Follow me down the rabbithole

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Be careful what you wish for

I have alluded to the idea that this blog serves a therapeutic function for me.  Screw allusion - flat fact statement.  Writing puts things in an order which then is reviewable.  Catching stray thoughts at the best of times is fireflies at treetop level stuff...effervescent, ephemeral, fascinating, but impossible to corral and number and correlate and cogitate.  Writing creates a real about the words.  And the words I need to type next are some of the most real I have ever had to type.

Be careful what you wish for.  Just yesterday afternoon, I was feeling very energetic, positive and excited to tell a friend that I was challenging the universe to 'bring it' this summer - pile up the whole mountain of shit at once, let me get over the top, then leave me alone for the rest of my life.  No nickle and diming me over the next 30 years with one thing after another -  let's get all the shit out of the way once and for all.

The universe answered.

My mother passed away Tuesday morning.  I found out tonight, thanks to a resourceful niece who managed to make enough contact for me to know I needed to call my sister.

Mom died as she lived.  On her terms, in her way, at her convenience.  Betsy, my sister, told me that Mom had been gradually diminishing, developing serious medical issues that should have been fatal by 2012.  Mom was driving herself to dialysis after that deadline.  That's our mom.

She had moved into assisted living when she decided she was no longer able to remain alone.  Betsy and the rest of the family accommodated that, as well as everything that could have been done to ensure that Mom was as well off as her health permitted.  Over and over Betsy told me how much all of Mom's caregivers expressed their love and caring for her.  Mom had that effect on people.  She stuck with you.  She would probably be surprised to hear me confess that I ever actually listened to her - but then again - nah.  She knew.

I am going back.  Bridges to build, if possible, or at least, things said that need to be said.  Whatever the outcome, it's time.  Much to do to get a trip together in a day - but that can be done.  I am sure that there will be lots of Mom stuff showing up here now, along with trip I a Horrid person that the idea of a cross country train trip...despite the reason...has a certain appeal?  Lots of time to read, think, heal, and see things that I will probably never see again.  Silver linings.  Selfish ones, but, forward is a direction that requires impetus to whatever motivates one to accomplish what needs to be done, selfish as it might be, is, in the end, justifiable.  Rather Machiavellian, Mel.  But none the less accurate for all of that.  If I cannot be forgiven in trying to seek a little mental relief and pleasure in a trip with such a sad purpose, then may you find your joy where you best can.  I love trains, always have, and have had a cross country train trip on my bucket list since the time I took the train alone up to see my family graduate from Penn State.  That was a wild weekend.

The train tracks paralleled the Susquehanna River through the Harrisburg area.  It is a beautiful trip, with the mountains and rivers, the forests...and Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant smack dab in the middle of the river.  As you approach, you can see those iconic towers off to the left, long before you actually draw even with them.  On the night I was traveling this way, Three Mile Island had been making headlines for a little over a year - near miss meltdown kind of headlines.  Like Fukushima, the news cycle had long passed, but anniversaries, or new studies, would bring Three Mile Island back to the top of the hour every so often.  Aware of this, and armed with my 35 mm SLR, I was poised for shots of the towers.  My underthinking was, as usual, simple.  If the pictures come back fogged, I have been exposed to beaucoup radiation.  If they come back clear - so am I.  One outcome or the other.  Just the way I like things.

I began shooting as soon as a tower cleared the treetops.  The train was not moving terribly fast, and I saw that I would have plenty of time to set up sampling shots.  I wasn't in this for the art, after all.  Just a DIY dosimeter.  I took about one shot every minute and a half, leisurely shooting, waiting for the moment that we were directly opposite the towers.

The train stopped.  Dead.  No clickety-clack, no hymie mynoosh, no nada.  Directly across from a nuclear accident bad place.  And we are sitting there like...well...I have NEVER been able to look into a rotisserie chicken cooker since.  I kept shooting, since there wasn't fuck else I could do, now was there?  I am trapped in this can, on these tracks, across from that.  And no cell phones, no internet, no gameboys, no radios, nothing what so bloody ever to distract oneself from the view...except the imagination.  DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!

I had some serious anxiety blinkings by the time the train started back up.  Memory (always an unreliable narrator, as I have too oft mentioned) says the stop was 10 minutes.  Memory ALSO remembers those 10 minutes lasting at least 82.  Like the last 2 minutes in football.  Run the tape of JUST the actual plays - yeah - 2 minutes elapse.  But if you need to pee, and the score is close - those 2 minutes can last a lifetime!

The train picked up speed, somehow I learned that there had been a log across the tracks, and we needed to stop while it was removed.  Anxiety wondered WHY a log was across the tracks JUST THERE...overactive imagination ran with that ball for a while, and the wait to get those pictures developed  (OLD SCHOOL DAYS... Take the metal canister to the drugstore.  Fill out the envelope with all the pertinents.  Seal the canister in the envelope, peeling that nasty gummy sealant off your fingers as you drop it into the available slot...and wait a week.  Drive back to that drug store, wait at the photo pick up counter while some kid lackadaisically flips through a veritable mountain of identical envelopes...and all the while you are remembering every radiation PSA you sat through...GAH.)

The pics were fine.  Solid, clear focus, not over artistic, snapshots rather than photographs.

But on to the train station at Huntingdon, where my parents picked me up and informed me that our family dog Pepe had been struck by a car and killed while staying our at my grandparents house.  One of the few times I saw tears in my father's eyes.  He and his buddy.  As I said, a wild weekend - which featured the graduations, with parties, ceremonies, speeches...great Gawds...speeches.  There was a military celebration for my brother in law - impressive, with speeches...the actual graduation...with speeches... and all this undeveloped film can ticking away inside the same camera I am using to shoot graduation photos - which were some of the coolest that camera ever produced, IMHO.

Anyway - that train ride, and many, many others... each year to New York City at Christmas, around the Horseshoe Curve, the East Broad Top (now closed - too sad to link to that final page) ...somehow it is entirely fitting that I travel to my mother's service - 'twas her side of the family who were the railroaders, and from who I derive my passion for them - via train.

Much love to those that read this far, and to those that do not.


  1. No words...just love, Love and more LOVE. I can't wait to see you.
    Love ~ Mary Anne
    P.S. Amtrack has internet ON the train! How cool is that!

  2. Well...Amtrak has internet on SOME of the trains...I heard...second hand...I found it to be hit or miss - with miss beating hit by a country mile. Connected long enough to get 9 facebook notices (4 of which were begging ads to get Facebook a time when I can't even connect with my bank, family, friends, doctors because of technological black holes all across the country. That's absolutely BRILLIANT marketing, facebook. Way to piss me off.