What I’d really like to hear here and in the next chapter is whether you feel like the shifts in time are too extreme or whether they work for you. If they’re confusing, please let me know that. I don’t keep doing this throughout, but at the beginning I have this sequence of a happier moment and then this and then back to the beginning (which starts with Erin, the mother). Thank you for your help! Elisabeth
Chapter 2, Platform (2009)
He pulled his coat more tightly around him as he hurried down the street toward the train station. He’d stopped to buy some Chinese food, but after a few bites, he had found that he wasn’t hungry, and he had left the Styrofoam plate on the table, thinking that maybe someone else would find it and finish the heap of chow mein and chicken sticky with sweetened sauce. He hated to waste so much food, but his stomach often turned on him like that, suddenly finding food repellent that he had wanted only moments before.
The day was unsettled, with clouds overhead and wind blowing the new leaves on the trees this way and that seemed to match his feelings. He wished that one of his friends had been able to walk with him today, but all of them had piled into the cars that were waiting to pick them up as school ended, and he was left to walk to the train alone. Normally he liked this just as well, feeling mature as he walked by himself, but today felt different. His brain was not a quiet place today as he walked along.
He walked up the slope toward the entrance to the station and saw the hill beyond filled with crosses weakly bathed in sunlight. One cross for each soldier killed in the wars since 9/11. A few Stars of David. At least their lives had meant something, though his parents wouldn’t agree. His parents would hate it if he went to fight, but lately the voices kept telling him that the only thing that meant anything was to fight. He definitely couldn’t see the point of going to school every day. The things he was forced to memorize wouldn’t stay put in his mind, and they weren’t going to be of any use to him anyway.
He put his ticket through the stile and walked up the stairs to the platform. Up here, the wind was blowing harder, and he pulled his coat around him again. There were few people up here. He didn’t see the guy who had harassed him the last few times he’d been here. He walked down toward the end of the platform.
The sign said that the next train would arrive in seven minutes. He turned and looked back at the crosses. He envied those people. They’d already finished and accomplished something. He couldn’t see his way clear to accomplishing anything. Everything he tried seemed so hard.
“You’re just a failure.” The voice spoke clearly. He turned but there was no one there.
“How can you expect anyone to love you?”
“It really would be best to end this now.”
The voices were starting to speak over one another, tumbling quickly, and he was looking at what he thought was the electrical rail and wondering how long it would take to kill him and how much it would hurt.
He startled as he felt a hand on his arm.
“Are you all right, young man?” An older woman was looking at him intently.
“What? Ye-yes. I was just thinking about an algebra problem.”
“Do you want to sit down?”
“No, I’m okay. I’m just going to walk a little bit. Thank you for asking.”
“You take care.”
He walked quickly away from her and down the platform, finding the escalator and taking it down to the station entrance. He found himself sweating. He walked up and down for a couple of minutes, then he walked up to the station agent’s booth. The man inside was tall and very large. His uniform didn’t seem to fit him properly anywhere; his hat sat perched awkwardly on his head.
“Can I help you?” the man asked.
“I hope so. I was up on the platform, and I was thinking about throwing myself in front of the train.” He watched the man’s face transform. He was glad he hadn’t listened to the voices. Someone like this man would have had to clean up the mess. He suddenly saw vividly what he imagined a crushed open human body would look like, and he felt nauseous.
“Son, you come in here and sit down. I’m going to need to ask you a few questions, but I am really glad that you came down to talk to me.
Erin was sitting in her bedroom reading when her cell phone rang. It was Gabe.
“Hello?” Her mind was still in 18th century England, in a meadow.
“Erin. The BART police have been trying to reach you.”
“They have? I’m right here.”
“So you’re at home? They want you to go and get Martin. Apparently he was suicidal; he told the station agent he wanted to jump in front of the train.”
“Oh, God. Which station?”
“It’s going to take me 45 minutes to get there.”
“Well I’m in Mountain View, so it would take me a lot longer than that. Do you have anyone you could call?”
“No, no one he knows well. He must be really upset. ” Martin had threatened to kill himself many times but seldom to a stranger.
“Well, get going. As I say, they’ve been looking for you for a while.”
“Okay. I’m leaving.” She punched the off button on her cell phone, feeling a flare of anger that he would put his phone in his pocket and walk away from the situation.
She tried to keep images of a life without Martin from rising up before her. She had a few that haunted her: Martin drowned in the bathtub, his wrists slit; lying in bed at night, sinking under the grief of her loss. But Martin wasn’t dead yet. She had to keep going and try not to mirror the sorts of emotions that had taken him to that BART platform. She needed to stay calm.
She hung up and called to Pete.
“Pete, I have to go and pick up your brother.”
“He told the BART agent that he was thinking about jumping in front of the train. They’re holding him now. Do you want to stay here or come with me?”
“I’m coming with you.”
Erin was both glad that she didn’t have to go alone and sad that at nine, Pete already sounded jaded about rescuing his brother after a suicide scare. He sounded old. Like Erin, he’d heard Martin say he wanted to kill himself many times before. Both of them were practiced in not showing Martin a lot of emotion when Martin was upset, because their feelings added to his intensity. Erin thought how strange it was that they showed each other so little of what they were feeling now, even though Martin wasn’t here. Perhaps she was afraid that her emotions would work on Pete as they did on Martin, making him feel much worse.
They got in the car and drove as quickly as felt safe.