So many trains.
Sometimes when we read something here, we respond in the moment. Sometimes we can share that response straightaway. Sometimes we can barely hold it ourselves. Sometimes it reaches something still too raw.
So with this. I’ll leave it as I wrote it. As I read Kim’s piece, Collateral, four months ago, I was caught in the moment of so much all at once. It was the tiniest moment of memory.
Next day words came. I caught them and kept them here but when I tried to stay with them, the fear came far too close. I had to put them down. Just now am thinking of Vanessa’s silences. Sometimes they hold us until our words can find their air.
Trains. I grew up on trains. Boston. Red Line. Ashmont to Harvard Square. Trains. Trolleys. Rush hour. English major. Many books. Holding on. Books in my left arm. Strap from above held firmly in my right hand. And then the swaying. Mostly we sway together ... until the next stop. The only personal space in rush hour is held by your eyes. Sometimes. Until you are underground. If you are not careful and look anywhere other than at your own eyes reflected in the window, you might connect. Sometimes you might meet a smile. Sometimes boredom. Or fatigue. Sometimes ... someone breaks all calm. Perhaps one speaks at volume. Perhaps one speaks to God. Perhaps one speaks ... just to speak ... because here ... one can. Life. In the city. On a trolley or a train.
Trains. London. British Rail. I still use tickets I held as bookmarks.
Last night I read Kim’s Collateral. After I read and began to think, I also began to feel. Space. Personal space. Space I know. And need. To breathe. Even now, the moment stays. Several moments stay. This morning I read his thoughts again. Is there more for me to learn.
British Rail. 1990. I had only just left my husband because I could not breathe. I had loved him. Over time I had come to fear him. Or at least his anger. I could not calm his rage.
Pain. I sensed such pain. Often we would talk for hours. Sometimes I tried to help him speak of it, remember it, with me, where he was safe. Whatever it was, he wouldn’t, couldn’t let himself remember it was there. He wouldn’t, couldn’t let me help. I don’t know. Is that when I became a danger.
London. I had traveled up with a friend. A play. I can’t believe I don’t remember now. I do remember that it ran over time. The last train for our part of the south coast left at 23: something and we were running out of time. Somewhere I hoped there would be one more train on tomorrow’s schedule leaving at 00: something else.
We had no breath left but we made that train. In an hour and a half or so, we would reach the coast.
We had return tickets, second class. We walked down the corridor and found a compartment, opened the door, closed the door, chose two of the six seats. Late train. One conductor. Once he sees your ticket and punches it, chances are you’ll not see him again. Quiet hour. Quiet train.
Certain rhythms on a moving train. Familiar. Known. You can trust them. Another stop. Someone gets on. There are very few people riding in this car. Many empty compartments. Many empty seats. Why is this door handle moving then. Lights are dimmed. It is the way it is. I don’t remember choice. I have no sense of his face, just a sense of him.
He wanted in. He wanted here. He seemed to want something more. Loudly. Rudely. Abrasively.
Often I live inside a world of calm. Perhaps the child in me created it. It has long helped me to survive. Perhaps I’ve always pretended calm ... to hold away the fear.
But this night, on this train, with this man, in this hour, I had no calm. I had no air. I had nothing. Total vulnerability. Total paralysis. Total fear. I feel it now as I type. It is in my lungs and I can not breathe. Closed space.
He wanted in. He wanted here. It was a violent entering. I had absolutely nothing to give. Everything was still so raw.
He was strong and wanted us to know. Women. He felt very strong. All I could see was someone who would stand in the line with whoever else had wanted to hurt. Transference. Classic transference.
I vaguely remember volume. It wasn’t mine. I was lost. I don’t remember what my friend did but in the end he went away. We didn’t know how far. There was no bell to ring or sash to pull. This was the last train back. The conductor was at the other end of the train. All I thought I had left behind had walked right in and found me. No heroine I. If he had persisted, I wouldn’t even have been able to scream.
This man was a stranger, a no one to me and yet, the force of him, the brute of him pierced the protective space that had kept me from seeing the fear I had only recently acknowledged. In that moment on that train, some part of me knew everything. I crumbled. I was nothing. All I had so long pushed away was all there was and standing right in front of me.
I was away and I was not away. How long would it take to believe I was safe. Even now, when I’ve not thought of this night for years, it is so strong a sense memory. That is what came back last night as I was taking in Kim’s words. The sense of not being able to breathe. In the end I chose air. I still choose air. And some space of my own.
Boundaries. Personal space. My hands are up and pushing out as I type these words.
Collateral. Whose. And for how long. What is promised, guaranteed.
Recovery. Somehow, with someone’s help or on our own, is it recovering who we really are, have always been, have always wanted deep inside to be with room for stars in our sky and air our souls can breathe. I wonder.
And I hope.