What If: Vol 5-4
Finding it all but impossible to sleep on this
his last night at home,
sleeping but a few hours,
awakening before dawn
the young man felt the anticipated loneliness
as a factual weight upon his stomach…
as a factual weight upon his heart.
With hands crossed behind his head
he stared into the shadowy darkness until
daylight mottled the ceiling and walls.
Coming off the bed,
sitting on the floor before his dresser,
taking it from the bottom drawer,
holding the luxurious folds of the
cranberry-colored cashmere sweater
tightly across his face he closed his eyes
and the emotion of the past four months,
along with the knowledge that in two hours
he’ll be leaving his home and all that has he loved
ripped through him as dynamite upon a floodgate and,
sitting cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor
with the softness of Susan’s sweater tightly held against his face he cried.
He cried until there were no tears left to cry,
then replaced the cranberry-colored sweater into the drawer.
Lifting himself from the floor,
going into the bathroom,
he brushed his teeth and washed and shaved.
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 goodbye to her and his brothers
waving goodbye from the curb,
his canvas bag held in one hand
and a manila envelope containing
indoctrination papers in the other,
the young man was driven to Union Station by his father.
Waiting for the call to
they stood at the same platform that
four and a half months ago
he had stood
when he awaited the train that was to take him to
Rochester for the entrance exam that,
brought him back to this exact place,
at this exact time.
The father and son waited in silence.
Each smoking a cigarette,
both tried to think of appropriate
words to say to each other.
Dropping their cigarettes to the concrete,
grinding them beneath the toes of their shoes.
“Yeah, Dad, I guess…”
as though pushed by some unknown force,
their arms about each other
the young man felt the roughness of his father’s unshaved cheek
as, his eyes moistening,
“Dad, I love you.”
Saying what he had never said,
“Me, too,”the father said to his son,
“I love you, too.”
Breaking the hold of their arms,
“Take care of yourself.”
“I will, Dad.”
Turning from his father…
but turning back,
giving him one last, fast hug,
he saw something he had never seen before:
his father’s eyes were bloodshot and watery…
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.
What If: Vol 5-5
10/8/52: What If?
The train chugged through Chicago,
out of Illinois and across Indiana.
It went through Ohio, Pennsylvania
and into New York state
arriving at Grand Central Station
in New York City at 9:50 p.m.
The train departed
Grand Central Station at 10:08 p.m.
The overhead lights off,
the coach was bathed in a soft, orange glow
that did not reflect onto the window so that
—his forehead resting on the vibrating window—
the young man was able to see out as…
The train sped through the dark countryside
where the only visible pinpoints of light
came from distant farmhouses
and vehicles running on roads parallel to the train.
Rushing past hamlets and sparsely populated areas,
the scattered lights became brighter as they came closer…
until they blurred past the window reminding him of the
old radio advertisement for his
Captain Midnight Atomic Ring:
“Like a shower of shooting stars.”
The young man chuckled to himself,
then remembered with each rotation of the steel wheels
with each passing second he was being taken further
from everything he had ever known
further from everyone he had ever known
—which really was why he was here in the first place —
In his mind’s eye he visualized his mother, asleep, and his father
—glancing at his watch which was still on Chicago time—
watching Morrie Amsterdam on “The Late Show.”
And his brother,
sleeping in what was,
up until today…
His thoughts returning to Susan
At any time you can turn a corner,
or cross a street to get a hot fudge sundae and “bam”,
your life is changed forever!
What If I didn’t lie?
What if I told Susan’s parents the truth?
What if I told Susan the truth?
Staring out the window,
straining to see what was to see in the black night.
What if dad didn’t want a cup of coffee at that time?
What if we didn’t cross the street at that time?
What if we didn’t go into Walgreen’s at that time?
I wouldn't be here!
an overpowering maudlin feeling came to him and
becoming unbearably sad and
unbearably lonely and,
Willing himself not to cry,
shutting his eyes tightly…
the feeling passing,
opening his eyes,
he looked out the window…
Looking out the window,
his eyelids drooped…
and within seconds were open again.
seeing nothing but the rushing black night,
the young man crossed his arms across his chest,
what if ?
Turning his head…
the young man rested the side of his face against the gently vibrating window.
©February 28, 2012 / Mark M. Lichterman