Railroad ties

It was the summer before our senior year in college. We spent our days working (sometimes). PS and N were the handymen for the apartment complex we lived in, and they painted, patched, and fixed. I was a secretary at a used car lot that my friend B's father owned - it was shady as hell and loads of fun. M taught music at a camp. I know other people were players in this piece, but their faces and names are hazy in my memory. Every weekend we would go to the beach to swim, lay around lazily by the ocean, and eat fried fish and frozen yogurt. Every night, we would just sort of be. There weren't many boundaries. And time passed on that way, until the leaves changed colors and the weather turned.

We would all grow up, get advanced degrees, careers, husbands and wives, mortgages. Little did we know at that point, but we'd eventually drift apart, drift back, marry one another, devastate each other. But that summer, we were our own little universe.

Some nights, we'd walk to the satellites in the fields behind the campus and climb up into a dish. We'd lie there, looking up at the sky, and talk about things that seemed so important then. As it turns out, most of those things we talked about were indeed very important, but what we thought about them years later would be very different than what we hypothesized about them under the stars.

Other nights, we'd walk down the country road past the university property line to the train tracks and follow them into the woods. There were no lights, so we'd stumble and feel our way along the railroad ties. We'd usually be under dressed for the New Hampshire nights - I remember always being so cold.

About a mile in, the tracks met a bridge. The bridge was supported by crossing metal beams, and it was an eerie white in the moonlight. We would sit in a line along the platform, waiting, and dangle our feet above the water. Local legend had it that there was a boxcar down below that had crashed off of the bridge years before, and if you came down just right, you would land on top of it, and probably break your neck.

When we heard the distant rumble of the train, we'd climb up onto the beams. They were different heights - some of us would climb all the way up to the top, some of us would stay closer to the bottom. As the lights of the train approached, we'd perch - ready. When the train came upon the bridge, the entire structure was alive with a violent humming and rattling. We'd hold on for as long as we could. Finally, when the jarring vibrations and the thunder of the train as it roared past us became too intense, we'd jump.

The water was always a cold shock. The swim to shore was quick, and we'd climb up the embankment dripping in our shorts and t-shirts, shivering. Laughing. We were always relieved that no one had discovered the boxcar. We were happy on those nights. The walk back to civilization was filled with warm and compassionate chatter - mellow after the river had taken some of our restless energy and kept it for herself.

I would never in a million years do something like that now. In hindsight, I can see how dangerous and irresponsible it was. How we could have been hurt, or killed. Of course I would never do that now. But I'll always remember that feeling, as you heard the rush of the oncoming train and felt its power, letting go at the last possible second and falling downward. You knew the water was going to hit you hard, or you it, but the impact seemed such a long way off.

 

2 comments:

Moxie said...

Wow. That's a gorgeous memory. You evoke it beautifully.

8:25 AM
ElleCharlie said...

Thanks - that is nice of you to say! It's funny how memories float into your head sometimes.

1:49 PM