Death floods the mind of memory, but there are always new ones to make.
As I sat on the cold, iron bench in the dimly lit subway station, surrounded by an eerie silence that seemed to seep into my bones, a wave of drowsiness overcame me.
The events of the day mixed with the heat had left me exhausted (no matter how much I tried to fight it) and I closed my eyes for just a moment, seeking solace in the embrace of sleep.
But when I opened my eyes, I found myself still on the bench, the familiar weight of the station air pressing against me. I blinked, trying to dispel the confusion that fogged my mind, and that’s when I saw him.
The stranger beside me was an older man, his face weathered by time, his hair a mix of brown and gray cascading down his shoulders like a waterfall. He wore the attire of a conductor, complete with a disheveled beard that added to his unkempt appearance. But it was his warm smile that caught my attention, as if I already knew him, as if he held some secret connection to my very being.
From the depths of his pocket, the conductor produced a magnificent 21 Jewel Hamilton Railroad pocket watch (a personal favorite).
It gleamed in the dim light, the ticking of its gears filling the air with a rhythmic melody. As he checked the time, his gaze met mine, piercing through the veil of my confusion. Sensing my wakefulness, he posed a question that left me both intrigued and perplexed, “Are you ready?”
Confusion enveloped me like a shroud as I scanned my surroundings, searching for any semblance of familiarity. The subway station, once bustling with life, had transformed into a small island, barely ten feet by ten feet in size. A solitary split-flap display indicated arrivals and departures, while in the distance, the haunting melody of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Ain’t That Unusual” echoed through the darkness, its melancholic notes sending shivers down my spine.
Alone and uncertain, I looked ahead and saw the train tracks stretching out before me like divergent paths, branching off into an indeterminate number of destinations. Each track seemed to whisper a different story, promising a unique journey filled with both wonder and peril.
The conductor, his eyes filled with a mysterious anticipation, gently tapped my shoulder, urging me to answer his question once more. “Are you ready?” he asked, his voice filled with a depth of knowledge that far surpassed his years.
Though fear should have gripped me, strangling the words in my throat, I felt an inexplicable calmness as I locked eyes with the conductor. His presence radiated a strange familiarity, as if he held the key to secrets hidden deep within my soul. Summoning my courage, I asked the most pressing question burning within me, “Ready for what?”
In response, the conductor retrieved a small Moleskine notebook from his pocket—a replica of the one I carried in my backpack. The worn pages were filled with scribbles, a labyrinth of thoughts and musings, and within their confines, a handwritten note conveyed that I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. However, it promised opportunities for discussion after each journey, a glimmer of hope amidst the enigma that unfolded before me.
Journeys? Discussions? I struggled to make sense of it all, to grasp the purpose of this ethereal encounter that had intruded upon my life like a ghostly specter. Yet, with few alternatives before me, I mustered a nervous thumbs-up.
Within moments, the distant sound of a train grew louder, its rumbling vibrations penetrating the air. Its arrival was inexplicable, as the split-flap display remained blank, offering no indication of its origin or destination. The train glided into the station, consisting solely of a locomotive, an apparition in the darkness. The conductor gestured for me to board, a silent invitation to embrace the unknown.
Leaving the comfort of the bench behind, I followed a newly formed path through the thick fog that enveloped the station until I reached the train’s entrance. The conductor entered from the front, his steps purposeful and filled with a quiet confidence, and I settled into the only seat available, situated on the right side near the middle of the train.
As the train departed with a bone-chilling screech, time itself seemed to twist and distort, warping the very fabric of reality. The familiar darkness of the subway station gave way to a haunting illumination, casting an otherworldly glow upon our surroundings.
No longer aboard a train, we found ourselves standing on the precipice of a desolate landscape, an eerie void stretching out before us. The air was thick with a sense of foreboding, as if the very essence of this place whispered ancient secrets into the wind.
The conductor, his presence as enigmatic as ever, motioned for me to follow him towards an obscure path that meandered through the unknown. The Moleskine notebook, clutched tightly in his weathered hand, displayed a cryptic message that sent a shiver down my spine:
“Do not touch. Do not change.”
I nodded, a mixture of curiosity and trepidation swirling within me, as I obediently trailed behind him. The whispering wind carried fragments of long-forgotten voices, distant echoes that beckoned us towards an uncertain fate.
Train: A Life of Struggle
In this reality, I found myself shackled to the burdens of a relentless existence. The weight of stress and constant hardships bore down upon my weary shoulders, grinding away at my spirit. The world in which I resided appeared dim and desolate, a bleak landscape devoid of hope.
Within the confines of this grim reality, I discovered myself married to a partner, and together we had brought a child into this tumultuous world. But the demands of survival and the ceaseless struggle for financial stability had overshadowed any semblance of joy or contentment. The walls of our modest dwelling seemed to close in, suffocating the dreams and aspirations that had once burned within my soul.
Every day felt like a Sisyphean task, an endless loop of monotony and despair. My family existed, yes, but I was so consumed by the perpetual battle to keep our heads above water that I missed out on the moments that truly mattered. The laughter of my child became distant echoes, the touch of my spouse a fleeting memory.
