when I got on the train


When I got on the train, the first thing I saw was the figure sitting in the corner with his or her back to the window. This person’s head was completely wrapped in what looked like a dirty white t-shirt. A headphone cord snaked out from under the shirt where it met a heavy plaid wool coat at the neck, then disappeared back into the shirt in the general vicinity of where I imagined the mouth might be.

He or she did not move or speak, all the way to North Quincy. I was sad to have to get off the train. I wanted to see what would happen at Braintree, the end of the line where everyone would have to get off.

I climbed the stairs and called my mother. There was a dead pigeon on top of the payphone. It didn’t seem any weirder than anything else: food, clothes, my mother’s face, my own hands. Shoes! I had balked at putting them on and separating my feet from the grass and the pavement. But now that they were on my feet, I never wanted to take them off!

Denise had torn Mark a new one for feeding me those mushrooms, and then had torn me a new one for taking them. That was normal too: she was always yelling about something. At least she didn’t bite me. Her boyfriends were always getting bitten.

Mark had somehow managed to take her away to shout somewhere else.  I was crying and also laughing, and Todd took a pen out of his pocket and asked me what it was.

“It’s a pen,” I said.

He turned it upside down, holding it by its cap. “Okay,” he said, “but what is it now?”

The crying stopped, and I laughed for what felt like five hours. When the laughing stopped, it was dark. There were haloes around the streetlights, each one a nebula full of swarming transparent creatures. The man in the moon winked at me. He looked like Mark, who was walking me to the train station.

His leather jacket with the little pockets on the upper left sleeve where he kept a pair of AA batteries. His smooth blond hair. I was glad he didn’t have blond eyelashes.

It was the beginning of the end of my friendship with Denise, although I didn’t know it at the time. The straw that broke her camel’s back. The needle in her camel’s eye. The beginning of the rest of my life, although I didn’t know that either.

All week, the creatures from the streetlights’ haloes followed me. I saw them out of the corner of my eye. Denise was irrelevant. My mother was irrelevant. Everyday life became far away and unimportant, much as it had seven years ago, after the sexual assault. I fell down a rabbit hole, where everything was new and full of meaning. It was lonely, but not as much as you might think.

I went to school, but I wasn’t really there. I went to work, but I wasn’t there either. Elise called Mark a tweezerhead, and I laughed for five hours. Mark wanted to kiss me. It made me have nightmares about the man with the blond eyelashes. I stayed awake for the better part of a week, until someone opened a door in my mother’s kitchen ceiling and told me it would be okay to sleep.

I slept. In my dreams, Mark beat up Mr. Blond Eyelashes in a Chinese restaurant. It was a cheap place with orange plastic booths.

My mother made me see a therapist. I folded myself up as small as I could in the chair, and said nothing for the entire hour. The therapist was heavily pregnant, and totally irrelevant. Also, I was convinced that she would tell my mother everything I said. I never saw her again.

Later, my mother complained that she had asked, but that the therapist wouldn’t tell her anything. This only deepened my conviction that my mother was untrustworthy. I didn’t want to be part of her story, whatever it might be.

I wanted my own story: that I was an orphan from another planet. It seemed more true, and also more hopeful. Maybe my aunt would come get me in her spaceship. Maybe that figure on the train was my aunt, and I missed my chance.  I can’t know. Thirty years later, thirty years of endings and beginnings, it hardly matters. I still think that someday someone will come to take me home. I hope I’ll be ready.

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