The smell of nicotine was still thick on my fingers as I put my hands to my face and thought for a while about where I was, and how I had gotten there when the train stopped. The time had passed so fast, as it always does. Nobody ever really appreciates the little moments; no matter how hard they try, until they are in the rear view mirror. Things look so good when you look back on them. Sometimes, you can pull a shroud of darkness over those same memories to keep the better part of life in the shadows, should you need to color them so.
It had been a long train ride from upstate New York. It always was. It was pre-iPod days, and my clunky cassette player had run out of juice somewhere near Albany. It was two hours of silence from there to Grand Central Station. You could smoke on the train then, and I took full advantage of that offer. It’s a horrible, nasty habit but it just goes so well with certain times, like a six-hour train ride when the only thing to watch is the world whizzing by the windows.
Somewhere around Utica I had pulled the guitar from the luggage and sat with a few kids who were traveling from the University of Syracuse to New York City. I played some tunes and had a few beers with them. Eventually they annoyed me, though. Spoiled rich kids all, I thought, and headed back to my seat after pretending to like them for a short time.
Not worth the company.
The train had delays on this run, something I had never encountered. The trip was extended by about two hours, making it an eight-hour odyssey from Central New York back to civilization. I was earning that one, that’s for sure.
I had left SUNY Morrisville in Holden Caulfield-style that semester, without the getting thrown out part. It was the end of my first year. In the second semester, I had wound up with a dorm room all to myself. My two roommates had just disappeared over the Christmas break. The school never caught up with this fact though and I wound up with what was billed as a triple room all for me. I had also made a bunch of good friends, most of who would be leaving for good at the end of the week.
I spent the day with them, partying at a local lake and then up at some off-campus apartments. We drank and sang. They loved the guitar that I carried, and would call, “Yo Mike, play us a song!” I would always say yes. They were my first fans, my first inspiration. Guitar helped me be liked, I reasoned at one point. And though I was never shy, hiding behind some wood and whining out some hippie-ish cover helped protect me from exposing myself.
Walking home so very early in the morning, I was going to get some sleep and two of my friends would drive me to the Amtrak station in the early afternoon the next day. Upon arrival at my room, however, I felt like I needed to leave immediately. I wanted to be on the first train out, about 3 hours later. It was an hour ride to the station. I hurriedly grabbed what I could and packed it into a huge duffle bag I had. In short order it looked like I had a cadaver over my shoulder.
My bed was still made, but I could not fit it all. I grabbed a pillow and jammed it in the duffle. My tapes and CD’s found some room. The CD player had quit not long ago, so that wasn’t a problem. But there were a couple of things I did not want to just forget and leave behind. I grabbed a radio and some other trinkets and headed out of the room to find Burnout Bob’s room. Banging on the door, I wondered if I would get an answer, but Bob finally got up. Bob had crazy, long hair and pork chop sideburns and, despite his nickname, never did any drugs. He just looked like he did. I gave him the radio and a box of other items, including a couple cans of Spam. He loved Spam.
Stumbling back to the room, I saw that the sun was coming up over the east side of the campus and the platinum glow shone on the dew-covered grass, making shapes and designs I could not identify but could clearly see.
I slung my acoustic across my back and then hoisted the duffle. This would be hellish, I though, since the walk included a couple of rolling hills. I also grabbed an electric guitar in a case. It would be a gift for a friend. A cursory glance around the room, a wave of emotion and then I dropped the key on the floor and split.
The walk was as I expected, and I huffed my way along the route. My shoulders burned under the weight, my skin being pinched and scraped with every step. I took note of the landmarks around town. Then I stopped at the bank machine, which gave out $5 bills, and took out what was left. It was definitely not a lot, I am sure, but I had some cash in my pocket. I grabbed a pack of Marlboros at the Mobil station, and then walked up to Campus Hill.
I first went to see Butch and Uncle Dave, and knocked on the door. They were not asleep. I gave Uncle Dave the guitar, a black BC Rich, as a memento. Then out the door to Pragle’s place. They had all passed out by then. This is where I had been about an hour ago, enjoying my last days in town and with these friends who would leave for good within the week.
I hate letting go, but once I do I rip the damned Band Aid off and move on. That was my goal. Just go.
The door was open, and I found some floor to drop my stuff and my body. Cyndy was sleeping on the couch, and I woke her and asked if she and Pragle would drive me to the station earlier than we had discussed. She said yes, of course, although I doubt she knew what she was doing.
About an hour later, I roused her and Pragle and we climbed into Pragle’s car, pulling out of the sleepy town we called home. The ride was fun, but peppered with bouts of exhaustion-fueled silence. The ride from Morrisville to Syracuse seems like an eternity, including the famous 10-mile stretch to Cazenovia that is really about 45 miles.
We pulled into the train station lot. I was choked with emotion. The last couple of months had been just great. We had so many laughs. Cyndy and I had grown so close, too. She was, or is, pretty short. Very short. She was my closest friend at school that semester, and the year ended on such a high note that if I never speak to her again that emotion will be frozen and unchangeable. I threw my arms around her and hugged her. I knew we wouldn’t see each other much after that.
In the corniest of moves, I played “Wish You Were Here” and we sang in hushed tones. I climbed aboard the train and took my seat, looking at Cyndy and Pragle through the window. The train pulled out. I lit a cigarette and took a mental picture.
It’s as vivid as it ever was.
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