Someone recently said to me that no one could ever really call me crazy because I’m too self-aware, and that the scary ones are the people who don’t realize it. Which made me think about the people I see every day muttering on the subway, wandering down streets, sitting in front of the apartment building next door. I don’t typically wonder whether these people are aware of their craziness; I’m too busy trying to avoid eye contact.
Just like I was yesterday morning on the Amtrak train. A man in an army uniform sat behind me, but he didn’t do much sitting. Restless and vocal, he repeatedly got out of his seat and stood up, banging into the back of my seat every time. When I turned around to see if he would see if I glared at him, something about the way he was acting made me think better of it and just ignore the annoying behavior.
Then, two college-aged kids got on the train and one of them sat next to me (I didn’t glare at him either, since it wasn’t his fault there weren’t many available seats, but I did take a few extra seconds to move my bag from the other seat to show how disoriented I was after trying to sleep). The army man had been out of his seat again, but he soon came over to the kid next to me and got in his face about something. Neither the boy nor I had any idea what the man was so angry about, but it was clear he was extremely upset with this stranger.
After the boy handled himself calmly (he tried asking what he’d done to offend the man to no avail), the man left him alone for a minute and then moved to sit in another car. The two kids spent the next hour discussing this guy and how they couldn’t figure out what the one had done to provoke the man. (I wanted to turn around and tell them, “You’ll probably never know–some people are just crazy!” but I really was trying to sleep and didn’t feel like exerting the effort.)
A while later, when the kid came back from the bathroom, the army man followed him back to harass him again. After this second incident, the Amtrak workers took notice and asked the kids what was going on. The train guy (conductor? What other train worker titles are there?) went up to speak to the army man and then returned to say he would be getting off the train at the next stop.
While the kids behind me discussed how the man had probably been planning to go to DC and would now be getting off somewhere in Maryland, and whether or not to tell their mothers about what had happened because they’d be worried, I was thinking about the crazy-awareness thing.
Did the army guy know that randomly harassing young adults on a train was crazy? Was he aware he was causing a spectacle and would possibly be risking changing his travel plans for his actions? My first thought was no, of course not–if so, he wouldn’t have acted that way.
But then I started thinking about all of the things that could have happened to this man to get him to the point where he just no longer cared that he was being crazy. Going to war in itself is probably enough to get someone mad enough at humanity to lash out for no visible reason. So maybe it wasn’t that he didn’t know he was acting inappropriately, but that he just wasn’t able to stop, because it no longer mattered to him how he’s perceived in this society we’ve created and will possibly someday destroy.
I guess it should comfort me that at least I’m aware of (what the person telling me this earlier kindly referred to as) my eccentricities. But what if I eventually reach the point where I no longer care if these things stop me from being able to participate in life, or ride an Amtrak train?
I hope I don’t–but I doubt anyone ever hopes they go crazy.