Sunday, December 28, 2008

Long Train Runnin'

freight train passing through the Syracuse train station, across snowy tracks

"Indy is waiting for you outside your door," read the text message from Maria, and I burst into tears on the Amtrak back to New York City. Indy was as much my dog as any dog had ever been, though I had only seen him four times since we first brought him home from the breeder's in May. But somehow when I came home to Mike and Maria's house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Indy still remembered our initial bond, and has started waiting for me outside the attic door when I get up in the morning, and outside the bathroom door when I get out of the shower.

But this time, I wouldn't be coming out. Not for a few months. I don't even know when I'll be back.

I tried to say goodbye to Indy, suitcase in tow, on Saturday morning when I was leaving for the train station, but he was jumping around and playing like a puppy is apt to do. Maria said, "He doesn't know you're not coming back," and I grabbed his face and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead, a good squeeze, and didn't look back.

But sitting on that train, with a stranger next to me cackling on her cell phone, staring out of a dirty window, I allowed my eyes to well up, mourning the piece of myself I'd left behind.

I've taken lots of trains lately, to Philly, West Chester PA, San Diego, Long Island, the Hudson Valley...That trip up and down the Hudson River is so familiar to me now, but this time, the fog started to settle in sometime after Croton-on-Hudson, and as I kept peering out the window to look for Bannerman Castle, conditions outside the train became increasingly white-out. The chunky, icy surface of the Hudson River soon gave way to a more watery surface, through which flocks of geese cut their way and disappeared into the low-hanging haze. I even saw some kayakers struggling upstream, and I wondered if they could see where they were going, because I could barely see them, not to mention the invisible other side of the river.

It was getting warmer as I got closer to the city (and was downright balmy today), but the thick fog was nevertheless a continuation of a White Christmas, which started when I woke up as my USAirways flight started its descent into the Syracuse area, hovering above the city that looked like a snowy white checkerboard. I was prepared for the snow and cold this time, with all the winter weather accoutrements necessary for surviving sleet, snow, rain, and everything in between. And we pretty much got all of those while I was home.

That kind of weather has a funny effect on the human eye, making everything look greyscale, the color draining out of the wintry palette. And somehow my thoughts felt a little more black-and-white too, bringing some clarity to a life that has been way too muddled lately.

And sometimes you need a little white-washing, a little fresh dusting over that which has become murky and messed up.

Besides, the snow didn't stop us from doing any of the things we wanted to do, including a pilgrimage to Texas Roadhouse (delayed only by the fact that they don't open til 4 on weekdays, not by the snow). Sure, it's a chain restaurant and a lot like Rodeo Bar in my own neighborhood in NYC, but somehow me, Mike, Maria and her brother Pete are a magical combination that results in constant giggling and perma-grin, and not just because of the size of the enormous margaritas.

It's nice to have a family to come home to. Even if you're just being silly together.

Santa was good to me, but in many ways it doesn't even really matter what I got, because the best gift I have been given is love, not just expressed through gift exchange. And it's nice to know they're all waiting for me to come back home.

The next time I do go up to Syracuse, the snow will probably be gone, but I hope my clarity remains. And as for the dog? I can't wait to see how much bigger he gets. He's already tall enough to put his paws on my shoulders and give me a hug standing up.

In the meantime, I'm sure there are more trains in my future, though the next one won't necessarily take me home.