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“Again! Tony, this is the third time in two years I’ve had to sit through the same embarrassing song and dance,” Dad put on his big important voice to imitate the principal, “ ‘Mr. Geratonni, we know that Anthony has great potential; it’s just that he continues to squander it away. There have been multiple disruptions,’ yada yada yada, ‘and yesterday we found him cheating’ or stealing or harassing other students ‘and we have no choice but to expel him,’” his normal voice returned. “I mean My God! What would your mother think?” Dad’s face was red from exertion. This was the first time I’d seen any real emotion from him in years.
“Well Dad, I’m pretty sure Mom would have noticed long before she got a call from the principal. I’m surprised you could tear yourself away from the office long enough to meet with Principal Dutton at all! Couldn’t get one of your brown nosing minions to do it for you this time?” I knew the last comment would push him to his limit but I went there anyway; I didn’t care anymore. Every weapon in Dad’s arsenal was spent. His famous threat was yet another new boarding school, and a fat lot of good that had done. It was time for a change of scenery anyway.
“You shut your mouth! If it wasn’t for my hard work you wouldn’t have any of the things you so easily take for granted. My job is what kept this family together when we lost your mom,” at his own mention of Mom he flinched as if physically assaulted.
Instead of giving into my own pain at her mention I used it against him. “What family? We’re not a family! When Mom died so did that happy little family image. You’re always at work and I’m always being shipped away. We might as well be two
strangers on the street. Work means more to you than I ever will,” the venom in my voice took me by surprise; the look on his face told me Dad felt the same.
As the rage dripped from his features I saw the toll these last four years had taken on him. Dark circles permanently etched underneath emphasized his eyes that watered, as if on the brink of tears. He noticed my stare and the surly father I’d grown so used to returned.
“Don’t you dare try to turn this back on me. I am not the one expelled from yet another school,” even after he slammed the door, the finality in his voice rang in my ears.
The foreboding thud of the lock sliding home brought me back to the present. With the bolt in place it was really final; I was on my way to Waynesboro Virginia a.k.a.
my next new home. From my perch I had a perfect view of Reggie, Dad’s trusty assistant, cell phone pressed to his ear rapidly reporting to Dad on a job well done. His sycophantic devotion to my father disgusted me.
As the train hissed and started its slow roll down the tracks I stole one final glance out my window, only to be disappointed by the empty platform I saw. Each of the last six train rides started with one final, disapproving look; I had expected it today. Rejection tugged at the edges of an old wound bringing back the sharp ache I’d worked so hard to bury. Of their own free will my legs started to twitch. I needed to run. Run until my calves burned and my lungs gave out. Eight hours confined to this car, without the wind in my face and without the rhythm of my pounding feet would drive me insane. In a frantic search for freedom I shot from my seat, finding solace in the long aisle, pacing in
time with the swaying train. Though the other passengers eyed my activity with a wary suspicion my restlessness subsided and the ache I wished to run from faded from focus.
With a clear head I wandered back to my row, only to discover an unwelcome guest occupying my seat. At the sound of my disgruntled cough, the seat stealer’s head whipped around and the brilliant green eyes of my mother met mine. Utter disbelief racked my body, glued me to the floor, and tied my tongue. Mom’s eyes must have seen a bumbling idiot before her. After nearly five minutes of awkward staring the shock receded, allowing me to probe farther than those eyes and see their owners face as a whole.
She was not my mother. I knew it wasn’t possible, Mom’s death still weighed on me like it was yesterday. But in those eyes I saw everything I missed, not only about Mom but also about who I was when she was around, and the family she took with her to her grave. Again that familiar gaze wrapped me in a whirlwind of thoughts and I forgot about the unfamiliar face in which it sat.
“Excuse me. Hun? Are you okay?” her sweet southern drawl shook me from my thoughts. Mom spoke with a thick Boston accent, but she’s not Mom I quickly reminded myself.
“Yeah, um, I mean yes. I’m fine. I’m sorry. It’s just you look like someone I used to know… but of course you’re not her. But, uh, that’s my seat,” I stuttered.
“Oh I’m sorry dear! I’ll just move over. You don’t mind sharing your row do you?” as she spoke she moved her things to the seat by the window, obviously not
needing the approval I was all too happy to give; I didn’t want Mom’s eyes going anywhere.
“No, of course not. I’m sorry about before. It was rude of me to stare, it’s just” I let out a sigh, “you look so much like my… just someone I knew.”
“Don’t worry about it. Happens a lot. I guess I’ve just got one of those faces. Ya know?” I finally pulled my eyes from Mom’s and looked at the rest of her face- a soft heart shape with the lightest smattering of freckles across the bridge of her faintly crooked nose. Too full lips overtook her slender jaw and gave her the look of a pouty child; all of it worked for her. Her features were distinctly unique and I couldn’t imagine another person like her. With that in mind I concentrated on her uniqueness to keep my thoughts from wandering.
