Half an hour after the accident, we’re filing onto the NE 82nd Ave platform. The police officers’ questions are perfunctory: name, date of birth, did you see anything? No, of course not. What would we see? What would we want to see? Nevertheless, I find myself staring at the train tracks as I walk upstairs to the street. There is no blood, no body, no chalk line.
At the top of the stairs I pass more officers, then turn. “Is the person okay?” I ask.
“Excuse me?” asks one of them.
“Did—did the person live?”
We wait on the overpass for a bus to take us to Gateway, TV cameras harshly illuminating our weary faces. I will myself to be invisible, and the reporters pass me by. Not everyone shares my urge. “Wow, just think: They might put us on TV together!” exclaims a young woman to a matronly woman nearby.
“I kind of hope they don’t,” says the older woman. “I look fat on the screen.”
“Yeah, I’m not wearing enough makeup,” says the first woman.
I don’t want to listen, but I can’t stop. I’ve only lived in Portland for two months, and riding the MAX with my fellow Portlanders was the first thing I’d found to make me feel connected to my new home. But now I don’t feel connected at all. Instead the only person with whom I feel any connection wasn’t even on the train.
In the days to come, I scour the news for coverage and learn that my imaginary vagrant/businessman was, in fact, 48-year-old Susan Dorsey. For a while, anonymous Internet commentators theorize that she was distracted by a cell phone (she didn’t own one), or that she was drunk (she wasn’t), or even that she deserved her fate (yes, someone really did write that). Eventually, an Oregonian obituary portrays her as a kind woman with a long history of volunteer work—and of epilepsy, which rendered her unable to drive. No one will ever know why she jumped that barrier and began walking on the tracks, but her family suspects she was having a seizure.
How should you feel when the train you’re riding hits someone? I still don’t know. I assume none of us do. For the first week after the accident, whenever we slid under that overpass, I paused to look up from whatever I was reading—a moment of silence for a woman I never knew. Now, months later, I rarely do even that. Occasionally I wonder if I’ll recognize someone from that night, but I wouldn’t say anything if I did. After all, no one wants to remember a night like that, the night we—always we—hit a woman on the tracks.