take the train home

In Chicago, you walk from the station across the tracks to the train, step up into tons of sleek aluminum hurtled to a brief standstill before once again screaming through suburbia. Running towards the tracks and the sigh of the conductor across little-town streets, we tried not to be terrified by the sheer power of the beast we tried to train. But you can’t tame a train that isn’t yours. We didn’t get on the wrong train on purpose, but that was what we did.

We were trying to get home, but we had just arrived to where we didn’t want to be. Union Station is cheap coffee and commuters conspiring against a cold winter. Alabaster cathedral of grime and black wool coats, concrete bunkers and marble floors, frigid air and the warm breath of businessmen on frosty glass, perusing the train schedule, trying to get home as soon as they could. As we slowly chugged out of the station, the tracks flamed, melting snow and steaming metal. We found out later that this is normal, that they set fires on purpose to keep the tracks from breaking in the cold.

But at the time, none of the businessmen saw. Neither did the conductor.

If they did, it was none of their concern.

There’s a class of terminally oblivious and under-supervised kindergarteners standing on the tracks in front of a speeding train. The brakes are broken. A fat man, standing above the tracks on a bridge with you, is the only person whose mass can stop the train and save the children, albeit traumatizing them—although they wouldn’t notice. All you have to do is push.

A few years ago, a woman in upstate New York drove her car in front of a commuter train and didn’t get out of the way in time, killed a few men and women and herself. No one knew if she did it on purpose. A little while later a train somewhere, I don’t remember where, screeched around a corner a little too quickly and hurtled off the tracks. No one knew if the train driver did it on purpose.

I think they were just trying to get home.

In the subway, electrified expanse on either side of the platform, sometimes I have to cling to the iron columns when I feel the trains coming. I don’t do it on purpose. All of us at rush hour writhing like rats, underground with people whose skin is unfamiliar. The urge is to escape, somehow. But sometimes, this is the only way to get home.

© 2015 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.

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