“Yeah I know what you mean. I’m Anthony by the way,” I told her lips, introducing myself to Mom’s eyes just felt wrong.
“Nice to meet you Anthony. I’m Kyla. Do you mind if I pull this shade? I’m going to take a nap. A few solid hours of sleep should speed this train along,” she said. I wondered if she was hurrying away from or towards something.
I was quickly learning that all questions were just a formality to her as she promptly closed the shade without waiting for my response. With a wink and a smile she pulled a sleep mask out of her massive purse and settled back into her seat. Although I wanted to revel in the return of Mom, or at least her eyes, I knew Kyla’s advice was sound. Sleep would stifle the disappointment of Dad’s absence and the dread of a new
school; military this time. The sound of her even breathing and the steady sway of the train lulled me into a fitful sleep.
Mom’s eyes poured into mine. At first I thought I was still dreaming, for my dreams had been filled with visions of her, but then a southern drawl pulled me from the space between sleeping and consciousness.
“You sure do talk a lot in your sleep.”
Crap. What had she heard? I’d woken myself up talking before, but I’d never had to worry about anyone else hearing my unconscious babble. “Hmm. Do I really? Was I at least entertaining?” the false lightheartedness in my voice was painfully obvious.
“Well apparently I look like a pouty child?” a smile crept into her voice and across her lips. “Not that I haven’t been told that before. That was just the beginning though,” her face became more somber, “I have your mother’s eyes, and from the way you stared at me before your mom is gone?” she posed it as a question. The only response I could give was a tiny nod of my head. My own father and I couldn’t discuss Mom and here I was letting a perfect stranger in.
“You miss her terribly. Your father too,” that startled me.
“My dad? But he’s not dead,” she must have heard me wrong.
“Well hun, he may not be dead but you miss him just as much as you miss your mama,” her voice had dropped almost to a whisper. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Just because he’s not dead doesn’t mean you can’t miss him.”
“What do you know about it? About me? Why am I even talking to you right now?! I don’t talk to anyone about my mom. I don’t talk to anyone about anything. I can’t. It… it just…” I couldn’t continue. That old unhealed wound ripped open again, the sharp ache choked my words.
“It just hurts too much,” I looked at her in surprise. How did she know? “I may not know much about you, but believe me I know all about that hurt. And I know that if you talk about it, that all consuming hole in the pit of your stomach will start to slowly fade away,” finally she looked at me. Mom’s eyes watered, on the brink of tears. “My brother died ten years ago. He was my best friend.” The hurt in her voice, on her face, tugged harder at the edges of my wound. She did know. “Dad and I stopped talking the night he died. The pain was just too much for us so we shut down, shut each other out.”
Dad. She was talking about my dad. He’d taken Mom’s death as his cue to check out.
“That’s where I’m going. To see my dad I mean,” a sad smile played across her lips, “First time in ten years. And the last time ever.”
“What?” I couldn’t hold my curiosity in though I knew my outburst was rude. “I mean, if you don’t mind telling me, why the last time?” It was unfair of me to ask, I wasn’t willing to share my own past. She answered anyway.
“He’s dying. I’ll be lucky to make it in time. I just want to say good-bye, and I’m sorry. He may be a stubborn old man, but he’s still my dad and I still love him. Ya know?” those familiar eyes roved my face, searching for assurance. This time I couldn’t give in to Mom’s stare.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive my dad. When I needed him most he just checked out. Now work is all the family he’ll ever need,” my words wiped the hopeful look right off her face. For a split second disappointment and despair washed over Kyla’s face. Just as soon as it had come, it was gone, replaced by the look of reproach my mother had so often pointed in my direction; I was five years old again beneath that stare.
“So your father is beyond absolution for his absence, his seclusion, but you? You who just told me you don’t talk to anyone, don’t let anyone in, you share no blame in void that has grown between the two of you?” her harsh words pierced my chest. She stood and scrambled to gather her things, I hadn’t noticed the train’s stillness.
“Kyla….. I….” I was desperate for her to stay, to get a few more moments with Mom’s eyes, to redeem myself in them both for Kyla and Mom.
“No Anthony I have to go,” her tone and face softened, “I really hope you find a way to make peace with your father. Do it before it’s too late like it is for me. Do it for your mom.”
Ragged edges of the old wound, ripped clear open by Kyla’s departure, pulsed wildly with my racing heart. I had to run! Every fiber of my being begged me to bolt; push myself farther than I ever had before and then keep pushing. I needed the wind in my face and the strain in my legs to calm the screaming in my head. The lock slid home with a thud of finality. I was trapped on this train, trapped with my thoughts. Running from my problems was not an option anymore.