There is a train running through my bedroom.
I realize how ridiculous this sounds. Perhaps it’s not a train in my bedroom, but rather a dresser and two nightstands that have been placed in this train car. Regardless, I am trying to keep my bedspread clear of the closing doors and the conductor is asking me for my ticket. It’s here, somewhere, in one of these drawers. I always have a ticket. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a ticket on the train in my life; I try to be more prepared than that. I assure him that it’s somewhere, and he moves on, dodging a large beveled mirror and a desk lamp He sternly promises to return. The train lurches slightly and the bedside table’s drawer opens, spilling its contents on the seat beside me. Several papers fall to the floor and I lean down to scoop them up, hoping that among them is an unpunched, not yet expired, ticket. They are tickets, but not for this train.
The inter-car doors open, and a group of teenagers march through. They are discussing something animatedly, wrapped in colored knit scarves, some in hoodies emblazoned with logos for long-forgotten bands. They’ve written words on their jeans and on their sneakers – things they’re not quite ready to experience. They touch each other excitedly; a hand on a shoulder or a tug at the waist. Each brief bit of connection seems to cause both elation and pain, their faces a mixture of suffering and joy. They never make eye contact, but I hear them whisper to one another and laugh. One of the boys bends down to help me with the tickets that have fallen. He’s humming a song by The Cure and smiles at me in a way that makes the car seem suddenly very small. I wonder how many girls tried to die inside that smile, and how many of them found the courage to let it all go. Someone is pulling him away and just before he turns I realize it’s me that’s humming. I let the tune dissipate in my mouth like cotton candy and reach down to retrieve more of what has fallen.
As I sit up, I bump against someone. She has dark eyes and dark hair and is laughing so hard she’s crying. She smiles at me, and laughs harder, her hair falling briefly in front of her face. Everyone turns to look at her, because she’s the kind of beautiful that people are always turning to take note of. But her laughter is like the spring finally coming through after a long winter – it’s good for the soul. Now I’m laughing, too, and we’re falling all over each other like people who have been together for so long they’ve transcended the term “lover”. I feel the train slow as we approach the next station and I begin to panic that this is where she’ll get off. I feel it in that moment, the love you would die to heal. But she’s getting off here, and before she goes she produces an envelope from her pocketbook, dropping some chapstick, a lone earring, and three tampons as she does. She embraces me, tucking the envelope into my back pocket as she does, and I look away before she sees my heart fall crooked. When I look back, there’s someone else in her seat.
He isn’t alone, actually. He came on with a huge group of loud-mouthed twenty-somethings who are drumming on the back of my seat and one of them is pulling my lingerie out of the dresser and cackling. I reach for it, but my new seat-mate grabs my wrist as I do. Not with strong force, but just enough to make sure he has my attention. He quickly lets go, unsure of what to do with me once he’s caught me. His friends egg him on, now pulling pages from my journals on the desk. He shrugs and looks at me as if I must have the answers. People are speculating, taking bets on who will break eye contact first. I reach blindly for a ticket on the floor, but my hands find nothing so I look down. Of course, that is the moment he chooses to get up, he and his friends dispersing to different cars. I am disappointed, but, really, what could I possibly expect under this condition? I slip from my seat onto the floor, determined to find a ticket before the conductor returns.
But it’s wet down here, someone must have spilled their drink. Whatever liquid it is, it’s flowing up under my seat like the tide coming in and I scoop up a handful of wet paper before hopping back. It’s raining outside, water running down the window and a strong wind begins to blow. Someone is crying in the next seat over. She looks very far away, and is blowing her nose into an old band t-shirt of mine that was in the laundry basket. The water rushing under our seats is rising and she’s crying even harder, the rain beating down on the train. The lights flicker and the sound inside the car goes dissonant. There’s nothing to do but ride out the storm, so I reach for her to offer comfort, but I can’t grab her hand. I start to panic as I see the water levels outside the train begin to rise as well, and become angry. I didn’t ask for this. The water inside our car comes above my lap. I watch my belongings float on the tide, drifting in and out of the aisle. The lights are dimming and the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck. It sounds briefly like someone is trying to tune a radio and I’m a little bit scared of what comes after.
There is a hand on my shoulder. I’m afraid the conductor has come for my ticket amidst my drowning, but when I turn to look, it’s a woman in her early 60’s with short, silver hair. She has another woman with long blonde hair beside her who is holding their bags. When I look back down, my lap is clear and dry. She slides in between a swinging closet door and a full-length mirror, quickly catching my eye in it. She smiles like we share a secret and I suddenly feel warm. The rain has stopped outside, but it’s still overcast. The two women never speak to one another, but are clearly connected. The inter-car doors open again and the conductor reappears. When he stands beside me, I turn to look at the silver-haired woman who nods. “Don’t need no ticket,” I tell him, in a voice so familiar it’s like a perfume I smelled long ago. He seems to go out of focus and then isn’t there at all. The two women help me to pick up my belongings and the car is beginning to look less like a train car and more like a bedroom again; a bedroom with a train running through it. I’m lying on my bed, watching the train prepare to depart and the blonde woman unfurls my quilt over me. The envelope from the dark haired girl falls from my pocket and lands beside me. I open it, hearing the train beside me begin to roll. I turn to see only the silver haired woman in the car now, smiling to me one last time before the bedroom becomes just a bedroom. It’s only me, now, with my furniture, and an envelope. From it, I pull one piece of notebook paper with a hastily scribbled reminder, and I fold it up into my hand as I fall asleep.
You were the one thing I got right.
The italicized lyrics are from the following tracks:
1. “Pictures of You” by The Cure, Disintegration, 1990
2. “Dark Blue” by Jack’s Mannequin, Everything in Transit, 2005
3. “Jesus” by Brand New, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006
4. “People Get Ready” by The Impressions, People Get Ready, 1965
5. “You In January” by The Wonder Years, No Closer to Heaven, 2015