The midnight train has come early tonight. And is already gone.
I wanted to be in bed before the train came. I love listening to the clack, clackity, clack as I drift off. The windows are open. I will make pumpkin bars in the morning to take in celebration of my baby sister’s birthday. I had a brain blast today that told me to paint my dining room pumpkin orange.
It is fall. Officially. The weather, the clothes, the food, the colors. It is dark, by one minute, more than day.
I have been overly aware of this season ever since I was in college. I went to a tiny, private school in the middle of the prairie. The lawns were mostly lush; the trees mature and lovely and haunting no matter the time of year. The red bricked buildings creaked under a century of liberal arts education and the half dozen dorms still abide the laws of curfew and decency. Autumn on campus was, and probably still is, magical.
The meat of the school year has begun. The band sounds pretty good. Play rehearsals and set building commences. Choirs are in harmony. Parties are louder as people are more familiar. Windows stay open for days and days.
I can blink and I’m there. I made a choice one fall. I was 20 years old and I changed the ending in that big old choose your own adventure book of life. I dropped the secondary education part to my major(s). I had decided, over the summer, that I could indeed make a living at theatre. And that English degree? Was just a bonus. Because, really, what is anyone to do with an English Composition major other than grad school? I decided after a week of education classes that I was not cut out to teach anyone’s children. Or, rather, I didn’t want to deal with the red-tape of the American public (almost wrote “pubic” there…whooops) education system.
Thus, my course was changed.
I am, of course, thinking of that fall. That was the autumn that my heart was broken for the very first time. That was also the time that I began writing angst poetry in earnest. And binge drinking. And working more than I sat in class. Spending more time at the theatre and less time in bed. I learned the term “walk of shame.” Being angry was easier than being sad.
I remember the crunching of leaves in the park with the duck pond. And the cold plastic swings.
Fourteen autumns ago.
Eight autumns ago, I was madly and wildly in love. For the second time in my life. Delirious. Hungry. Aching. Arching. Planning. Wanting. Dreaming.
At seven, I was enormous. And dreaming of who our son would look like. And wondering what it would be like to bring him into the world. Folding and re-folding tiny blue sleepers, soft cotton diapers and bitty socks.
Six? I was sitting on the grass. New sod. Cement slab. Tears. Aching. Clawing at the ground where my son’s body was forever sleeping in his OshKosh overalls and the fly fishing diaper I had made him. Heartbroken. For the second time. But far, far worse than the first.
Five. My baby girl. Plump. Greedy for milk and cuddles. Mama’s girl. Daddy’s joy. I decided the moment that we brought her to Jesus, washed in the blood of the Lamb, that there was no way that I would miss a day. I made the decision to quit my job and be with her all day, every day. Mornings with the cool breeze, Price is Right on mute, sleeping baby on my chest. Perfect.
Just four years ago, my baby turned into a toddler. Full of words and wonder. Glancing up from whatever it is that she is learning and absorbing, she looks just like her daddy. And I begin to ache for another life. I want to create another tiny person. A reflection of us. A noisy joy.
When the weather turned cool three years ago, we left the house every day. Tiny babe in the sling, tiny toddler with big words and big thoughts, off to do big things. Library, playdates, lunch at daddy’s work. Music classes. Diapers for two. And then just one.
Two autumns ago, I saw it come from the fifth story window of a hospital room. In a city, a state, that I didn’t know well. My guts still healing; my scars still pink. Nervous. Sweaty. Aching. Wanting to run. Gasping for breath. Wanting to sleep. To dream. To wake up from this nightmare unfolding. This can’t be happening. This can’t be real. This can’t be my reality. Our reality. Breaths. Moments.
He was cold. I was hot. Always hot. Dry. He was cold. In sweats because it hid his cath bag on his leg better than scrub pants. And he was cold. A heart that was working so hard to keep up. To keep the healthy cells healthy. And also to nourish the cells growing out of control. The growing that nobody, nowhere, nohow could control. Or slow down. So he was cold. And I was hot. And there wasn’t anything left to say. And my heart was broken. For the third time. And I was handed a white gold band in a baggie and haven’t taken it off. It is calloused to my finger. My pointer finger. I see it every time I reach, touch, dial, hold, console, write and taste. And my heart is broken. And broken. And broken. How many times now?
The last time the leaves turned red and my babies buttoned up their fleece jackets, the tears stopped coming. I could sit in this old chair with the notebook on my lap and the cursor taunting me into submission and tap, tap, tap until the wee hours and not a drop. And then the breeze came in. And the candle flickered. And itunes dj or Pandora (or maybe it was an angel) picked just the right song.
And the tears came back. With my babies breathing softly in the far room. I ask and pray for one more moment. But you and I both know it will never be enough. So I stop asking. And I stop praying. And I resign myself to this life.
And I wonder. Back to 14 autumns ago. Would I be able to stop myself from walking into that office in the red bricked building?
Would the story have changed?
Would I be here, wishing for the midnight train?
Waiting for dawn?
Wanting a new ending?
Hoping for a beginning?