It was an unusually cool morning in July. I remember it with a particular clarity because it was the day that everything I believed to be true evaporated in a puff of smoke. I had woken up early, at least, earlier than I had planned. After trying unsuccessfully to return to sleep, I gave up, dressing quickly and leaving just as fast. I chose not to leave a note believing that I’d be back long before anyone noticed I was gone. I should have left the note.
I chose my path by whim alone- I still wonder sometimes where those whims came from. Were they the illogical wanderings of a tired mind or were my feet following a preordained path set by a higher power? I was never religious but now I feel I should be. That was Danny’s influence, as well. I am who I am today because of the events of that summer, mainly that morning.
Before I go any further, I’d like to make a few disclaiming statements. First of all, this is not a love story. I was thirteen; I’m not even sure I knew what love was. Although it is true I sometimes look back on this summer with a certain…nostalgia, it would be the foulest of lies to say that it was out of love for a boy. I do not want to repeat that summer. If there is any sort of longing attached to this memory, it is for the way I saw the world before Danny’s role in my life began.
I continued walking until I found myself in the local train yard, a good mile or so away from my home. The sun had risen quite high by this point, though it would be a while still until it hit its daily zenith. Railroad tracks crisscrossed the ground in every direction. I came to a stop a few yards from an intersection. A man was standing there, or maybe he was still a boy, (it’s funny how I owe my life to him, but still cannot remember so much as his age), positioned in such a way that he was directly on the crossroads surrounded by an intense brightness; the light of the sun reflected off the metal of the tracks, illuminating him like the beacon on top of a lighthouse. The light was so intense that the majority of his features were completely shielded from me, replaced by an eerie whiteness. The meaning behind his positioning was a mystery to me. He did not appear to be doing anything of note; just standing and staring up at the sky, arms spread wide as though in welcome. As I did not think he noticed me, (and to be quite honest, was frightened of this stranger), I made to turn around and head home. Coming here, I could now see, had been a bad idea.
Just as I made up my mind, the man moved. He lowered his arms in what must have been a deliberately slow manner, and leapt from the tracks. I say leapt because that it the closest I have ever been able to come to adequately describing the movement. As he was not even a foot from the ground it really wasn’t much of a leap, but the motion behind his action was ultimately the same. All at once, the light that had been surrounding him was gone. It was as if, having learned all they could from him, heaven abandoned him, casting him back into the mortal realm from which he came. It filled my thirteen-year-old self with an inexplicable sadness. Gods shouldn’t abandon their initiates.
Before I had gotten over this thought, he was in front of me. “Little girl,” he said with something approaching a smile on his face, “you really shouldn’t be here.”
Now, while looking back I realize I was quite young- very young, actually, young and ignorant- at the time I considered myself if not exactly an adult, very close. I had lived in this neighborhood long enough to know that essentially he was right about the train yard, too, all kinds of dangerous individuals hang out there, but to have him actually say these truths to me was something I did not appreciate. “Sir,” I began, choosing to address him politely at least at first, “I really don’t like to have strangers telling me what to do. My momma doesn’t mind me going here, so it really isn’t any of your business if I do.”
He smiled then, a true, genuine smile. “Oh, the confidence of youth. Hold tight to it, girl. You’ll never feel surer about something than you do this day. With age comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes the death of your belief in yourself. It’s hard to believe in something when the world reminds you daily that doing so is foolish.”
“You seemed pretty sure of yourself when you were standing on those tracks,” I said.
“Yes well I’ve been around long enough to know that trains don’t just appear out of thin air. No, nothing comes from nothing. Don’t you ever forget that, girl. Take care of yourself, now. No one else will.”
He walked away then without so much as a backwards glance, as though, having conferred upon me some great wisdom, he felt there was no more to be gained from talking to me. I left then, too, heading back home. My parents were probably worried about me. When I got home, I got yelled at for disappearing, but the admonishments rang hollow in my head. Somehow, my mother had lost her ability to punish me with words of disappointment.
I learned later that the man’s name was Danny when his name appeared in the Sunday paper. It was a front page story. “MAN HIT BY MOVING TRAIN” is what the headline read. Pasted next to it was a picture of a smiling man, standing on the crossroads, arms spread wide in welcome. He wasn’t looking at the camera, or even gave any sign that he realized a train was coming straight at him. The caption was “Danny Morgan, (age unknown), pictured minutes before his death.” The article said the picture was taken by a photography student who happened to be present, taking pictures of the station for his portfolio. “I thought it was an interesting pose. I didn’t know he was…was going to…to….well….you know,” he was quoted saying. I couldn’t finish the article. All I could see in my mind was a man standing before a crossroads, waiting for heaven to take him back into its embrace. I thought of the way the light surrounded him completely, only to cast him out, and the way he looked when he told me nothing came from nothing. I wondered if he had been going to do it that day, but didn’t because I was there. No, gods shouldn’t abandon their initiates, and neither should the world.