19 August 2010

Guest Post #2: The 10:50 to Pittsburgh

Sarah's some kind of sibling, one of those people who you meet in adulthood and think "we were sisters in another life". There are eerie coincidences in our lives: our mothers were similar, we married a day apart and had the same lemon-buttercream-with-raspberry-filling cake, and we're both children of divorce. She's been to my house; we've communed in New York City, by phone, at BlogHer. For now, she's hung up her blogging hat - but she's still in my reader because I know that a post will pop up one day.

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The 10:50 to Pittsburgh

The train pulled away from Penn Station not long ago. It’s just rising up and out of the tunnel into August’s haze when the conductor announces that he’ll be collecting tickets shortly. His voice is so obviously weary. A black man in his seventies with a more-salt-than-pepper beard, he looks too frail to be doing this job. He should have retired by now, but I imagine that life has not treated him well enough to allow him to rest in any sort of sustained way. Other passengers must sense what I do, because they forsake mere politeness for the nervous, friendly chatter that often overtakes people visiting hospital patients. “Good morning!,” my seatmate says brightly to the conductor as he tears off the receipt from her ticket. He nods in acknowledgment but offers her nothing more. She looks disappointed. I think that she must come from a small town where there aren’t many blacks, that she may have been hoping for affirmation of her enlightened attitude towards races other than her own. She got none.

I haven’t been on a train in years. The last time I traveled by rail was when I was still a student. Those rides were heady, suffused with the energy of new relationships, amorous or otherwise, and the expectant hope and reckless candor afforded by alcohol. Once, when I was riding a different train, one heading east, not west like this one, a boy in my Poli Sci class massaged my hand for a good long while. Back then, everything was infused with eroticism, even when it wasn’t.

One of the truths of being in my forties is that I am as invisible as I care to be. This wasn’t so in my twenties, and most of the time I relish the freedom I have now to watch my fellow passengers and guess at their stories. Everyone has a story, I counseled my eight-year-old son the other day. He’d been complaining that his life wasn’t very exciting, at least not to an outsider. I added, You just haven’t discovered yours yet. He looked skeptical. So I proceeded to tell him my story of him, which of course had little to do with his story of himself. Still. His eyes widened as I talked. When I concluded my little tale, I heard him sigh with satisfaction. You made me sound interesting, he said, a smile curving one corner of his mouth. I liked that.

But it’s not a secret. Everyone’s interesting. In the row behind me sits a businessman. He’s been abusing his cell phone on this trip. He’s from Scotland, I suspect, and his accent is truly lovely. I haven’t seen his face, and I don’t think I’ll turn around to investigate its contours. It’s enough for me to listen to the music his larynx is making.

In front of me is an elderly woman, and she is perched stiffly, properly, a lady even here on a train. She smells of rosewater-scented powder. She is describing her grown children to her captive seatmate. My youngest, she confides, is the strong one. She’s the one I worry least about, she’s the one I share all the secrets with. I wonder about her youngest, who may well be close to my age. Does she mind her mother’s perception of her? Is it a burden? Does she wish sometimes that she weren’t so strong? Is she even strong, or did her mother simply assign her the role?

By now the conductor is nearing the back end of the car I’m riding. I’d like to make my way over to him, place my hand on his arm, offer him my seat, tell him that I’ll walk up and down the aisles collecting people’s tickets, and their stories, too, add that I’ll come back to him, after, and place all the stories in his lap for his perusal, once he’s napped awhile.

And when he’s good and ready, I’ll collect his story, and I’ll take all its adjectives of hurt and verbs of pain and punch holes in them until each incident, each wrong he may have experienced, is no more to him than the paper confetti so insubstantial that I don’t mind leaving it scattered about on the floor of the Pennsylvanian #43 bound for Pittsburgh.

33 comments:

YourFireAnt said...

Oh. A train post. Lovely lovely!

T.

Sue Fisher said...

