Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hazy Shade of Winter

I like my town, kind of, and I like the state of New York, conditionally, but on some level I also always think of upstate New York less as the place I come from and more as the place I escaped from. Spending a week here in the dead of winter rather than during November, which used to be the dead of winter but now (possibly thanks to climate change?) is kind of hit or miss on whether it will even be chilly, much less whether there will be snow on the ground, has done nothing to sway me from the certain knowledge that no, I don't want to move back home on a permanent basis. Not now, and not ever.

Did I ever tell you the story of the train that goes by my house at night?

When we first moved here, and I had to come back for the whole summer after freshman year of college (still the only full summer that I have ever spent in my town), I was miserable. I didn't have a car and couldn't find a job in walking distance because I was male and unrelated to the members of the town board (as I explained in the link above, town and village jobs were held for relatives of the town and village government, and the gas stations only hired women), and everything was so flat. This used to weigh on me at times when I actually sat and thought about what I hated about living here, and tried to quantify it into words. This part of upstate New York is a lot of rolling farmland, so all I could see from my house was horizon. So much horizon, so far away. As a normally overdramatic and also prone to depression person, this began to weigh on me, this feeling of being trapped in a terrible place with all of the sky pressing in around me.

Enter the 11 PM train.

Our house was only air conditioned on the ground floor and in my parents' bedroom, so I had to sleep every night with the windows on either side of my bedroom opened to get a cross breeze to flow over my bed. Generally, since we live in the country, evenings were quiet except for the random interruption of the fire whistle less than a mile away, and the 11 PM train that I managed to hear every night, even if I was already asleep. I'd snap awake, lay in bed, stare toward the ceiling (I can't really stare at the ceiling, since I can't see the ceiling from my bed without my glasses on, so I just kind of point my eyes toward it), and listen to the long, mournful whistle of the 11 PM train as it passed through the village every night without stopping. The whistle was mournful, of course, because I was unhappy.

You probably already figured that out, but just in case, it's just a regular old train whistle unless you're a depressed teenager.

Anyway, one night at dinner toward the end of summer, I was all kinds of fired up about something, and raging and carrying on over how awful it was to live here and there was nothing to do and all you could think about all the time every day was how much you wanted to get away and how exciting it would be to live somewhere, ANYWHERE, that wasn't Philadelphia, New York. (I'm fairly certain that I also referred to my town at least once in this rant as "Philthy", rather than Philly, as I still refer to the sexist gas station as Philthy Fuels to this day.) I was in full dramatic fervor, just short of weeping and tearing at my hair, really all the way into Shelly Winters at the bus station in "A Place in the Sun" territory in terms of hysteria and Veda talking about dollar days and the smell of diner grease in "Mildred Pierce" in terms of content, carrying on about this terrible place and these terrible, inbred, nepotistic people who lived and died here and never dreamed about anything but their sad, terrible little lives and wanted everyone else to fall into the trap of staying in upstate New York with them. My parents, more than used to this, barely gave it an eyeroll while eating and watching the evening news with me, and that's when I hit the climax of teenage drama and launched into an impassioned, Emmy-worthy speech about the 11 PM train.

"Every night! Every night I lay in my bed, and I stare at the ceiling, and I hear the train go by! I listen to it whistle as it blows through town, and every night I wonder about that train, and where it's going, and who the people on it are! I wonder what they're doing, and if they're just passing through, or if they're getting out of this terrible place, with these terrible people! Every night I hear that train and I wonder where it's going and I wonder what it would be like to ride on it, to ride out of here, to get away from Philthy and get on that train and go somewhere! Somewhere far away!"

I probably should have followed this with weeping, but my dad, who had only been half listening (if you've listened to the same rant every night for a whole summer already, why give it your full attention?), turned around and casually asked, "Did you just ask about the 11 o'clock train? The one that goes through at night?"

"YES! The one that LEAVES HERE!"

Dad shrugged.

"There's nobody on that train."


"That's a freight train. It goes from Watertown to Potsdam and comes back in the morning. There aren't any passengers on it."

And then he turned back around and kept watching the news.

I was speechless.

I think my mom laughed.

At the time I interpreted this as "Nobody understands me!" in my teenage wailing, but now I think about this story and giggle about what a bratty little asshole I was and how my dad waiting for the perfect moment to casually puncture my teenage drama balloon. My parents are awesome.

Upstate New York?

Slightly less so, especially in winter. Talking about that was the original point of my post, as I realized this week that in addition to being flat and soul-crushing for people without cars, winter also leaches the color out of everything, rendering the entire landscape in a pallet of white, black, and slushy gray. As proof, I submit the following:

The sky blends right into the ground and even things that have color seem less bright.

And that's the other reason why I can't move back home, ever.


1 comment:

Marcheline said...

I totally know what you mean... I wouldn't live up there, either. But the river in winter is kind of awesome, you have to admit.