I used to make short train trips when I was in high school. It was about two hours from Richmond
depending on the weather. Occasionally I would stay on and ride up to see cousins in Baltimore
, but that was rare. On one of these trips we ran into a thunderstorm about 20 minutes out of the station. It came down in sheets and it shook the car even as the it shook itself.
As I moved into the snack car to get a soda and a bag of chips I noticed a girl (about college age) sitting in one of the little dining booths, leaning against her backpack and staring out into the rain. When the lightning struck I could see that she was smiling.
"May I?" I asked.
Sure, it's fine. She never looked in my direction.
After a while as the storm eased up and the train resumed its usual jerking and lurching, she turned and looked at me, looking at the chips actually.
More than one, actually. she spread a napkin in front of her to accept the chips and pulled a wornout water bottle out of her backpack.
"Do you like storms?"
I love 'em. It reminds me of my grandmother...Long story.
"Well, it's another hour for me, how about you?" I wish I had said three hours, because I couldn't think about leaving the car.
It's a while... a while.
She drifted off a little and looked out the window again. Flashes of green and red from warning lights lit up her face.
When I was a small child I spent a lot of time with my grandparent's farm. Once, during a bad storm she came into my room and sat by me and we watched the lightning from her window. She told me that the world was a wild, stormy place and that things were changing all the time. It's everchanging child, always in motion, but on nights like these we can see it happen. We can know it's force-that's what makes it special.
She didn't tell me it was our little secret, but I knew. After that whenever it stormed she would come in my room and I would be waiting for her. We would cuddle up with a blanket by the window and watch the world tear it up. Even when I got to be a teenager, I would still watch by the window and soak in that power.
When she died and we had to go to her house for the funeral, I knew I was the only one who was glad to see the storm that night. Maybe Grandpa knew, because as we walked back to the house and he saw the storm coming he sort of nodded his head up to the sky and had that "thats right" kind of grimace on his face (maybe it was just me). Late that night, as the storm shook the little house I left my room and walked out the back door. The rain plastered the nightgown against my skin and my hair slid over my face, but I wanted to be in it . I walked away from the house, far enough so I could see her room, lit up by a small bedside lamp, although no one was sleeping in there that night. I tried to imagine two faces, eyes wide staring back at me. When the thunder crashed and a limb broke, I jumped. But I wasn't scared. I saw the limb break off the tree and pound against the side of the house, but I didn't really make the connection. (I didn't know it was "my side" the side where my bedroom was). When I got back to the house, my mom and dad were screaming my name. I yelled back to them, and ran upstairs. They hugged me like crazy and then I was able to look past them into my room. The branch had broken out a window and there were shards of glass all over my bed, like petals of flowers. The rest of the room was untouched, and I was fine. And they were fine and it was allright.
Later, over hot chocolate after dad was asleep, mom asked me the question-"What were you doing out there?" I just smiled, looked at the cup and just said-Grandma. That was all. We never talked about it again.
I sat in silence, listening to the crash and bang of the tracks. I waited to see what she would say next.
I like trains, I like the motion, don't you? She asked the question, but turned away as she did it and I knew the conversation was finished.
I got up to leave, but I stopped myself. "I"m glad we were on the same train, thanks for the story"
She didn't turn her head, didn't get up, but she had one more thought to send my way "We're all going the same direction, aren't we? Isn't that what makes trains great?"