It's good to hear your voice in this way again, Sarah. This is a jewel of a post.

De said...

Compelling.

It is so much better to be able to look at people this way, as interesting, having depth, because it can be difficult to see beyond others' exteriors, like speeding past indistinguishable high-rise buildings on the train, we just get a glimpse of their weathered junk on the balconies.

Thank you for sharing your gift, your ability to see inside.

Pinky said...

Lovely. But I hope Maggie hasn't forgotten that she already has a Sarah!

slouchy said...

Pinky: No worries. She hasn't. :)

slouchy said...

Love you right back, Maggie.

Amanda said...

My breath caught more than once to respond to a sentence or word, then the next bit would pull me in again.

Invisibility is totally subjective.

Janet said...

I kind of love being invisible :-) Gorgeous post!

Anonymous said...

Breath-taking as always. Nice to "see"/read you again.

Linda

Christine said...

it is so good to read a piece by you gain.

so good.

and i love, love, love to people watch. we'd make great partners on a train trip.

Christine said...

it is so good to read a piece by you gain.

so good.

and i love, love, love to people watch. we'd make great partners on a train trip.

Emily R said...

And this is why I love trains.

LivewithFlair said...

Oh. I just love this! I want to tell my version of my daughter's story to her tonight. I read that part of mental health is generating a coherent life narrative. Why not make one for her? http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/

painted maypole said...

I miss you. ;)

Lovely.

painted maypole said...

btw... would love to hear the story of your son.

AnnetteK said...

This was lovely, as your words always are. I miss you too.

alejna said...

This was such a treat. I love the way you have with words, Sarah.

I was waiting to have a quiet moment to read this with my full attention. I wasn't disappointed. I know I'll want to come back and read it again.

And thanks, Magpie, for convincing Sarah to write a post for us.

Karen said...

Thanks for visiting us, Sarah. Your stories always captivate me.

Indigo said...

I wish more would see life through your eyes, each with their own stories to tell.

Miss your words, sweet friend, been awhile. (Hugs)Indigo

kathy a. said...

this is wonderful.

Deer Baby said...

This was wonderful. It was lovely to read something else by you as I only discovered you just before you stopped.

I loved hearing about this journey. Everyone is interesting.

Titanium said...

Oh, how your voice has been missed. This is poignant, ripping at the curtains that shroud everyday life and letting a little sunlight of perspective shine on the train ride.

So good to read your words again!

Yolanda said...

A loving, lovely piece by such a gifted writer. Thank you for having her here, Maggie. And yes, she remains (and will remain) in my reader, too. Until...

Kat said...

This was beautiful, Sarah...I echo others in saying how good it is to read you again.

So interesting (not the word I'm looking for but I can't think of THE WORD), too, that I read this today, because not twenty minutes ago I was contemplating taking a train to a conference I need to go to next month.

Life in Eden said...

wonderful Sarah, as always. i love to think about what the story is behind the scene.

PS--I had lemon-raspberry cake at my wedding too! :-)

Mrs. said...

Beautiful and so much lightness in this. Good to "hear" you again.

The Homesteading Hussy said...

I love the idea that everyone has a story. It makes everyone interesting. Nice writing.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

That distinction is so important, I think, esp. for us bloggers -- that our story of our children is not their story of themselves.

Lovely post.

Heather said...

I love that you tell your version of your son's story. I'd like to do that with my kids, tell them my version of their stories. What a wonderful way to make them feel as special as they are.

This is a lovely post Sarah. I miss reading you.

Gwen said...

Okay, I really loved this. Really. But I wondered about that last bit, about the conductor. Why are his adjectives and verbs all painful ones? Surely his story has at least a little of the wonder and beauty of your son's, no?

slouchy said...

Gwen,

Because he looked so defeated by life. So haggard, so bone-weary.

Elizabeth said...

I read that part of mental health is generating a coherent life narrative.

MDTaz said...

What a treat to meet your words, Sarah.