Finding it all but impossible to sleep on his last night at home,
already feeling the weight of anticipated loneliness
as a factual weight in his stomach, and upon his heart,
with hands crossed behind his head the young man
stared into the shadowy darkness until daylight mottled
the ceiling and walls, then, going into the bathroom,
he brushed his teeth, washed and shaved.
His orders were to take one change of underwear and
toilet articles only, and those he packed in his old
canvas gym bag.
At 6:40 a.m., five days after taking a physical exam and a written test,
after signing papers and swearing to defend the United States of America,
the young man gave his car keys to his mother,
and after tearful hugs and kisses to her and his brothers
they waved goodbye from the curb in front of their home.
Carrying his canvas bag in one hand and a manila envelope
containing his indoctrination papers in the other,
the young man was driven to Union Station by his father.
Waiting for the “All aboard”, the father and son stood in silence.
each attempting to think of appropriate words to say to each other.
“All aboard! All aboard!”
“Well, my son…”
“Yeah, Dad, I guess…”
Suddenly, as though pushed by an unknown force,
their arms wrapped around each other,
the son felt the roughness
of his father’s unshaved cheek against his
his eyes moistening, “Dad, I love you.”
Saying what the father had never said,
“Me, too, I love you, too.”
Breaking the hold of their arms,
“Take care of yourself.”
“I will, Dad.”
Picking up his bag and manila envelope,
he turned from his father,
but turning back,
giving him one last, fast hug,
the young man saw something he had
never seen before:
his father’s eyes bloodshot and watery.
Turning away, without looking back,
he ran to the train,
up the steps,
and into the coach.
The train left Union Station at 8:05 a.m.
It chugged through Chicago, out of Illinois,
and across Indiana. It went through Ohio,
Pennsylvania and, as night fell,
into New York State.
Knowing with each turn of the wheels,
with each passing second,
he moved further from that which he loved.
His forehead resting on the vibrating window,
with the overhead lights off
the coach was bathed in a soft glow
that did not reflect onto the window
so the young man was able to see out.
The train sped through the dark countryside
where the only visible pinpoints of light
came from distant farmhouses and cars
that ran on a road parallel to the train.
Rushing past hamlets and sparsely populated areas,
the scattered light became brighter as they came
closer until they blurred past the window.
Becoming heavy, his eyelids drooped…
and within seconds were open again staring.
Seeing nothing but the rushing black night,
he crossed his arms across his chest,
sat back and, turning his head,
the young man rested the side of his face
against the gently vibrating window…
His shoulder being shaken, opening his eyes,
“We’ll be pulling into your stop in a while, son,”
the conductor said.
Looking at his watch 5:06 a.m. /0506 Hours.
©October 22, 2011 / Mark M. Lichterman