You push them deep into the back of your mind and then they eventually work themselves free and you are stuck with them rattling around and tainting your usual sense of normalcy.
Some people get hung up on an ex lover. Other people can’t ever forget a game winning shot that falls flat or a piece of financial information they failed to act upon.
It happens to all of us.
For me today it happened at the train station. Just as a train came barreling past I thought of him.
The kid was in high school. He was dealing with high school things. Bad grades. Bad complexion. Bad friends. Bad home life.
But when you’re young you don’t see how things can change. Maybe you blossom in college. Maybe you meet someone special that reassures you that you are loved and matter.
Instead, youth, with its infinite possibilities, tends to get trapped in the immediate present. Years fly by when you’re 60. Just a couple of months can grind you into splinters when you’re 17.
It was spring. It was a nice morning. He should have been walking to school and thinking about the summer or trying to make plans to meet girls down town.
Instead, he went to the Burlington Northern train tracks. I have no idea if he even thought about what he was doing. No one ever will. Did he chicken out before at the last minute? How many times had he watched an express train blaze past before he knew today was his day? Did he realize the permanence?
He stepped in front.
What ever it was that brought him to the tracks, it was over now.
These things happen. They shouldn’t, but they do.
I’ve written up dozens of stories about people killing themselves. I’ve known a few friends who have taken their own lives either on accident or on purpose.
But this one was brutal.
You see, his father worked for the rail road. It was his father’s job to investigate all the train accidents. He was the first on the scene from the rail road.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t know it was his son’s body he would be looking at until he got there. I’m know his son knew what would happen. It had to have been planned that way.
It took me awhile to figure out the connection. The last name was common. But the reaction from the other guys at the scene tipped me off that something unusual happened.
I remember an older, heavy set man with a gin blossom nose and tears running down his face pulling me aside and telling me. His father was just sitting in the back of white Ford Taurus, staring blankly out the window.
When I got back to the office I wrote the story two ways. The first version high lighted the connection to the rail road. The second one didn’t mention it.
I went to lunch. I sat on it all day. I knew if I mentioned the father/son connection they would want it high up in the story. It would probably be in the second paragraph. Other papers would pick it up off the AP wire. The televsion guys would talk about it for days. People would want me to interview his family simply because some other asshole wanted to interview his family.
You see this a lot. Tragedy hits. Victims are interviewed. Normally private lives are made public. The media chase the story until they run out of painful, embarassing details to keep a sick minded public’s attention.
But I can’t live that way. I don’t see the point in piling on more misery when someone hits the lowest point they will ever see.
So I never mentioned it to anyone, until now.
I hadn’t thought about for years until today.
I was simply standing there at the Newark Airport station trying to catch a plane back to Houston and waiting for a phone call.
Now it’s just rattling around again. It’s bumped into most everything I’ve done from 12:47 EST onwards.
It will fade again. But it will never really leave. These things have a way of popping back up.