Trains

February 27, 2009
By
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It was one of those hot summer evenings that always turns into sleepless summer nights. You know,
the kind where you stay up beating your hands against the wall and crying, reading the red Led light
of the alarm clock through frustrated tears and seeing 3:30 AM. Those kind
of summer nights, when the heat is that bad. Right only one of those evenings, not quite night,
though I probably should have been in bed. No, instead the place I'm at is out in the dark light
of dusk, down by the tracks, standing in one of those 6 foot wide fields of that unique coal-like
object found only on the railroad that is something between gravel and stone. The night would be
still if it weren't for the concerto of insects and train track bugs. It almost has substance,
invisible, yea, but still humming and pregnant with the song of the grasshopper, and with the smog
from factories out by the county line the night is almost visible. I looked into the polluted night
and added my own pollution, exhaling cigarette smoke. I ask her, 'So why are you down here,
don't you live in Sebastopol?' Knowing that I'm a bore at small talk. 'Yea, but my mom
kicked me out and I'm waiting for Linda to come pick me up.' 'Oh,' I say, trying and failing
to sound nonchalant, as if I hadn't been caught off guard. 'Can I bum one?' she asks. You're
too pretty to die of lung cancer. 'Sure,' I answer, removing that last upside down cigarette,
the one some people call lucky, from the pack, and handing it to her. I light her up and sit back on
the heels of my feet till I see it coming. The tracks rumble and I hear a whistle far off in the
evening. I rest my cigarette on a rock, check my laces, and wait for it to come. Before its even
around the corner, I'm off, running parallel to the tracks. 'Bye,' I shout over my shoulder.
She waves back. Its speeding right on my heels and my lungs burn from that last smoke that I
shouldn't have inhaled and it's too bright and it's too loud and it's moving too fast and I
reach out to grab a rail, a bar, a lip, an anything as the train goes past and miss because it's
too far gone. Now I'm running down the tracks directly behind it, looking like a fool, definitely
not fast enough, but still I try, my shoes crunching into the ground. The sun is settling down out
behind the tracks on the horizon, pink and orange, hurling its last rays up and outward, piercing
the fog and stinging my eyes. God I wish I could reach it, could pull myself up and ride forever. I
walk back to her, slowly, tiredly, humiliated. 'What were you doing?' she asks me. 'Trying to
bum a ride,' I reply. 'You almost had it.' 'There's another in an hour, care to join
me?' The humor in my words isn't really all the way there and I think she knows it. 'Linda
comes in an hour.' 'Alright.' I pick up my stoge, almost burned down to the filter and breathe
in. The head rush is almost too much. After running after the train and being deprived of air I have
to sit down to make the spins go away. 'Some people film them, drive in cars next to them. its'
called Train Chasing. What a cop out. Don't you think they ever want to just jump on and
say screw it?' 'Maybe. Or maybe their lives are fine and they never think about it, maybe
they're content to drive and film and say goodbye when it goes around the bend.' I never had
much understanding for people like that, people like my parents, people who had forgotten how. I
guess she did though, with her white hippie Buddhism, knew to understand how people could pull up
on one of the banks of life, pull over to the shoulder of the road and camp forever. To me this
seemed like a sinking stone, like a flat tire, but maybe I'm just young. We pass the silence back
and forth between us, gracefully. I pick up one of the small pieces of gravel or stone and look at
the half moon, wondering where the sun went. There are broken bottles and crumpled packs of
cigarettes. One of them used to be mine. A bum stumbles across the tracks, falling down drunk,
saying, 'JEEZ.' 'Where will you go, I mean how do you know where you're headed, no pack,
no sleeping bags, no money, where's the plan?' 'No plan, it doesn't matter much to me
anyway.' She smiles and hugs me, letting me put my hands on her hips. 'You're crazy,' she
says, softly knowing that one of us will be gone soon, gone in hopes of finding a present, not a
better future. Another train is coming, maybe the last one of the night. I again check my laces,
stretch my calf muscles and get ready to run. I turn to say goodbye, the words in my mouth, but she
says it for me, with a half smile. And that's how I remember her, that last look over my shoulder
as I ran after a train she knew I'd never catch. A smile like she was on the outside of a joke but
still had some small understanding, a smile for a madman, a smile for a single serving lover. Or
maybe I'm just speculating, reading too far into it, but I saw what I say I did. Infinite
understanding: that's what the Buddha had. She wasn't the Buddha but she could have getting
there. She smiled that way and said goodbye, never asking what I was trying to do, or why.
Understanding. We were both running away, she left her mom's house and meditated, I chased trains. I didn't catch that one, nor the next, though my fingers did brush cold metal
for an instant before I fell facedown on the train tracks. Maybe I was too much of a coward. Or
maybe I should quit smoking. The next train comes Friday. I'll be around.





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