As the weight of the world pressed upon me, an insidious emptiness settled within my core. It gnawed at my spirit, a pervasive ache that refused to be silenced. The mundane routines of daily life became an oppressive force, eroding the flickering embers of my dreams until they were mere ashes, scattered by the winds of time.
In this desolate existence, I longed for something more, for a glimmer of light amidst the shadows. But as I traveled the path of struggle, I realized the true cost of my choices. The pursuit of survival had come at the expense of my own well-being, my own sense of fulfillment.
Each night, as I lay my tired body upon the frayed mattress, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another way, if there were paths left untaken that could have led me to a different destiny. The conductor, a silent witness to my pain, seemed to understand the weight of my regrets, a burden shared by those who dared to venture through this twisted realm of existence.
Train: Dream Job, Empty Heart
In this alternate reality, I soared to professional success, securing an amazing engineering position at the renowned (at the time) Digg.com.
Every achievement felt like a victory, propelling me closer to the pinnacle of my career. Success whispered sweet promises, enticing me with recognition and acclaim.
But as I climbed the ladder of triumph, I realized the steep price I had paid. The relentless pursuit of my dream job consumed my time and energy, leaving little room for the luxuries of family life. Loneliness seeped into my nights, an emptiness that no amount of professional accomplishments could fill.
Amidst the glow of success, I stood atop a pedestal, admired by peers and showered with accolades. Yet, within, a profound emptiness took root. The absence of familial love cast a shadow over my achievements, leaving me yearning for something more.
Loneliness became a constant companion, haunting the stillness of my nights. The vibrant pulse of human connection faded, drowned out by the pursuit of my dreams. The laughter of loved ones became a distant echo, their touch a fleeting memory tinged with bittersweet longing.
As the days blended together, I realized that success alone could not fill the void within my heart. The hollowness of professional triumph left me yearning for the warmth of companionship, the simple joys of familial love.
In the pursuit of my dream job, I had forsaken the balance between ambition and personal fulfillment. The trappings of success paled in comparison to the depth and richness that only a life intertwined with loved ones could provide.
With each passing day, the weight of my choices grew heavier, and the ache of my empty heart became more pronounced. The dreams I had pursued fervently now seemed hollow without human connection.
Train: The Wrong Puzzle Piece
In this twisted reality, I found myself immersed in the semblance of a perfect family life, a picture-perfect tableau of love and happiness. The bond with my loved ones seemed unbreakable, an idyllic harmony that radiated from every corner of our existence. But beneath the surface, an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction gnawed at my soul, a disquiet that refused to be silenced.
I toiled away in a blue-collar job that suffocated my spirit, a monotonous grind devoid of the passions and hobbies that once fueled my being. Each day became an arduous trudge through the trenches of a vocation that I despised. The puzzle pieces of my life, seemingly aligned, held within them a dissonance that echoed through the depths of my being.
The strain of this incongruity grew unbearable as the weight of the mismatched existence pressed upon me. The perfect family life clashed with the discordance within, leaving me feeling trapped within the confines of a life that felt foreign, as if I were an imposter within my own story. The dissonance gnawed at my soul, a relentless reminder that something vital was missing.
In the silence of the night, I yearned for the passions and dreams I had cast aside, buried beneath the facade of perfection. The pieces of the puzzle did not fit, and their misalignment created an ache that could not be ignored. The yearning for authenticity, for a life that embraced my true passions and desires, grew stronger with each passing moment.
Train: Tragic Pursuit
In this fateful journey, I embarked on a life of boundless adventure and artistic exploration. As a renowned photographer and fearless pilot, the world was my canvas, and I reveled in the exhilaration that each day brought. From the majestic peaks of distant mountains to the hidden corners of far-flung cities, I captured moments of awe and wonder with my lens.
The adrenaline coursing through my veins fueled my insatiable thirst for exploration. Each step into the unknown was a testament to my audacity, my unyielding desire to push the boundaries of human experience. The thrill of soaring through the heavens as a pilot matched the euphoria of capturing life’s most precious moments with my camera.
But this path, laden with adventure and adrenaline, carried a tragic consequence. The pursuit of the extraordinary came at a steep price. In a cruel twist of fate, an untimely demise awaited me, a fatal accident cutting my journey short. The same risks that had once fueled my spirit now snuffed out the flame of my existence.
The world mourned my passing, the void left by my absence echoing through the hearts of those who had admired my daring pursuits. The landscapes I had immortalized in photographs became a haunting reminder of a life cut short. Regret cast a shadow over the memories, mingling with the awe and admiration that had once surrounded my name.
The tragic pursuit of adrenaline and artistic expression had left my loved ones with bittersweet memories, forever tinged with the ache of what could have been. The price paid for my passions weighed heavily upon them, their grief mingling with the knowledge that my demise had come as a result of the very risks I had cherished.
