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CALTRAIN

by

Kevin McGowin



Francesca, forgive me. Or at least I would if I were you, though I'm not. Same with the world, same with myself. I'd forgive ME if I could, but that's a slim chance, anymore. I hate myself, and I want to die. I just don't want to die bad enough.

I'm 24, and I can't stop drinking. I wake up cold with the shakes in odd hours of the night, and to stave it off I drink more. I tell myself I was born with some gene that made me this way. Because I cannot stand to admit that I'm a coward and a bleeder.

Francesca takes care of me like she was my sister, which she is not. Why she stays with me, I don't know. Certainly not for the sex. There IS no sex. Francesca warm and naked under the sheets. Me, drunk, playing games at the computer. Me, not a boring man at heart, and by no means an unintelligent one. Me, who will not stop, regardless of love or a lack thereof.

I've told everyone that ever loved me to go straight to hell.

I can't quite remember where the corner turned, or exactly when I ended back in Tulsa. And does it matter? People always said that Jewish people never ended up alcoholics. Maybe my life was a quest to prove them wrong.

I don't know what the rest of the world did last night. I got drunk, and took the Caltrain fron San Jose to San Fran and back again, thinking about when and where I'd thrown it all away. I ended up back on Mission, still clueless, and if I didn't have to just KEEP WALKING to some unknown destination I would be dead, my heart would stop with a numbness in my left hand. With pains in my arm and a fluttering chest, making my way back up the hill to Francesca, who loves me, although I don't love HER, because I don't even love myself.

Move out to San Francisco. Start drinking. Tell me I'm a liar.

And I meant to kill myself in San Jose, I really, really did. Yet I took the train back to the City because I was a coward. I am no longer a rounded character. I have only one dimension, and I hate it. I'm back in San Francisco and I hate what's left of my ridiculous life.

Yet I remember a different Me that the booze can't entirely plunge away. Shall I tell you? Shall I tell you I was Happy? I sure didn't know it THEN. We want something Better, all of us, and I hope you found yours. I, however, live in San Francisco.

I was 23, and so were you, and the Haight smelled of chompa, patchouli and pot. I saw a mother wheeling two babies down the street in a stroller and I wished they were mine, and me and Francesca ducked into a Spanish restaurant where the sangria was spiked and the music was loud.

Somebody was singing Happy Birthday to somebody in Spanish and we got three plates of the Calamari, and a pitcher of the wine with the apples and the lemons in it, and it was a Sunday afternoon. There were two brazen Cupids hung off the ceiling, and I took a picture of them. The one in the roll of film I took back to San Jose on the Caltrain.

And the music was loud and it was festive. And there I sat, buzzed in the inclemancies of a timeworn sorrow, and I saw the light brown hair of Francesca's arms as she poured me another sangria from the pitcher, and I didn't care if I were alive or dead, for we were the Heart of Light. The Silence.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but if you've never taken a chance at happiness you have no clue as to what happiness is. The loud music and Francesca's arms, the sangria on a Sunday afternoon in the Haight, the feeling that whatever I was and all I despised was ebbing away. Away.

I don't love myself now but I love who I was. For once, for ONCE, I was happy. I was happy with the Calamari and the wine, and Francesca's arms and the distance between all this and what I really am, and in that moment I rejoiced and in that moment I was Whole.

And now, I am not. Are you? Have you ever even LIVED? I have. The experience is good enough to kill you. And do you begrudge me my Little Look of Happiness? Because yours is there, too. YOURS is there too, and at the end, when we all come to terms with the sorrow of this world, you, like I, will say,

I was happy, once. Once, I was happy. Once, I was unafraid, and once, when the question was popped, my answer was Yes. Once, I had it.

And once, I did too. And Today is all we have. The rest is on the train back home.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin McGowin studied at the University of Florida and taught English at the college level for 10 years before devoting himself to writing full-time. He lives in New Orleans, the setting for his critically acclaimed online novel, Town Full of Hoors. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals since 1989.




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