an unexpected therapy session on the subway
It was a Saturday night in the winter of 2015.
I was riding the subway in Chengdu after having drinks with some friends. I sat near the back of the car, reading something on my phone. Then suddenly, a disheveled man plopped heavily in the seat across from me.
"Man, what a night," he slurred.
I glanced up from my phone screen to see a tall, skinny Caucasian man who looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His shirt was untucked and wrinkled, and his face flushed. It was abundantly clear he had enjoyed himself too much into the wee hours.
I nodded politely and returned to my phone, hoping he would take the hint that I wasn't in the mood for a drunken conversation. But he leaned across the divide between our seats with a dopey smile. "You wouldn't believe the day I've had, doc. My students are really giving me a hard time lately."
It took me a moment to process that he thought I was one of the psychiatrists he saw at the international clinic in Chengdu.
I hesitated to correct him, curious to see where this might lead. And so our impromptu therapy session began, with me playing the bemused listener as he enthusiastically recounted classroom mishaps, dating disasters, and emotional traumas.
When we reached his stop 20 minutes later, I had learned more about this man than most people I'd known for years. He thanked me profusely for listening, insisting he felt much better after our "session."
cover image: remix of a flork of cows comic panel.