I love you were the last words I said to him although he never heard them. I sort of whispered them to his back as he boarded the train away from this town, away from this life, and away from me. I stood on the platform watching the future I dreamed of ride away into the arms of the military and a future I never imagined unfolded right before my eyes. My insides screamed for him to take another look back and realize he was making a mistake as I stood there smiling and waving like an idiot, but he never did. Probably because the mistake was mine and not his, although I’d never admit that to him. I wanted to believe he was leaving on his own accord and maybe, somewhere deep down inside, this was the decision he would have made even if I told him the truth about the way I felt, but I’d never know.
His failure to look back was characteristic of him. Gary was never one for sentimental gestures. I, on the other hand, was often dramatic and forthcoming, but I lost myself on this platform. I swallowed up myself to allow Gary to grow beyond everything we knew and everything we were. It just couldn’t be good enough for him anymore. I wasn’t good enough for him anymore. I could tell long before he first mentioned the possibility of the military being a plausible career path for him. I cannot pinpoint exactly when my love for him overshadowed the lukewarm reception I would get from him in return and I cannot even tell you if his indifference was real or imagined, but either way it was a sentencing for the death of the only thing I wanted more than anything in this world.
Gary and I grew up together and anyone in the small town of Spring Hill, Connecticut would tell you we were destined for one another. I sure believed it and I like to think Gary thought so too, but that’s just wishful thinking. He was always above the simple life we grew up in and I was never quite more than this town. In fact, my mindset may have been even a bit smaller and Gary knew this, although he never said it. This is how I knew when Gary wrote me from basic training asking if I’d marry him, I had to say no. That was the end of September. Here I stood now, after weeks of not speaking, bidding farewell when I wanted nothing more than to say hello again to my love. And he left without so much as a goodbye, giving a quick handshake and a small, awkward smile more fitting for strangers than once-upon-a-time lovers. Then again, maybe we always were strangers after all. If not to each other, we were to ourselves.
Long after his train departed, I stood cemented in the same spot on the platform staring at the space it vacated. It once held everything and now it left nothing. My heart beat violently as I kept staring and hoping his train would reappear and he’d come running toward me, swooping me in his arms, holding tight as if he never wanted to let go; as if he’d never see me again. His scent lingered in my nostrils and caused a smile to dance on my lips that gave way to an involuntary fit of the giggles. To anyone else on that platform I must have looked like a damned fool, but to me it just felt right. The memories flooded my mind as I inhaled him deeper and I could see everything so much clearer now that he wasn’t in my sight. I laughed because I was happy for him and also because I was sad for me. It was the least I could do to keep from crying.
“What’s so funny, Lily?” Little Tommy Sabio asked. He had been watching the trains come and go all day, as customary for him to do on a weekend day, and came running up to me just as I was wiping away the tears of my laughter.
“Nothing really,” I giggled into my hands as if to keep the laugh inside.
“Then why are you laughing?” Tommy placed his hands on his chubby hips and tilted his head to the side as if sizing me up.
“Just because, I suppose”.
“My mom says ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer. Hasn’t your mom ever told you that before?”
Just as suddenly as the laughter began, it stopped. I stared at Tommy and wanted to pluck him in his round, pudgy nose. “I haven’t had a mom since I was fourteen years old, Tommy. If she has told me that before, I must have forgotten.” I tugged at the loose strands of my hair falling from my otherwise normally well-coiffed bun suddenly aware of myself and ashamed of my behavior following this bitter farewell.
“Well, where did she go?”
“Somewhere only the lucky people get to go,” I sat on the bench of the platform staring at my large shadow on the wooden planks.
“Oh, to heaven. I’m so sorry Lily.”
“No, no, no. Not heaven. Away from here. Out of Spring Hill. She moved with her new husband.”
“And she didn’t take you with her? That’s awful!”
“Oh she wanted to,” I said, “but I refused.”
“Why would you do a thing like that?”
“I stayed for Gary.”
It was Tommy’s turn to laugh now and he made a big production of it, slapping his turkey-like thighs and snorting like a fat, little pig. “That’s pretty funny considering now Gary has gone and you’re still here!”
I looked up at him, tears stinging my eyes. I looked once again at the empty train tracks that I had temporarily forgotten about and felt the urge to jump aboard the next train that stopped. I had no idea where I would go, but anywhere had to be better than under the observant eye of Tommy. I stood up and then sat back down, only to stand up again filled with a resolve I hadn’t felt since I decided to stay in Spring Hill many years ago. “When is the next train coming?”
“It’ll be at least another thirty to forty minutes from now. It’s the weekend, you know. They come far apart. Want to know where it’s going?”
“No. I just need to know it’s coming.”
“What are you going to do when it comes Lily?”
“Get on it, of course.”
“But Lily, where will you go?”
“I don’t really know Tommy.”
“Won’t you be afraid? What about your life here?”
“I’m more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been sheltered by this town Tommy. Not from the outside world, but from myself.”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Oh that’s neither here nor there. You may someday.”
“But still, Lily, how can you leave everything behind?”
“Because everything just boarded a train about forty minutes ago and I should have been on that train too.”
Tommy looked at me with questions still written on his face, but he didn’t say anything else. He just slowly walked closer to me, grabbed my hand, and squeezed it. I looked down at him silently thanking him for the small gesture. It was all the affirmation I needed to know that I was doing the right thing. So we stood there, Tommy and me, at the edge of the platform looking down the tracks for the train that would carry me away from this town, away from this life, and away from myself.