This story is by Krissy Baccaro and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I have no memory of the drive, only that my eyes poured a constant stream of tears until I got to the train station. I threw my car into park, leaving it running and the door wide open as I raced to the main ticket area. Not finding him, I ran out to the section we used to come to when we were teenagers pretending to take the train to nowhere or anywhere. To the average eye, it was nothing special, but to us it was a remarkable spot where all roads led, lined with a few small shops and one cafe’. He was moody and difficult to most people, but I understood his fragile state. Still, I’d allowed time to pass without checking on him, my best friend since childhood . Regret pierced my heart as I frantically scanned the area. That’s when I saw him standing a few feet away from the edge of the tracks.
I wrestled with thoughts of calling out to him or approaching slowly and calmly to gently coax him away. I’d tell him I was so relieved to find him. That I’d read his letters and felt the same. He was enough for me too, I’d just been too afraid to say it and ruin our friendship. But now I’d make things right.
“John!” I yelled as my dearest friend walked toward the tracks of the approaching train.
“John!” I screamed, running with outstretched hands as the train loomed forward. He looked back, then away.
“John!” I cried. “No!”.
He glanced quickly and then turned, stepping into its path.
I felt suspended in air. Couldn’t see or hear anything but a rushing and swooshing of wind. My face hit the ground hard. Squeezing bits of gravel in my hands, I released a sound from my soul that I’d never heard before. “You are enough for me!” I screeched in a tiny voice when I’d finally caught my breath, tasting my tears mixed with dirt and saliva.
I awoke in darkness waiting for my eyes to cut through the black surrounding me. My heart raced and sweat trickled down the lower part of my back. I willed my body to move unsuccessfully, trapped between conscious and unconscious. Something loud jolted me as I lay still, gasping for air, quickly recalling my last few moments. My hands prickled, slowly coming back to life. My muffled screams were too low to alert the voices close by. A small beam of light cut through a crack in the blinds revealing a simple room with one chair and a little table. I could not remember how I got here. Or even who I was.
People with tear-filled eyes came to see me, speaking as if I’ve known them all my life. I pitied them and tried to tell them that they’ve mistaken me for someone else, but the words were stuck in my head. Am I dead?
“Give her time,” they were told. “She’s been through a traumatic event.”
Who are they talking about?
I began to recognize those who visited the hospital regularly, not yet knowing our connection. One girl in particular came every day. She had long blonde hair always in a ponytail, plain features and a kind smile. It wasn’t until the day that she pressed something familiar into my hands that I began to find my way back. When my fingers wrapped around the soft paper I was overcome with emotion I didn’t comprehend and my curiosity for something familiar propelled me forward.
Soon I was sitting up, eating, drinking and conversing with doctors and visitors, fully charged by my newfound strength. Pictures from photo albums began to link some memories with my parents, siblings and friends. But I still couldn’t place the man in several pictures taken with me always at his side. Or the girl with the ponytail. Each morning I’d check to see that the folded papers remained on my table, still afraid to read them.
“It’s time.” She said one day, her perky ponytail swinging as she pulled the folded papers into her hands. “Today you will read these letters,” she smiled as my heart raced. She knew what I was thinking and quickly said, “No, you will read them,” as she pushed them into my hands and then she left.
It was the familiar slant of each letter, pressed softer in some spots and harder in others, ’t’s crossed at a slant and dots missing from the I’s. I knew the writer immediately. A surge of sadness rose within me, spilling out in a continuous flow of tears as he expressed feelings I had only recently come to know. I lifted the papers to my nose and breathed deeply the scent of his pen, the paper and any traces of him I could conjure, desperate to tell him how I felt before it was too late.
Rummaging through the box, I eagerly pulled out pictures of the man I stood next to, now discerning who he was as well as the ponytailed girl I envied. Memories of jealousy, frustration and then guilt consumed me as I recalled the selfish games I’d played to push him away. I remembered the fear I’d felt, not knowing where he was, exasperation when I finally did and desperate attempts to find and save him before it was too late. And then I remembered the train.
A soft, warm hand gently covered mine, spreading warmth in all directions of my body calming my mind and soul. A tear dropped from my eye’s edge as I turned towards the kind person comforting me. I sat up quickly and embraced him, relieved and overwhelmed. “It’s you!” I said, cupping his face in my hands. “I’m so relieved that you’re here. I have so much to tell you.”
“I know, Jen. It’s okay.”
“I don’t know what happened- I thought you stepped in front of that train I- Did you hear me calling you? Is that why you stopped?”
“No Jen. I didn’t stop.”
“What do you mean?” I reached out my hands, running them over his shoulders, head and face, resting them on his chest. “I can see that you’re okay.” Our eyes locked, transferring knowledge I was unprepared to accept.
My body went loose and began trembling. Dizzy and overcome with grief, I understood. “No!” I blurted, banging my fists against his chest. “I was too late! I wasn’t there for you” I cried. I’m. Sorry.”
“It’s not okay!” I demanded. “I failed you! I didn’t tell you how I felt,” I panted. “I didn’t listen to you – and you tried to tell me.” I sobbed. “There’s no purpose for me without you!” I spewed unending regrets, begging for forgiveness. He listened calmly and patiently, comforting me like the wise soul he was. Always helping others, just not himself.
“You can do this. You do have a purpose…you’ll know when it’s time.” He said.
Eventually, I began to accept my new normal. When I first opened my eyes, I saw my parents talking with Grace, the girl with the ponytail and they all rushed over to my bedside. Heavy sedation slightly skewed my awareness, but I knew exactly where I was and who I was. My mom rested her hand on my head while my dad went for the doctor and I looked up at Grace, John’s girlfriend. Our eyes acknowledged familiarity as she squeezed my hand. I squeezed back and blinked, confirming our loss. I scanned the room taking in my surroundings and noticed that the half I shared with another patient was empty. Lucky girl got to go home today. When will I?
A few moments later, a young man was wheeled in by a nurse who parked his wheelchair uncomfortably close to my bed, as she fixed his bedding and laid out his belongings on a chair. He was disheveled, wearing a black t-shirt and worn jeans, a cap with a green camouflage pattern and dog tags hung around his neck, their shine long gone. He seemed sad and quiet, resting his forehead against one of his hands, staring at the floor. The other hand hung down limp at the side facing me.
I overheard the nurse apologizing to my mom for disrupting us. She whispered but I still heard her say that this young man’s brother was recently discharged from the army and he was never the same. He was so distraught that he hanged himself. The man in the wheelchair was the one who found his brother like that. He’s struggling to understand how he didn’t know that his brother was so lost. With no family around and no friends close by, he’s all alone.
I pulled my wobbly, sleepy hand out from under the covers, reached just enough to find his and squeezed it. A few seconds later, he squeezed back.
This was my chance.
And I knew it.