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The Train Carried Him Away

He was only 9 years old. His world was about to shatter and then be put back together as something completely different. It wasn't his fault, but he would pay, and he would remember the loss and the pain for years to come.

His parents had been fighting for years. They had married young and he was the cause. He was a surprise to a young couple just dating, not meaning to be serious. He figured that out years later, but now he just figured he was somehow the cause. Now it had all come to a head and they were leaving, he and his mother. They were going "home" to his mother's parents' home back east. He had never been there. He could remember only living in his desert home for all his life.

At school he told only a few people. Somehow he was ashamed and also rather lost. He was only 9. This was not his fault but he was paying and he didn't feel that anyone would understand. Maybe they would not even care. But he told his teacher, a man who had always treated him like a son. He was a good student. All his teachers had liked him, and would continue to in the future. But he didn't know that then.

It was also true that he had a leading role in the annual musical that was being put on. He had a solo to sing and they had been practicing for weeks. The musical would be put on that Friday night. The night of the day he would leave. His parents were taking him out on Friday for good. He would not be there, but he had not told the music teacher. He was ashamed.

This school had been good to him. He had been here for first and second grade. Now he was in third grade and it was March and he would not be finishing the year at all. He would be in a new school for 3 months and he would be lost among new people, new faces, new customs he would not understand and that would only cause him fear and loss of the esteem and friendship he had developed here at his real school.

He went for a long walk out into the desert the evening before they were leaving. He loved the desert. He loved the smell of the creosote bushes and the sage brush that covered the landscape. He loved the animals he found there. The tortoises he would find ambling slowly on their way to their own destinations. The jack rabbits jumping out from behind a bush and scrambling and hopping away from the intruder. The horned lizards he saw making a dinner of the red ants scattered about their little hills of sand and debris. It was home to him.

On the next day his teacher kept him in the classroom for awhile when they broke for lunch. His teacher took him onto his lap and just told him that he had enjoyed having him for a student and that he regretted losing him. After lunch he told all his friends that he was leaving and not coming back. His classmates didn't understand but some of the girls did. They gathered together and giggling among themselves they planned something.

As they were all walking out in line from the classroom for the end of the day three of the girls held back and as he passed they took his hand and drew him aside. Each girl gave him a kiss on his cheek. It was the very first time any girl, except his mother, had kissed him. He liked it a lot. He was very glad it had happened. That was when he knew that he really, really liked girls.

So they all went their separate ways. Some to the buses and some to walk home. He was a walker. His house was just a few desert blocks away from the school, maybe 10 minutes at the most. He was still thinking about the kisses. They had made this a much better day.

When he arrived home his father had the car all packed and ready to drive into town. His father was a fireman on the Santa Fe railroad. That meant they could take the train for free. He and his mother were going to catch the train at the station in the big town about 20 minutes away. The place his father went to when he was working. He didn't work everyday. He would go out on the train for days at a time and then maybe be home for days after that.

So anyway, they boarded the train, with the help of a porter. All porters were black men back then. He had hardly ever seen a black man. There were none in his little town and few in the larger town. This was going to be an interesting ride. They found their car and their seats and his father gave him a hug and then he was gone.

The train moved out and started rattling down the line on the tracks. It swayed back and forth too, but not a lot. It was starting to get dark as they crossed the desert and then went over a bridge that spanned the Colorado river.

Then it was so dark he could see nothing except the occasional yard light of a ranch house in the distance. He walked through the car down a corridor passing along beside the windows that became mirrors after dark. He watched himself passing down towards the dining car. He vowed to never wash his cheek again. He still remembered the feeling of those kisses.

The trip took three days. They arrived in Kansas City and then took another train south to where his grandparents lived. When they arrived in the town with a station closest to his relatives they were met, and he hugged his grandma and grandpa. They gathered up the luggage, packed it in the car, and drove for 45 minutes to the farm.

The desert was gone. His school was gone. His friends were gone. His father was gone.

He had memories. They would last.

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