on the train

June 8, 2010

The little boy in seat 40 is making eyes at me over the blue back of his seat, pausing in the midst of prattle for a genuine stare. His eye lashes are long, like his father’s, and he has been babbling nonsensical words to the train attendant since we left Sacramento.

The first train out of the Capitol City was early this morning. I haven’t seen the sun rise since our trip home to Gramps’ 70th birthday party this past winter, and the early morning chill of the train station made my legs tingle. My body felt smaller in the cold, like I had somehow downsized overnight and was more compact than before in my cut offs and a long sleeve t-shirt. My doctor says I need more protein, so I made hard boiled eggs for the trip home, resisting the ever-present urge for a pastry. 

I told him coffee was my greatest vice. He smiled, “okay. Just less.” I think he read between the lines of my quiet smile, because he said, “Just try.”

Riding the train reminds me of trips home to Deposit. I used to take Amtrak from Union Station to Times Square, and then boarding a second train for the brick and decay of Albany, NY. Dad always picked me up. I used to point out coffee shops, and he would shake his head. “I need to get home. I’ve got logs moving out of the yard.” Dad’s abrupt like that, telling you how it is, and then starting deep conversation soon thereafter. “So your editor likes your work, huh?” He dives to the heart of an issue quickly, asking for the reasoning behind a thing, and the passion behind it. Mom says I’m like him.

The station in Sacramento is off I street, and rises, stately, on the North side of a circular drive through. A Starbucks sits to the right. Amtrak check-in is to the left. Dad and I said goodbye at the self serve. He handed me my bag and told me to be safe. We had spent the drive talking about my trip to Africa, and yesterday’s meeting with a friend, down at the confluence of the American River. The tops of my knees are sunburned from sitting on the rocks by the water, throwing stones and eating chicken salad, after driving through the canyon in his black Miata.

Dad and I left the house quiet, and it took us nearly fifty minutes to get to the station. Dad drives barely above the speed limit, putting him at exactly 67 mph. He claims that the people in the fast lane building up behind him are, “stressed and crazy.”

Beta woke up as I was zipping my duffel. She walked behind me unseen, and I didn’t know she was up until I heard her, loud, from my mother’s bed in the next room. She gets a sticker every time she sleeps the whole night in her own bed, and counted number fifteen on my second morning home. She’s learning to trust her life as it is. Some things, finally, are going to last. Mom is constant. Dad is constant. Brothers are constant. My visits are constant. Uncles, Aunts, cousins are constant. Scout’s excited jumping is a constant, and Yankee’s laborious walk can be counted on in Grandpa’s front yard. On Sunday, she patted his head uneasily, sticking to my side – “Yankee you miss me?” she said, in a nervous falsetto voice she reserves only for the dogs.

Home is constant now, too, and the places that she goes. Church, ballet, trips to Auntie’s pool and Grandpa’s teasing are all part of a routine that’s putting weight on her scrawny form and relaxing her into dances in the hallway, and loud singing in the kitchen. She likes shuffle through the ipod till she finds a Wyclef Jean song, and turn it up, singing and teaching mom the way to clap her hands.

Mom says that sometimes she feels like Beta is catching up for lost time. “She’s asking why like you did when you were two,” Mom said. “And she wants me to watch her, every little thing, all the time.” Mom’s patient, and the love that has developed between them is no different than the love between us. The maternal bonding some might worry over is natural here. Adoption, for my mother, appears to be a smooth ride from parenting high school boys to the loud exclamations of a seven year old who asks to read the same three letter books, morning after morning. Whatever it is that comes from a person’s hormones in childbirth is present here, as if God extended the influence of the body’s maternal instinct from pregnancy and childbirth to the signing of papers and meetings with social workers.

Beta only cringes when I ask if she wants to visit Haiti with me someday. She’s resolute about her refusal. “I don’t go there,” she says, looking worried. I nod my head, “Okay, then you come visit me at the beach.” Her smile returns.

The quiet of agricultural country opens up time for thought and reflection as my train pulls slowly ahead. As we lagged into the station at Lodi, a jackrabbit bounded away from the tracks, and an old, white Chevrolet created a dust trail to our left. Now, hours later, orchards are thick on both sides of us now, and the two line highway running parallel to our tracks is frequented by SUVs and trucks laden thick with produce. The sun is beating down through the tinted windows in car 3. A solitary palm tree rises high into the gray atmosphere beside a farm house. The barn to my right is falling apart. Crops finger out to the edges of nearby property in straight, thin lines. An old flatbed is parked in the midst of high weeds. Telephone lines run perpendicular to a goofy looking building called the, “food barn."

These are my roots. California has been the catalyst for every journey, the harbor enveloping me on every trip home. Our direct line to Bakersfield reminds me of the way that consistency can ground a person – is grounding a person, before my eyes. Her beginnings are so different, but our realities have been bound together under the common reality of being a Knox girl. I watch her begin to race the boys, tease her uncles and sneak second and third pieces of cake. The lamp in her room was mine. The basket carrying her bows carried mine. Her spot in mom and dad’s bed was always mine. The sleeping bag layed out on their floor reminds me of my years as a scaredy cat, and the bribes they tried to get me to sleep in my own room.

She’s watching movies I watched, and reading books mom bought me when I was learning to read. The drive to Grandma’s is her’s now, and she’ll learn to expect the spreading oak trees on Gilardi Road, just before the bridge over I-80. Where I was born, she has been re-born. I believe it will be the catalyst for her dreams, as it has been for mine.

Told her I’d be home in three weeks. It was Beta’s first time kissing me goodbye without tears. She snuggled down deep in the sheets with mom, and grinned. “Yep, you come back,” she said.

And I will.

(photo via weheartit.com)


Anonymous said...

Shanley, these are the kind of words you were born to write. You bring tears to my eyes and make my heart beat faster. You make me laugh and cry all at once, and I realize, again and again and again, the glorious nature of our future of Hope.

I want to be like Beta, raising my eyes to the heavens and saying to my heavenly Abba, "Yep. You come back."

I love you, friend.

AK said...

Love, love, love, love, love this post. :)