfer to a couple more stops on the NQR, which conveniently has staircase access directly from the L platform. Even on a bad day this never takes longer than 25 minutes!

Last Wednesday was normal: I got on in a specific subway car to most efficiently make my transfer and pulled out my magazine. The car was pretty empty but filled up at Bedford Ave, where the last person to enter was a white guy in his forties obviously ready to go on vacation — Guayabera shirt, salmon-colored shorts, overstuffed carry-on luggage. He was standing directly next to me in front of the car doors; I briefly imagined the $$ waterfront high-rise where he lived and the suits he probably normally wore when riding the L into Manhattan, then went back to what I was reading.

We pulled into Union Square and, ugh, it was one of those bad days: The NQR staircase was crowded up and down with other passengers. I was running a little late and needed to dash out, but as the doors opened Guayabera guy was taking up the entire doorway getting a hold of his luggage. I wiggled past him — I’m not going to say it was nice to maneuver past someone, but it certainly wasn’t a violent or sudden action — and walked toward the staircase.

I was trying to find a way up the stairs, which were crowded with people rushing in both directions, so it wasn’t until I was halfway up the first flight that I realized the yelling I heard was directed at me. “Don’t push past me, you bitch! Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Then, two steps from the staircase landing, I was yanked backwards: From lower on the staircase Guayabera guy had grabbed me by the straps of my totebag, his other hand grasping that overstuffed luggage, and was yelling at me for getting out of the subway car before him. I can’t stress enough that this was a crowded staircase at peak commute hours, but at that moment it was like all the faces faded away and everything stopped.

What happened next scared me almost more than the fact that a man who was physically stronger than me was trying to drag me down a staircase. (This is stupid, but what it reminded me of most was when Harry Potter’s wand fires a spell at Voldemort of its own accord in the beginning of Deathly Hallows.) Totally out of my own control, I turned, opened my mouth, and shouted in a scary, low, screamy roar, “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME. DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME.”

After that I flailed my arm out impotently toward the man’s face to, I don’t know, try to hit him. (You know how in a nightmare, you try to move but you can’t defend yourself? It felt exactly like that.) I wish I had registered the looks on the faces of the people around me, but the next thing I remember is being let go.

I ran up the stairs as the man continued to yell after me (“I’ll teach you to be late to work! Who do you think you are pushing me?”) and didn’t stop until I was at the middle of the NQR platform, where blessedly, a train arrived immediately. I wrote that tweet while hyperventilating and trembling in my seat; it seemed really important that I tell people about it immediately to cement the details in place.

What the fuck is wrong with people?

Let’s redefine “people” to be “that asshole in his linen shirt,” because most people are incredibly nice: So many friends tweeted back their support. I ran into a coworker while walking to my office, and when I burst into tears she gave me a hug and bought me a drink at the coffee shop, where the owner gave me a free brownie. One friend sent a bunch of goofy texts about men and their big ol’ penises that made me laugh; another friend with a law degree sent a long email explaining how Guayabera guy had likely committed a class B misdemeanor. Over lunch I went to yoga and cried during savasana, about which the instructor was very nice.

So what the fuck is wrong with that asshole in his linen shirt? I have no idea! As scary as it was to be grabbed by him, I truly don’t think that he intended to physically harm me once he got a hold of me. That said, it is in a sense equally horrifying that his reaction to being “slighted” was to find and scold the “perpetrator.” Imagine that! Imagine being so unable to let go of being “wronged” that you must “correct” the world. Life must be so exhausting for Guayabera guy and his brethren! AND I DON’T CARE.

Lesson learned (if any)?

A lesson I did NOT learn:
 — Be careful so as not to antagonize men.

A lesson I actually did learn:
 — Male rage is a deep well of repressed emotion.

A lesson I hope that dude learns:
 — Don’t touch people! Especially women!

In all seriousness, I’m glad that I now know my reaction to a situation like this is to ROAR instead of apologize or freeze. I feel really lucky that I came away from this experience with nothing worse than a sore throat from screaming at him. And I hope that sharing this story is helpful for someone out there — public altercations are scary and just because “nothing bad happened” in the end doesn’t mean your feelings of fear and anger and mistrust aren’t justified!

Just one more thing.

Um, exit the subway efficiently when carrying large items so you don’t hold up everyone around you?

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.

Thumbnail photo by Stefan Georgi