The Morning After
System rats. That’s what they call us. Lost causes, fuckups, the unwanted. And they wonder why we run.
I took a long drag off my smoke and blew rings towards the sky. Swallows played in the morning mist that hovered over the river. The quiet was nice. I emptied the last few drops of my beer into the weeds and got up from the log I was sitting on. The place was littered with bottles and crap from the night before. I’d woken up on the beach by the river, under the train bridge. What a night.
Running my fingers through my hair, I shook my head to get the remaining sand out. The shaking made my face hurt. I stopped and held my head in my hands. I’d managed to get myself into two fights this time. Well, more like two chicks managed to get themselves into fights with me. I sure as hell wasn’t looking to fight. Some crazy jealous bitch at the party knocked me flat on my ass, then I awoke this morning to Frankie shaking me, screaming like a disappointed banshee.
I touched my swollen eye and flinched. Time to ditch this place.
As I began to walk, I remembered my right shoe was still missing. I found it next to the fire pit, partly melted. My toes didn’t quite fit in. I wore the shoe like a slipper, with my heel hanging over the back. It wasn’t comfortable, but it worked. I put my earphones on and pressed play on my Walkman. Madonna’s Live to Tell unwound, up along the wires into my mind, like a reflection with a secret.
My third day on the run. Freedom felt good, but mornings were damn lonely.
With no clear idea where to go from there, I stepped onto the tracks and headed south, Montreal-bound. The trains were real rattlers, and they’d be on Sunday schedule—if one somehow surprised me, I would sure be surprised.
My thoughts whirled around my fight with Frankie. What was her problem anyway? She’d turned into one of those annoying girls that had a perfect life but didn’t realize it. I mean, seriously? She has one rough spot and her happiness implodes like a dying star with a burnt-out core. The definition of spoiled brat, plain and simple.
Yet, something inside me had crumbled as she’d yelled at me. Deep down, I knew the shit between me and Frankie was more about my crap than hers. But what to do? I didn’t even know what to feel about it. “Deep-down-Sam” was a big ball of twisted up junk—like yarn the cat got into, all knotted and screwed up and unable to escape the fate prescribed by someone else’s game.
Alone on the tracks in the boondocks, I held my emotions in check. Nope, not going to cry over someone else’s bullshit. Fuck ‘em. I am a survivor. I would survive this, show ‘em all, and rub their prissy ass noses in it. I am fuckin’ strong!
With my music turned up high, I stretched my arms to the sky and howled like a wolf signalling a successful hunt. I am the hunter, not the hunted. I laughed aloud, then shouted, “Fuck you, Frankie! Mom! Dad! It’s my ball of messed up yarn, so screw off! Assholes!”
Startled, the doves on the power lines took flight. At least the boondocks are good for something—I could yell my guts out and only the birds took issue.
I searched my blouse pocket for the cigarette I’d bummed off some guy the night before. I’d bummed a few and this would be my last. Being broke sucked. Gripping the smoke between my lips, I felt my other pocket for my lighter, then realized I’d left it at the bridge. I stopped, cursed myself, and turned to go back for it.
That’s when the train’s horn hammered me for the first time.
Looking up, I saw the approaching train in disbelief and momentarily froze. The sound of its horn vibrated through me for the second time. I tried to jump right, off the tracks, but tripped on a rail nail, and then hit my head hard as I landed.
Dazed, I attempted to roll away from the track, but my body wouldn’t respond. Adrenaline hit me hard. My mind became alert, but the rest of me was terrified. It was like trying to push myself through waist-deep mud. Everything but the train moved in slow motion. Its screeching brakes were deafening, the loudest nails-on-chalkboard ever. It occurred to me that this was it. This would be my ending. On the tracks, alone, after I’d told my whole world to fuck off.
People say that your life flashes in front of you when you are about to die. All that flashed within my head was complete and utter fear, no thoughts, just active unrelenting “get me out of here!” FEAR. I was about to be cut in half, and my body was stuck in ‘park’.
The scream trapped deep inside my gut surfaced, shortly before my failed defence system shut me down completely and I passed out.
I opened my eyes to strange faces, floating above me in a universe of multi-lingual concern and surprise. My lower body was under the front of the train and its wheels almost touched me. Never before had I considered myself a lucky person, but I began to re-evaluate. Holy shit, I'm alive! I think. Or was this some weird kind of heaven? I studied the faces above me.
An old guy in uniform with a handlebar moustache looked down at me intently. The moustache tugged at my memory.
“Oh, Mon dieu! Fille chanceuse, qu’est-ce que tu fais là?! You are one lucky girl. What de ’ell were you tinking?”
Oh, yeah, the French conductor guy. The one that Frankie likes. What a relief! Not in heaven. I stared at him wide-eyed, amazed that I still lived.
A rumble of laughter gurgled up within me, slowly increasing in volume until it turned into a hysterical cackle. This wasn’t the reaction people expected, and I couldn’t explain it myself. Just happy to be alive, I guess?
Concerned, the train conductor asked me questions, but I couldn’t hear him through my hysteria, so he gave up and waited for the first aid crew.
The first responders concurred that I had likely sustained a head injury. They loaded me into the ambulance, and we headed for the hospital. Having trouble stringing words together to answer questions, no one could figure out what my native language was. This resulted in a jumble of French and English, often one sentence in the former followed by the exact same in the latter. Awfully amused, my laughter persisted, contributing I’m sure to the diagnosis of concussion.
I tried to tell them I was just thrilled to be living, but it came out: “J’suis un loup! A lucky wolf!” I howled laughing, “Happy to be en vie! Oui, oui, joix de vivre!” Maybe they had reason to worry.
A ridiculous thought occurred to me: perhaps my mother’s wish had come true, and I’d finally got some sense knocked into me. I howled again as we sped away towards the hospital.