a girl on the train

I am going to tell you this story. I don't think I ever told it before.

 photo by .aditya.

This was a few years ago, and I was less than a year from Lucia's death, and I was pregnant again and coming home from a midwife appointment in the city. I was on the train. I was listening to Stereolab, holding onto a pole, staring out the window at graffiti and darkness passing underneath the city.

Then I saw her waiting for the train. I couldn't believe it. She walked onto the car, brushed past me. I smelled her without being weird. And she even smelled like I thought she would. She had dark hair and eyes like my husband. I couldn't stop staring at her. She was Lucia grown up. I mean, I thought Lucia could look like her. Then I guess I thought she was Lucia. She must have been twenty-two, or so. She looked athletic with wide shoulders. She wore orange and red, and carried a small purse crossed over her chest, nothing ostentatious. She checked her iPhone and listened to music and tapped her toes. She wore cool, sensible shoes. Clogs. Just like me. And a scarf around her neck.

I whispered Lucia's name, but she didn't budge. I turned away now and again for the sake of convention. But I situated myself so I could mostly stare at her while pretending to look through her, like she was a specter, which of course, she was. And when the train pulled into my stop, I stayed on. I stayed on the train to see her longer. To look at her face. Praying she would smile, or talk. She was my baby, but she didn't know it. I wanted to see the way her neck eased into her shoulder. It was a very adult part of the body, and Lucia was never adult.

My God. Lucia will never be an adult.

The fact hits me like I fell in front of the train instead of rode in it. Lucia will never kiss a boy. She will never go to college, or eat a peach or dance in a rainstorm. I will never run into her randomly on the train where we can ride home together. I sometimes forget the details of all she will miss in my missing. She will not wear sensible shoes on a Tuesday, or crazy heels on a dark New Year's Eve. She will not hate basketball, or love it, even. Lucia is missing everything too. This body, this youth, this sexiness, this life we lead when we are young and death is something conquered, not an inevitable destination. Lucia never left the station.

I have nothing left of her. A wisp of hair, and grief. If there was a tea to take away grief, I wouldn't drink it. It is all I have of her--grief. An astrologer said I ride the train through two worlds--the living and the dead. I will never fit in either place. It is my destiny, he said. By the alignment of the stars, and my birth time, and this life, he said, Remember,  you made this soul contract. You picked your suffering. To me, he said, it looks like you picked the express train to spiritual growth, which means this is going to be a hard life.

I want this grief, this dis-ease of the heart. The grief is love, I think. It is the aching part of love. It is the sad part of love. But it is still love. Grief ties me to her. Aching. Pain. Suffering. They are her calls to me, and in that way, the pain is sweet and beautiful. She is just a name now. To my children. They stopped asking me about her weight, and what age she would be. She is Lucy, the very sad story I told them one afternoon. She is a butterfly now, and maybe a ladybug. She is the dedication of a song, or a picture, but not a real girl. She doesn't ride the train, and listen to music. She doesn't wear her hair down. Not like the other sisters.

This ride home felt like a journey between two worlds. I am Orpheus, walking again with a lyre into the underworld, and it invigorates me. It is not unlike going into 8th Street station. It smells of piss and cigarette smoke. There is a darkness in me. One I finally see. If I embrace it, the astrologer says, I will be happier. Even way back then, before I knew about the darkness in me, I paid the conductor, and followed the girl that could have been my daughter. My Lucia is dead. Her ashes are lumpy (so is my soul.) I probably wouldn't recognize my little girl walking and talking like a twenty year old. After all, I never saw her live. But that girl on the train was her for twelve minutes. And I loved her like my baby. The girl gets off the train and runs down the stairs. I watch her disappear behind a wall. Lucia is dead again.

I cross the platform to the train going back to my home. It's only two stops. The car is empty. It is hard not to cry, so I don't fight it.


Have you ever seen a stranger who reminds you of your child? Is there any adult in your life that reminds you of what your child could have been? Who is it? Do you want to be close to them, or far away? What parts of your child's adulthood do you miss most?