Train: Emotionless Existence
In this chilling reality, I delved into a world where my government work consumed every facet of my existence. Through unwavering dedication and tireless effort, I ascended the ranks, joining the formidable ranks of the NSA. The power and influence that accompanied my position were undeniable, granting me access to the inner workings of the world’s most guarded secrets.
But as the cloak of secrecy enveloped me, an insidious emptiness settled within my core. The pursuit of knowledge and control came at a steep cost—a detachment from the very essence of humanity. Emotions became foreign territory, their vivid hues muted into shades of apathy and indifference. In this frigid realm, devoid of human connections and genuine sentiments, I yearned for the warmth and connection that eluded me.
Surrounded by dispassionate faces and a symphony of secrets, I bore the weight of information that could topple nations and shatter lives. The sacrifices demanded by my role gnawed at my soul, leaving me adrift in a sea of isolation. The absence of empathy and the veneer of detachment masked a profound longing for the intimate connections that had been severed.
As days bled into nights and missions blurred into an unending cycle, I navigated a world where trust was scarce and vulnerability a luxury I could not afford. The essence of my humanity lay buried beneath layers of protocols and security clearances. The pursuit of truth had cost me the very fabric of my being.
In the depths of my solitude, I yearned for the simplest of human joys—the touch of a loved one, the resonance of laughter, the warmth of an embrace. The numbing embrace of an emotionless existence cast a shadow over my every action, leaving me to question the price paid for my position within the labyrinthine corridors of power.
Train: The Loss of Everything
In this heart-wrenching glimpse into the future, I witnessed a world where time had marched forward relentlessly. My son had grown into a man, with a family of his own, while my beloved wife had tragically passed away, leaving a void in my heart that could never be filled. The weight of grief bore down upon my shoulders, an unbearable burden that threatened to consume me entirely.
As the threads of fate unraveled, a cruel twist of destiny awaited me. Riding my motorcycle, the wind whipping through my hair, I met my untimely demise in a devastating accident. The world shattered around me, the remnants of my existence scattered across the unforgiving landscape of loss. The pain of my absence echoed through the lives of those I had loved, a symphony of sorrow that reverberated through their hearts.
The void left by my beloved wife’s absence was magnified by the stark reality of my own passing. The once vibrant tapestry of our shared existence was marred by the haunting emptiness that permeated every corner of our home. The laughter and love we had cherished now existed as cherished memories, forever tinged with the ache of longing.
As the days turned into months and the months into years, I found myself adrift in a sea of grief. The world moved forward, oblivious to the weight of loss that clung to my soul. Friends and family offered condolences, but their comforting words fell upon deaf ears, unable to fill the void that had consumed me.
In the vast expanse of my loneliness, I grappled with the harsh reality of an existence forever altered. The memories of my beloved wife and the joys of our life together became both a solace and a torment. The tendrils of grief wrapped themselves tightly around my heart, leaving me feeling detached from the world that continued to spin relentlessly.
As I disembarked from one of the rides, hoping and praying it would be the last, a sense of anticipation and weariness filled my being. The conductor, stepping off the train, removed his top jacket and placed it on the bench, revealing a tattoo on his left wrist that read “make time.”
It was then that I saw her—the angelic figure of my mother, sitting on the bench, engrossed in Ayn Rand’s words.
The sight of my mother in this ethereal train station filled me with a mix of comfort and longing. Her presence carried a sense of wisdom and understanding that transcended the boundaries of life and death. As I approached her, the conductor’s true identity became clear—he was an older version of myself, a guide through the enigmatic train rides.
In a moment that felt both surreal and profound, my mother spoke to me, her voice imbued with love and wisdom. She explained that life was not about seeking perfection or knowing the end before the journey unfolded. Instead, it was about merging all of my hopes, dreams, and goals into a single path—a path that would lead me to create my own version of the “perfect life.”
She reminded me that the journey itself held the key to fulfillment, as the twists and turns, joys and sorrows, shaped us into who we were meant to be. The train rides were a testament to the intricate tapestry of existence, inviting me to embrace the beauty of the unknown and trust in my ability to navigate the complexities of life.
With a gentle touch, my mother urged me to awaken. And in that instant, I found myself back in the familiar train station, but now in the realm of reality. Only my loyal cat Pancake sat beside me, a comforting presence reminding me of the simple joys of companionship.
Weeks have passed since that profound dream, occurring just before the anniversary of my mother’s passing, yet its impact lingers on my soul. The train rides and the figures within my mind have etched valuable lessons within me, serving as a poignant reminder that life is truly remarkable, but it demands our active participation.
In the wake of this ethereal journey, I find myself awakened to the profound beauty that surrounds me. The dream served as a gentle nudge, urging me to seize each day with purpose and intention. It reminded me that life’s magnificence is not merely bestowed upon us; rather, it is a tapestry we must actively weave.
In the wake of that dream, I walk forward with a heart brimming with gratitude, ready to embrace the infinite possibilities that each new day brings. Life is a gift, and I am determined to unwrap its wonders with every ounce of my being.
Love you Mom.