I’m curled up in bed, wearing sweats and bundled in layers of blankets. My book light casts a moonbeam onto the pages before me. The before-bed reading that usually slows my brain and rests my thoughts is not doing its work tonight.
- - -
I was on a train headed up to my parents’ house. I usually took the Amtrak train up the Northeast Extension, through Philadelphia and
A few days earlier, I had received a phone call from a friend from high school. Sit down, she told me.
“I had to call you. Kip is dead. He committed suicide last night.”
No. Oh, no.
I called JG instinctively, my voice tight inside my throat. He biked over to find me speechless, stiff in his arms. There was no processing or talking it out. I curled into myself, physically and otherwise. Knowing that one of my best friends, a polar opposite and complementary figure, was no longer alive was too much. I could barely breathe without crying.
That is how I ended up on a train up to
His face fell. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I hope everything goes well.”
My train friend paused, then struck up conversation on a different note. He told me about how he was headed back to
Our train rolled into Penn Station in
Five minutes later, he returned, bag of donuts in hand. “Do you like glazed?”
I was dumbfounded. He bought me a donut?
He waved away my dropped jaw. “They were having a special. Do you like glazed?”
“Yeah,” I said, “they’re my favorite. Thanks for this.”
He hunkered back down. “Don’t mention it. It’s the least I can do for a saved seat.”
I ate slowly and wondered - are donuts therapeutic? Do they ease tension and lighten burdens? Or was it simply because this donut was a gift from a stranger from
As the train rolled out of Penn Station, my train friend reached into his brief case and asked, “Did I mention that I wrote a book?” He pulled out a slim children’s book with a picture of a locomotive on the cover. It was a re-telling of The Little Engine That Could and I leafed through it with pleasure. He had brought the book along as a sample for his interview and it was very charming, indeed. After I returned the book to him, I fell into a deep sleep, lulled by the steady beat of the train on the tracks. In my exhaustion, I missed out on my ritual of watching the boat docks and rocky seashores flow by the window.
When we arrived at my stop, my train friend helped me with my luggage and said, “I really do hope everything goes well for you. It was nice talking with you today.”
I was so grateful to him that I could only whisper my thanks.
At the service that night, I cried quietly. Hundreds of people had come to show their support, so I was one of many standing in a room that was not nearly large enough to hold the love we had for Kip. Afterward, I waited in a long line to greet his family: parents who had seen Kip and me singing in chorus concerts since the sixth grade, giving presentations, and graduating; and a younger brother who had long ago measured his growing progress next to me. As I hugged them, new tears sprang into my eyes. What can a person say? I am so, so sorry. I miss him, too. I know that I can’t miss him more than you do and it hurts me so much to know that you are hurting more than I am. I am so, so sorry.
When I got to him, Kip’s dad put me at arm’s length. Eyes sparkling, he said, “You were one of Kip’s best friends. We’re so glad to see you.” He hugged me closely and I could feel him crying into his beard.
- - -
Oh, my train friend. If not for you, I would have been concentrating on containing my grief with the fragile strands of control I had left, too afraid to speak from the threat of crying. But you drew me out, distracted me with tales of locomotives and balloon flowers, offered me well wishes in the end, and somehow made me strong enough to handle was ahead. Could you tell that I was broken? Was it apparent that every inhale pained me? Whatever the case, I was thankful for your kindness. I still am.
Tomorrow is a dark anniversary for me and I have already stained the cuffs of my hoodie with tears. JG is sleeping beside me, but I’ll wake him up for a bit. I need a hug.