Amtrak

You know…looking back on it, the words that have broken my heart have rarely been dramatic.

Well, except in Danny’s case when he sprung it on me that he’d secretly moved into an apartment under the cover of dark and was leaving me because I‘d stolen his youth, ruined his life and turned him into an alcoholic. The irony of that whole moment is that he desperately hated me in high school because I was dramatic.

The word that broke my heart this time? Amtrak.

She didn’t even know she was breaking my heart.

“You lived in Tucson? I love Tucson!” This stranger started with, quite warmly.

She continued to talk but it was dark and loud so I couldn’t hear her or read her lips. I beckoned her closer and put a candle on the table between us.

I could hear her better now as she went on about her time in Tucson. I nodded politely, thinking to myself but holding back from saying, “I left there and I’d be very ok with most of it burning to the ground.” But that kind of humor rarely plays well with strangers, especially women.

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted. “Why were you in Tucson?” I meet a lot of people who’ve traveled through there. People like it when you ask them about themselves.

“Oh, I visited on a rail pass. It’s like Eurorail but for the U.S. Did he tell you about the Amtrak trip he planned?” She pointed to the kid in denim slumped down in the corner. The one I loved. The one she was on a first date with. She knew more about his current goings on than I did.

“No,” I feigned ignorance and interest.

She continued to talk and I continued to ask questions. We had an entire conversation while I was on cruise control, barely paying attention to what she was saying as she told me how much she loved comedy.

I excused myself, got my bag and scarf and went outside. I felt like I was going to be sick. It wasn’t her fault. She couldn’t have known she was walking into a loaded situation wherein the slumpy boy in the corner had repeatedly disappeared from my life in times of need and in times of plenty. While my heart broke. While I railed and ranted and raved. While I mourned the cruel loss and catalogued my faults and guessed at how all of this could be my fault. How I thought of ways of hurting him back.

She couldn’t know about all the conversations I sat him down for or laid him down for where I explained step by step what had happened and asked in all earnest why he kept disappearing.

All she said was Amtrak. And I put the rest together. He‘d just come back to me after another round of supplication, invitation, and mercy, and already he’s planned to leave again, like a father going out for cigarettes.

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