Wednesday, April 24, 2013 / 10:54 PM

The D had just pulled up to the station when Zoe fell. I heard her cry out before I saw her at the foot of the stairs. Her maroon hat was on the ground, and her gray hair was a tangled mess. The Fairway groceries in her hand landed beside her, and she was grabbing her ankle in pain. Around her, people rushed up and down the stairs--the Dance of the Commuters, some have called it before. But I broke choreography and turned away from the train.

When I dropped to my knees to help her sit up, I noticed Zoe's face was obscured mostly by a large pair of sunglasses. She told me she had just come from the hospital where she had her eyes dilated because of an infection. She said she knew she should have taken a taxi, but she thought she could do it on her own. "I don't want to go back to the hospital," she said. "I'd be so embarrassed."

I asked her a few basic details, and sent a young man in a tie up the stairs to retrieve the station manager. A minute later, an MTA employee arrived with a chair. She settled into it and her breathing returned to normal. Zoe then looked behind me at the second express train that had arrived and pulled away. "You missed your train again. I'm so sorry." I shrugged and told her there were plenty of trains.

It turns out that Zoe lives a block away from me. She repeated that she knew she should have waited to get groceries and go about her life, but she was impatient and wanted to be at home. I imagined my own grandparents, and could see them doing the same in all their stubborn glory. In fact, six years ago, hadn't that been what happened to Grandpa? A stroke at a bus stop, and I could only pray that there were people who would stop to care for a stranger.

Zoe asked me what I was doing in New York, and I told her I'd come from California and worked at MSNBC. "Stop," she said, her jeweled fingers reaching for my hand. "That was my career."

She told me about her years as a news producer at NBC, and the few years she also spent as a production manager for Saturday Night Live. Her eyes lit up behind her sunglasses as she talked about "the old 30 Rock" and how much she had loved her career and her coworkers. "Oh, but you wouldn't know anyone I knew," she said. "I don't even know who's there anymore."

The station manager reappeared with emergency responders at the ready just as another train arrived. Zoe insisted I catch it. I gave her my number and email address, and asked her to let me know later if she was okay. She thanked me and I got off the floor to rejoin the dance.

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  1. Wonderful! I'm always fascinated by the oceans of stories and histories that hide behind every single stranger's eyes. And this encapsulates that so perfectly.