Breakdown

Breakdown

Boy Getting on a TrainBy Erin Sullivan

Home from college a week, and the boy says he needs to go away, to any city, angry in ways the father cannot fathom. The boy’s mind dances around and around and inward and the boy barricades himself in his room. The father knocks with trays of food. Occasionally the food slips in. At night plumbing sounds through the walls. At night all the doors are locked and no one sleeps.

Soon after Christmas his parents drop him at the train station, right in town. It is noon and gray. They will not stand to watch their son ride away against a window, not watching back.

Soon, on official boards, photographs call him missing.

In some anonymous city he pays for a room. Unpacks his only bag. All his things: six pair of socks, four pairs of pants, two T-shirts, a flannel button down, boots. His parents brought him to the train station with all his things in his bag and that boy said thank you, said so long, said no: don’t stay in this car. No point in watching. I don’t plan on coming back. And angry, angry at his mind caving in, said, don’t think I am coming back.

Words haunt the father. Mornings find him digging around in his own mind to find a good reason why. Why put on clothing, go to work, go forward at all? This, he understands, is how a man fails: across an actual life. Not across a collection of minutes that turn to hours and then to days.

That boy, in his room, counting his small stack of cash, arranging his things. His dirty window shows this unfamiliar city writhing and waiting for him. Sorrow hits him, not for missing home, but for his isolation. Hallucinations fill his voids. At night, full of dim lights, bars call to him. A man buys him a drink, chats him up, is back in his small room. Sometimes this man is kind to him. Sometimes he wakes sore, and sick in the mornings, searching his face in the mirror to see if he is different yet, healed yet. If that thing he has been missing has fitted itself into place yet.

A morning in March: his father picks up the phone and finds the boy calling from Kansas. Too much banging, clanging, talking in the city. And now, Kansas, with its rows of stalks and blooms brushing up and against again and again is too noisy. A morning in March his father picks up and finds his son calling to say so long, such a noisy world, I’m out of money.

In his room at such and such a cheap motel in such and such a town an A/C unit clangs and hums and the boy says he will die from it, from the noise. His father, copying down this information, calls bus stations, trains, and calls him back. Bargains. Instructs.

His parents, back at the station in town, standing hand in hand to watch for the approaching train. It is starting again, the mother says. Yes, the father agrees. Again. But he cannot hide his flooding relief, the joy of recognizing the line of his son’s body stepping onto the platform, even in the face of this grim sentence.

Erin Sullivan is a writer who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her work has been published in Salon, Literary Mama, the Independent Weekly, and elsewhere.