The Last Train
I saw it happen in slow motion powerless to stop it. As the final seconds of my life ticked by, I found myself watching the train as it shuddered, screeching and screaming against the rails and hopped the tracks, wondering if there was any chance that I could survive the crash as the concrete wall rushed towards us. We were flying through the air. I felt the jarring slam. I felt nothing afterwards.
I was outside of my body when I opened my eyes. I saw the crash, the twisted metal of the Metra train, the train cars flipped and burning and bodies lying lifeless like ragdolls thrown on impact with the wall. It was chaos. Burning, screaming, sirens, smoke. I didn’t see my body. I didn’t see me at all, but somehow I knew I was dead. Immediately I knew this, too: I needed to say good bye. My daughter and husband, they would be at home. My heart ached, though I knew that it was impossible as I was no longer able to feel. Perhaps it was a learned feeling, like those aged veterans, still scratching at legs long since removed by war. My heartache was a ghost of a feeling now just like everything else about me.
Then, because I wished it to be so, I was standing in front of my house. I stared at it for a moment and allowed myself to mourn my own death. Once I walked or floated or appeared inside those walls, it wouldn’t be my turn to mourn. It would be theirs. These were the final moments before I would go wherever it was dead people went.
I thought back to the crash. I was on the train; I never took the train. But it was a circumstance that was out of the normal day to day. I had travelled into the city for a meeting and had decided to take the train rather than fight the inbound traffic that morning. I remembered standing — the ride back out to the suburbs had been every bit as crowded as going in. I was staring out the window ahead of us and after taking a turn that forced all of us standing to sway and grip the bars above us, something unnatural had occurred — something never felt before. That shake and shudder and the growl of metal and then we were in the air, I don’t remember having a moment to react, just a gasp in surprise. It was all over so fast.
There were many around me that died. We were a heavily affected car. But there were hundreds that survived. I wondered now, standing (floating?) in front of my house, had my husband hoped that I would call- that I would be one of those still living? Did he even know now that I was not? I was unaware of the time that had elapsed. I didn’t know if he was waiting to find out. If there was news coverage or if he even knew I was on that train.
I was in the house now. It was still. Silent. I walked through the house sadly, slowly, taking it all in. How I wanted it to be real; that I was still living, that I could curl up on the couch with my daughter and husband and watch a movie tonight. That I could hold them and be held again. That we could continue to be a family. That there was a tomorrow.
My daughter was only two. I would never see her again and she would never recollect a single memory of me. I would live only as far as the stories her father told, which would become scant as time wore on and he found another wife and lived a new life. I would never smell her head again, and take in her goofy smile, her giggle and laugh, her “Mama.” She was not mine anymore. I would have no place with her from this moment on. A whimper escaped my mouth, and I pressed my fingers against my lips to quell another one.
There was a creak in the wooden floor and I looked up. There he stood. The man of my dreams, the love of my life, my husband. I never saw a single tear in his eye the entire time I knew him, except the moment our daughter was born and even then it was only a single tear. But here he stood now, in the doorway of our kitchen. A broken man, with his shoulders slumped and his face pale. He looked at me with a moment of hopefulness, as if he thought maybe I was real. But the moment was fleeting. For all of my foolishness and whimsy, he was the stoic firmly grounded half of our pair. He knew already. The phone was still in his hand. I was not real. Perhaps, I thought, that he could even see through me. What did I know? I couldn’t see me.
When I first met him I was not looking for any sort of relationship. I had broken up with the last boyfriend and I was heavily involved with work — something I was completely OK with. I met him at a wedding and my boy-craziness kicked in. it was an affliction I had since I discovered that boys were cute and that I liked them — as far back as second grade. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want it either — but here was this tall guy with sparkling blue eyes and an aloofness my trained brain never missed, I was bound to be attracted. We were at a wedding. I didn’t know a lot of people there. I was the date of someone who did. I found a girl I knew who knew the wedding party, of which he was a member. I asked about him. She said he was pretty sure he was single. I watched him throughout the night. I stole peeks when he was dancing and when he was out smoking. I get shy, I mean I am shy, but a found my way towards him eventually and got up the nerve to talk to him. When I think back to that night and our early courtship, I get a fluttering in my chest but while it first unfolded, I did not. I was interested in the hunt. I didn’t go home with him that night. I went home with my date. But the next day, the whole crowd met again at a local bar. A post event party. I shimmied my way into his view. I found a reason to talk to him and I got his number. I was triumphant. We went on a date two weeks later. I was so nervous I drank a glass of wine to calm down. My first month of dates with him was wracked in nerves I had never experienced before. I guess that’s just how I knew. I could no longer see life without him. We married four years later. Every day I wondered how I got so lucky.
