Where the Tracks Switch
The first time I entered Cleveland, Ohio it was nighttime. As the car approached the downtown area I could see where the city met the waterfront. This was an area called the Flats. I would come to frequent this location for late-night dancing and other escapades.
The night was dark and inky, which made all of the city lights twinkle brighter and there was a low-hanging body of fog over the water. I remember wondering if Bill Finger (the original writer of Batman) had imagined Gotham City after spending time in or passing through Cleveland. I had arrived at a time when it was being reimagined in the hopes of a revitalization. Once a thriving city built on shipping and industry, Cleveland had fallen into decades of decline. There was a certain indescribable feeling, an edge. To me, it felt like a place caught between what it used to be, what it presently was, and where it hoped to be going. Or maybe I recognized it because that edge and similar experience had been milling around in me. I had now landed in a location that matched it and would provide me with the opportunity to fully experience it.
I was young, curious, wild, and naive. I had a ravenous hunger to experience as much of life as possible. I wanted to take huge air-sucking gulps of it. Bigger gulps than I could actually swallow. At nineteen I felt like a live and loose electric wire.
There is an entire novel that exists inside of me concerning the three years of my life that I lived in-and-around the Cleveland area. Many of the chapters in that novel might make for good reading but they also made for some hard, fast, and at times, incredibly dangerous living. Running alongside my wild and naive nature was an edge of unaware self-destruction. Looking back, I feel certain that there were angels or other-worldly forces watching over me. There is no other way that I could have possibly made it through those years. Dumb luck would not have been a strong enough force to do the job.
On one particular night of “Wild, Young and Self Destructive in the City'', my friends and I decided we were going to head out for a night of dancing, and, whether we intended it or not, probably too much drinking. We piled into my friend's car and headed out to a club on the westside of town. I had never been to this particular spot before. As we were pulling into the parking area, I happened to look up and in the direction of the entrance to the club.
I knew from the first moment that I saw him he would change my life forever.
There are those rare instances in life when time seems to slow down and you can sense that something is moving around you, or maybe it is moving towards you. Or maybe it has been waiting at this split second, in this exact pool of time, and you have finally caught up with it. Some may call it destiny. Whatever those moments are, they are poignant and powerful and whatever choice or decision you make, to walk towards them or to walk away, you feel the direction of your life turn. It can be a subtle and almost indiscernible feeling, like a railroad switch on a track. Right then, your life’s trajectory begins moving towards a new location or destination. Whether you know it or not, you have answered the “All Aboard!” call. The whistle has blown and you are pulling out of your familiar station destined for parts unknown.
My youthful understanding of love and how it worked (or didn’t) had been naturally absorbed by watching my mother and father’s interactions and relationship. Although they eventually landed in a more mellow and ease-filled space in which they expressed their love, I would not qualify the early part of their lives together as such. In my understanding and experience of love, it was supposed to be tumultuous, turbulent and perhaps most notably intense. Yes, dramatic episodes marked by large and loud fighting, periods of eerie quiet (like being in the eye of the storm), and the hope and possibility of sweeping romantic breakthrough moments where and when all was right with the world…until it wasn’t, again. Whether I had a natural predilection for this type of love, or whether I had watched and learned, I was about to arrive in my own moment and experience of it. He fit the bill.
As I made my way to the door of the club, our eyes met and the pit of my stomach contracted. This was the instant the track switched. As I maneuvered past him to the doorman, I felt him turning behind me. I made my way inside and headed towards the bar. When I paid for my drink and turned around he was standing there, waiting to greet me.
He and I spent the next year involved in a very intense and tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship. Part of the intense “on again” included one magical night in May. We spent hours on the bank of Lake Eerie sharing stories and dreams, and at some point, when the Moon was high in the night sky and her reflection was dancing on the surface of the water, for the first time in our relationship, we shared our bodies.
Make no mistake about it, this is a love story, however it may not be the kind that you are thinking it is.
During my pregnancy, I had begun creating again. As my soul opened to the mystery of creation and life. I once again searched for a means through which to express my experiences. Using magic markers, crayons, and any other cheap material that I could get my hands on, I was making sense of my world in a way that began to move me forward. Symbols and images made their way through my crayons and onto the construction paper whose commodity was gold. The miracle of pregnancy had returned me to the magic, joy, and experience of creating art. And, nine months after that fateful night, when my son swam through my body and made his entrance into this world, the fullness that his presence brought into my life assisted me in seeing where I was heading. The track switch had set me on the course of being his mother, of experiencing, learning and embracing the purpose that comes with being responsible for the life and care of another. From the first second that I held him in my arms, I felt the purest love that I had yet to know.
At the same time that I was marveling at life and creation, I became acutely aware that I was in an unhealthy and dangerous relationship with the father of my child. After a particularly long and terrifying night, I knew I had to intentionally switch the track. If I were to remain, the trajectory of all of our lives included the real possibility that one or more of us would not survive. As quickly and quietly as I could, I stuffed as many of my son’s belongings as I could into his large diaper bag, carefully picked his sleeping body up out of his crib and left everything I owned to disappear down the tracks and into the night. The love that I had for my son was bigger and stronger than what I had yet to learn to have for myself. My son was 6-months-old when I left Cleveland.
I never spoke poorly about my son’s father or what had happened. I didn’t want my son to take that on. I believed that the best of what his father had to offer existed within the life that we had come together to create. The nature of who we both were, and all of the complexities of the lives that we had lived before our meeting had led us to our moment in time and I did not feel that it was mine to judge or assign value. My job, passion, and purpose was to become the best parent that I could possibly be, to grow into the type of human being that I wanted my son to see as an example and possibility in this world. Perhaps, most importantly, I was aware that I wanted and needed to allow the love that I had been so graciously gifted to transform me. And it did.
Years later I would dream of my son’s father. In the dream, I am walking down a dirt road in the winter. It is nighttime and the moon is high in the sky, just like it was on that fateful night by the lake. It is providing light and casting shadows over the snow. Eventually I arrived at a large stone mansion. When I enter the mansion I notice that the furniture is covered in sheets and the house has been closed-up for quite some time. It is then that I notice him. He is sitting on top of the large mantle over the fireplace. He does not look the same, but I know it is him. He jumps down from the mantle and walks over to me. He tells me that this is the body that he will inhabit the next time that he comes back. He then holds out his hands and asks me to dance with him. As we slowly dance around the empty room he speaks only one more time, “Thank you for raising our son. Thank you for doing what I could not”. The song ends and I look at him one last time. I turn and walk out the door into the night.
I am a grandmother now. My granddaughter turned 6-months-old yesterday. It seems poignant and probable that her age, and the age her father was when I left Cleveland, has something to do with why this story rose out of me at this time. It is amazing and wondrous to me, all of the moments, decisions and people who have to meet and join in order for one person to become who they are. So many stories and so many different tracks converging, and moving on.
As I have been sitting here, I have found myself searching for a neat and tidy way to wrap it all up. It’s not happening. I am realizing that “neat and tidy” does not really exist. This is a complex and layered story. It is one that includes much larger stories and histories than are mentioned here. I think most stories do. Perhaps the greatest or most important message for me has become about the power of love, forgiveness and gratitude. They are the truly transformative “track switchers”. The moments which include the possibility of choosing them are always moving toward us and around us at all times. They hold the potential to transform our lives and destinations.