Train Whistles

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I really hate the sound of train whistles. It brings me back to that day. I was standing with my little sister in my arms, she was three years old. My parents were taking a business trip. I should have realized sooner, my parents didn’t have jobs, but maybe they got one and forgot to tell. So there I stood, as they stood in the doorway of a train, that didn’t look welcoming to passengers at all, waving. There was no emotion on their faces, they were trying to portray sadness, or homesickness, but to my eleven year old mind, they were sad to be leaving. They told us so, and why wouldn’t they be? They would be back in a few days, and I had to babysit Corrie. Which also was weird, I couldn’t stay home alone, but maybe they finally trusted me. I looked at their suitcases that morning, so many of them for three days. Maybe it was a requirement for vacations, we never had enough money for one, and so I wouldn’t know. Three suitcases for my mom, and two for my dad. So many clothes packed into them, food too, they didn’t have enough money to go out to dinner. But it was all canned or packaged. My mother’s clothes were folded neatly and sorted by color. Even though it was fall she had sweaters and sundresses all packed up together, maybe they were moving around a lot. Their train left at eleven o’clock, neither of my parents ever got up that early, but they had to be on time, didn’t they? So we left and walked four miles to the train station, all the while my parents walked ahead of us, and didn’t really talk to us. I wanted to talk to them, I already missed them. We reached the station and sat on the rotting wooden bench. As we waited I looked. It was something I was good at, really, observing. I liked to look at details, to see if I could find something that wasn’t there before. If I didn’t, I would keep looking, closer and closer, until finally I would give up on the details and look at the entire picture. I noticed one maple leaf, clinging onto a tree, it was scarlet and golden. It waved in the chill of the wind and it reminded me of the waves of goodbyes, which made me sad. A goodbye was coming for me, a short one, which would soon be followed by a hello. So I didn’t get too sad, a hello was not far behind. I watched other leaves swirl off a tree, and I tried to notice a pattern in them. Maybe nature had some secret formula to how leaves fell and twisted in the wind, as hard as I tried, I could not see nature’s divine plan. I focused on one leaf again, this one was yellow with tinges of green, it folded on itself when it floated in the air, and I kept hoping it would never touch the ground, maybe if I couldn’t fly, leaves could, leaves should be able to leave their tree and go where they wanted whenever, and then come back when they missed their branch. But soon the leaf did settle on the browning grass below it, which was almost covered in its leaf cousins. Soon, I lost it in the pile, and I searched for it, but soon my eye was drawn to something else. I saw two people standing near the track, waiting for the train. They were a couple around their forties. The small, thin woman looked very delicate and she leaned into the man, they were obviously in love. But I could feel the sadness; he must be leaving for a while. She turned quickly and went on her tip toes to gently kiss the tall, proud man. Something glistened on her cheeks, it was a tear. She smiled though, I had never seen someone cry and smile at the same time. It was strange to me, all tears I saw were of pain or anger or sadness, never going with smiles.



Then I heard the train, no whistle, just the steady chugging of the wheels churning. My mother and father stood up. I called to them, wanting a warm embrace, I was suddenly cold, and the warmth of the impending hello was gone now, replaced with the much sooner goodbye. I picked up Corrie and went to hug them, they hugged us, but there was no warmth, no unspoken “I will miss you.” I wanted that, so I said it.



“I will miss you.” My voice cracked. Daddy ruffled my hair, but not smiling like he used to, when I was little. That smile had long since gone, when Daddy lost his job, and Mama had a bad reputation, so neither of them could get one. I wanted the “I will miss you” back! I wanted to be repaid, before they left, because they didn’t have to miss me when they came back, I wanted them to miss me, and I wanted to know that they did. The train pulled up and whistled, I felt sad then, there was no time for “I love you” or “I will miss you” or “Goodbye” they had to go. I grabbed Mama’s hand as she took a step, she pulled it away quickly. I was confused. Why wouldn’t they say goodbye? It didn’t make sense! And as they stood there, in the doorway of the train, the details snapped. They broke into pieces then refitted themselves, and I stepped back to look at the entire picture. The millisecond it dawned on me what was happening, the train blew it’s whistle and started to move. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I cried and sobbed. The woman from earlier came over to me and hugged me, asking what was wrong. I shrugged her off, I wanted my mom. But she was going. The entire picture screamed at me that these leaves weren't going to go back to their branches and this goodbye wasn’t going to have a hello. And it never did.



But to this day, I wait at the train station, eight years later and every time I cry. When the train pulls in and my mother and father don’t come out, I cry. That woman’s husband came back. She was lucky, her hello was, “I love you.” Words I had waited for and realized I had never heard.





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