I stared at him now though, his eyes wet but clear. He reached for me. I stepped closer so that we were within arm’s reach. He held out his hand and I took it and he slid his other hand to my cheek. His lips quivered.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered, hearing my voice as it had always been. It trembled and faltered, it was a real voice. I reached out and held his cheeks against my hands. I could feel his warm flesh. I could feel it pulse. It was so alive.
The tears in his eyes welled up and spilled over, running down his cheek. “Did you suffer?” He croaked, looking as if the answer might terrify him.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and shook my head. “It was so fast. I hoped it wouldn’t happen. But there was nothing I could do.”
“You were…” He stopped, his voice breaking and he took a breath. He was crying now. His sweet face, the handsome man with piercing eyes and laugh lines flanking his mouth was filled with heartache and shook slightly. “You were thrown. You were outside the train.” He finished hoarsely.
“I didn’t know. I just ended up here.” I shrugged, unable to keep my tears back.
“You came to say goodbye?”
I crumpled on to the sofa and began to sob. A ghost, sobbing. I felt everything my alive self would have felt. It hurt so badly. I was saying goodbye to the man I loved with every fiber of my human, living being. And it all felt real right now. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him and yet I knew it had to be done. That was why I was here.
He slumped down next to me and held my hands in his. “I don’t know what to do without you. I don’t know…” He trailed off.
“My baby.” I whispered. “Take care of my baby.” We didn’t speak for a while. We cried and held each other. I wondered if he could feel me as if I were there.
“Please don’t go.” He pleaded quietly, resigned to knowing that it was not possible to reverse reality.
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you. I don’t want to leave.” I wept.
He hugged me tightly. Then, straightening up and taking a breath, he said “Say goodbye to her. You need to say goodbye to her.” We stood and he led me down the hall. At the end, sitting in the playroom, was my perfect baby girl, unaware that anything was amiss. She carefully held her babydoll and set her into the crib, babbling on and on as she laid a blanket on top of her. Her daddy cleared his throat and she turned. “Daddy.” She grinned broadly. “Wastha?” She held up the blanket.
I bit my lip, drinking her in one last time. “Baby love.” I said crouching down.
But she did not see me. She continued to stare at her daddy until she turned back to her doll.
I let out a cry of anguish and slid from a crouching position into a sitting one. He knelt to me, his eyes red and puffy and bright. “Just say goodbye.” He told me gently.
“Bye bye Mama.” I heard her say. I looked at her sharply, hopefully. But she was still fixated on her doll. She had not directed it at me.
“Baby?” I asked her.
“I love you Mama.” She said, in her tiny nasally voice. But she was saying it to her doll. Not me. Did she know? Did she feel me in her presence?
“I love you my darling baby girl. I love you so, so much.”
At that moment, she turned and looked at me directly in the eye. It was a split second. “Bye bye Mama. I love you.” She repeated and looked away. In a flash it was as if nothing was amiss. She was back to caring for her doll. I looked up at my husband and shuddered.
I stared at her for a moment, mouth agape. “How can I leave my family?” I cracked finally.
I stood up and turned to my husband again. We held each other for another moment, I breathed him in, felt his skin desperately, and when my daughter started to scold her doll, I turned and left the room. I glanced back one last time to the child I had created and would never see grow up into a beautiful woman and I clutched my heart as it physically ached in its place. Except it wasn’t really there, because I wasn’t there. But she had looked at me. She had understood, and she had said goodbye to me.
We were back in the living room and I knew it was time to go. “I love you.” I told him. “You made me complete and whole. You saved me and made me a better person.” I paused, as he shook his head to protest. “I hope that you find someone wonderful who will make you euphorically happy and will love my daughter as much as anyone could. Promise me you will make sure she has a good mom, and a happy dad.” I touched his face and it hurt. I felt a pang of jealousy of the woman he would marry, the woman who would be his wife and my daughter’s new mother. A woman that would watch my child graduate high school, see her get married, find her own true love and marry and give birth. The things I would not see. Again, he shook his head.
“Yeah. You will.” I tried to smile, pushing those thoughts away. “Thank you.”
“I love you.” He whispered grabbing me and holding me tightly. “I love you.”
And it was over. I was not there. I was gone. He was standing in our living room alone. From elsewhere, as it faded away entirely, I saw him standing alone in that room, collapsing onto the floor sobbing. And I was gone.