The memories start before I even board the train, the past bleeding into the present like dye. Coming into Atocha station in Madrid, I am unsure whether I left the guitarist in the roof garden ten minutes or ten years ago.
Some parallels are direct: dragging the wheeled suitcase behind me like a backpack on a luggage cart. Others come through the looking glass: offering a college student a spare baguette as I myself was fed by strangers. By the time I settle myself into the compartment for the long night's journey to Paris (then on to the Netherlands), I feel I am not only stepping again in the same river - I am immersed to the waist and losing my footing to the current.
Taking out my MP3 player, I put the earphones in and press play. The music holds me in the present, simply because it did not yet exist the first time I took this train. Listening to it, anchored by it, I let the past wash over me again.
If you want it,
Come and get it
Crying out loud
The love that I was giving you
Was never in doubt.
We think we're immortal when we're young, impervious to fire and falls, safe from harm. How else could I go around Spain with just the pack on my back? Losing that sense of security in an exploding fuel bottle was hard, harder than the hospital stay, harder even than the sight of the angry red scars still disfiguring my right calf. Sitting in the sleeper carriage headed for Paris, trying not to scratch the healing leg, I thought of my destination.
The train was going to a place, but I was headed for a person. He and I had been friends for a year, then kissed for the first time just before I left Scotland for good. We parted two days later, him home to Holland, me to travel in Spain, and that departure was too painful for words. I knew, almost from that first kiss, that we would marry, but I did not see how. Now the way was clearer, the price paid. I was going north to recuperate at his parents' house.
The anticipation of seeing him again combined with my physical weakness to make me feel frail, fragile, almost transparent. As night fell, as the train rocked from side to side in the mountain passes, I lay awake and thought of him, a face barely remembered, still beloved.
Let go your heart,
Let go your head
And feel it now.
We think we're immortal when we're older, too. This time the sense of security is born of caution, not strength: we see ourselves as safe from harm because we anticipate the dangers and avoid them. But the feeling is as false at thirty as it is at twenty. We are always vulnerable to grievous hurt, as I learned six months ago in a rush of blood and a series of bald, honest words after the ultrasound. The thought of those dark days brings an ache to my throat and tears to my eyes. Another scar I should not scratch - instead, let me look forward to the journey's end.
My goal is still the same; he and I are eight years married now. They've not all been easy years, but even the worst have been worthwhile. We're meeting up in Holland for a weekend with his family. But this journey will have another end as well - he's promised to pack the spare pregnancy test. And I cannot help hoping, even after so much disappointment and grief, that this time we'll succeed. Again, we've paid a terrible price for an uncertain future.
Lying on the bed in the compartment that night, I feel the train rocking on its tracks. But I am not frail this time. The memory of the last journey, and the years since, are stronger than my fears. Listening to the music, I think of a face I've not yet seen, but one I love already.