I was talking on the phone to my nephew Capone just after his sister died, and in the background I could hear a train passing, really loud. I cracked up laughing and asked, “Boy, you live by a train, you too?”
He laughed and said, “Yeah.”
I’d never heard a train over the phone like that except when calling my mom’s house. The tracks are right in her back yard. So damn close that when it approached she’d say, “Hold on, the train is coming.”
I remember doing that when I lived there. Listening real good for that distant rumble, that warning sign that I was about to be embarrassed, to do something quick. I’d tell my friends, “I’m going to put you on hold” and then unplug the phone line until it passed.
Still, I loved those trains. The whole world passed through my backyard on that thing. Mostly freight. My favorites were the ones carrying the brand new cars. Only once did I see a passenger train. I’d always hoped to see one of those, and when it did finally pass, it mesmerized me. It even stopped for a few minutes behind our house. The passengers’ faces were pressed against the window staring at me stare at them.
Watching trains, I saw that the world was not stagnant. I was the first to know what the latest model cars looked like, what colors they came in, and that people somewhere were buying lots of them. I used to stand on those tracks and watch the caboose until it faded away in the distance. I wanted to go there, where the tracks formed a pinnacle, to that “as far as the eye can see” place.
Besides seeing and hearing that train, we could feel it too. Our house was wooden and stood on these brick columns. The dishes would rattle, the things on the wall would tremble. It was like these little earthquake aftershocks. Not a violent or frightful feeling, no, it was a predictable, rhythmic thing, like a gentle rocking. To me. Friends and visiting relatives were not used to this and were afraid. Especially when it passed during the night. They couldn’t stop talking about it the next day. It made me feel brave that I could put up with such a thing. And all that noise and shaking was constant reminder of opportunities out there, places to go.
I even missed that damn train when I got married and moved just a few blocks away. I did get to experience that shaking and that sound in the new place. A tornado passed right over us and it sounded and felt exactly the same as the freight train. But that was a really scary thing for me. Hearing that train noise and not living by the tracks.
So back in October just after burying my brother Shane, we are all at my mom’s house. Capone and his sister Candace, these are Shane’s two kids. Capone is in the Navy, lives in Florida. And Candace, she’s the only one in their immediate family still living in town now that their dad is gone. I have this overwhelming feeling, a warning, a rumbling in the distance, like the freight train is coming. Or a tornado. One or the other. Capone feels it too. The two of us talk for an hour or two about the risky situation Candace is in. About how to keep this situation from swallowing this kid. Capone goes to Candace’s that night or the next day and tries to convince her to go home with him or to go to New Orleans where her mother lives.
She choses to stay. She is an adult and it is her choice. Us trying to do anything to save her is like putting a rock or a coin on the tracks. We can’t derail it.
coroner mortician thinks Candace fell asleep at the wheel. She was driving over a bridge, hit a guardrail which deployed the airbag and knocked her out cold. The car plowed into the water and there were no signs that she tried to get out of the seatbelt. She drowned. Her only other injury was a tiny bruise on her cheek from the airbag.
Edited Note: This was written for Capone, who lives by the trains, him too.
This is my favorite photo of her taken last year for her high school graduation. I have no idea who took it.