Although she had a penchant for exploration and imagination, the girl who climbed the sandy bank of the railroad tracks could never have written the plot lines that would tell her story. As she searched for pennies flattened by a recent passing train, an adventure she likened to discovering buried pirate treasure, her ankles wobbled over chunks of broken asphalt and porous stones set loosely between the railroad ties. She was careful to avoid the hot smears of creosote that left tarry stains on her tennis shoes, and her fingers recoiled from the searing steel as she plucked each melted coin from the rails. She cast a long shadow as she hopped along the tracks, leaping with the downward gaze of a nascent steeplechaser, easily losing her rhythm if she dared to look up. If only she had taken a moment to peer ahead, to follow the seam of the tracks as they disappeared into the scrub pine, she might have seen him there.
He was a tall, broad-shouldered boy with a quiet, esoteric brilliance that he kept largely to himself. He walked along the tracks in his tread worn boots, hands shoved deep into his coat pockets, driving his shoulder forward into the sleeting grey winds as if he were pushing through an impertinent crowd. He, too, was looking for flattened pennies, and he cleared the snow from the rail with a gloved finger precisely at the exact location he’d left them. He paused, crouched between the rails, sensing a distant vibration with an unfamiliar tempo. When he heard his grandfather holler to him from the shops, where the stacks sent plumes of soot and ash billowing into the air, coating the town in an inky silk patina, he jumped up to run toward him. The sudden wail of a train’s whistle pulling out of the yard smothered the constant tapping of rock against steel produced by a small, wistful girl 2000 miles away.
How lovely it is to share this common convention, one that now lies fragmented and useless in the tall grasses between his hometown and mine. We realize now, of course, after years of tracing the patterns of well-worn tracks across miles of unfamiliar terrain, that our individual perspectives only gave us the illusion of depth. Our separate stories were incomplete, having only his east-west and my north-south chapters to tell.
His railroad was the livelihood of generations before him, a hub for the transportation of natural resources as valuable as the men who consumed them. My railroad, conversely, catered to the vagrant, hipster souls who retreated to southern latitudes in search of self, comfort, or new beginnings. The railroads were a constellation of patterns and choices, and for all our common experience, there was simply no direct route between his heart and mine. Today, at a time in history when your soul mate lies just three Facebook friends removed, it is far more romantic to think of the two of us touching the same threads of steel, inching ourselves closer and closer to each other until we felt the full force of insight.
Railroads simultaneously exist as function and metaphor; the former surmising his constitution, the latter an excellent explanation for mine. How much richer we are together, how much more colorful our journey, for having lived as two sides of the same coin- a coin whose once distinct images have been blurred into a smooth, flat treasure more valuable than pirate’s gold.